Monthly Archives: September 2008

A Sweet New Age for a Sweet New Year

As the year turns, so does the age: we are living in historic times of crisis, of choice, and of opportunity.
In my latest oped in Haaretz I explored (lightly) the implications of the Digital Age and framed the questions facing the Jewish People. Here is a a key quote:

A generation raised with the understanding that it can quickly form groups around one social platform or another expects nothing less of society in general. A generation whose members communicate without the restrictions of space and time expects to be heard by those who presume to represent their interests, and to be conferred with and engaged by those who aspire to lead them.
The Jewish People are not currently aligned for the “prosumer” culture of the Digital Age, wherein the consumer helps the producer improve the product. Our society was designed for a time when the authorities in our homes, communal institutions and synagogues managed our access to the outside world, and the knowledge made available to us was vetted for accuracy by experts and deliberated upon by rabbis who couldn’t have anticipated the present circumstances. Those same authorities and experts cannot exert the same control any more. And so, from a world in which citizens had information and choices “pushed” at them, they now have to be convinced to “pull” those choices, if we want to ensure the propagation of our values. To do that, we need to address those intended consumers as co-producers, partners in the building of our common future.
In 1893, observing the radical change of his own era, the Zionist thinker who went by the name of Ahad Ha’am observed that there were generally two ways in which societies react to such paradigm shifts. In looking at models of successful civilizations, to paraphrase his essay “Imitation and Assimilation,” they either exclaim “what wonderful values, what a glorious culture that civilization has. Let us assimilate their values and better ourselves.” Or they conclude, “The social structures and governing bodies they have are brilliant! Let us imitate them and we, too, will be successful.”
We Jews have thrived using the second strategy. During Greek times we created the Sanhedrin – itself a Greek word meaning “council”; in Persian times we developed the Resh Galuta, a position heading the Jewish community in exile that mirrored the singular power of the Persian emperor; and so on, until the Zionist movement proposed imitating the nation-state construct, and the system of Jewish federations in North America adopted the confederation model. We took the governing structures of the successful societies of our day and filled their vehicles with our values, creating a new societal order that was compatible with our tradition.

May we have the communal wherewithall to be blessed with a sweet new age.
Full article after the jump.

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