On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

Response to “Jewish Peoplehood and Israel” From Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

The Jews are an eternal forest reserve

Thus wrote the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in his poem “The Jews,” describing Jewish peoplehood as a human nature reserve scattered over layers of time and space, sustaining a unique and a forever becoming heritage of wisdom. Its fabric is made of a language, shared values and memories of a history, a land and Torah, covenant and belief. A green lung in human existence, forever committed to serve the human community as a whole.

And yet Amichai adds another observation, one that is profoundly tangible: “The Jews are not a historical people / And not even an archeological people, the Jews / Are a geological people with rifts / And collapses and strata and fiery lava.” Jewish peoplehood is made of Jewish people. It is made of their “lava” of insufferable tension between the one and the Klal, between revelation and documentation, between the particular and the universal, and then the deep creative life forces which storm or trickle out of those tensions, drawing new landscapes on the face of the earth and of humanity.

Each generation grapples with different cracks and tensions. One of the primary cracks of our era is the growing tension between two perceptions of Jewish peoplehood. One defines a people solely as a nation; the other sees it as a religious or a cultural sect. One establishes itself on the platform of space, the other on the platform of time. One speaks of sovereignty, the other of Tikkun Olam. One struggles with the consequences of national ideologies, the other with those of personal narratives. And since the realities they face are so very different, they drift apart, missing one of the greatest meeting points handed to Jews in history.

Yet the meeting point is not lost. It can be found in a platform that would encompass and appreciate those lava-like tensions, one that would be obligated to transform them creatively into a mist watering the surface of the land. Conservative Judaism has all the intellectual, spiritual and institutional abilities to bridge these two perspectives that are drifting apart, doing so by formulating a vision of Zionism that is committed to Jewish peoplehood and by leading the way to the realization of this idea.

ewish peoplehood is one of the major challenges of the State of Israel. The Zionist project of a national self-definition is an undertaking that belongs to the Jewish people. It is a partnership in vision and in realization, and therefore one of the most reliable funds our future holds. Israel must manifest this notion by inviting the multiple voices within the Jewish world to take part in the revival of Zion, and to take part in meeting the challenges of Jewish sovereignty successfully together. This stage will necessitate loyalty to the Zionist idea, together with the responsibility to engage in honest dialogue between the two largest Jewish centers of our time. This stage will determine whether the State of Israel reaches its full height or not. Exists or not. Conservative Jewry in America, together with the Masorti movement in Israel, have a crucial role in building the future of Jewish peoplehood. May we live up to it, and may the State of Israel grow to be a reserve we will eternally be proud of.