I was at my first URJ Biennial, this one held in San Diego from December 11th to 15th, 2013.
Let me present my own personal observations which I would define as “a most remarkable sense of togetherness.” The feeling of wandering around a convention center with some 5,000 other Reform/Progressive, mostly from the United States but with significant contingents from other parts of the world was, to put it mildly, absolutely exhilarating.
During the five days there was hardly a moment when someone didn’t come up to me to introduce her or himself to chat about a common topic. While the human interaction component was certainly welcome, the content of our discussions was particularly significant
The visit to Israel is recalled with warmth and remembered as being highly significant. In many cases, people who I had met in the United States felt the same. If I had only met a handful of friends and colleagues engaging me in issues related to Israel, I would explain it as a localized phenomenon. However, much to my surprise, our interaction came out of the genuine and profound desire to indicate that regardless of where we live “we are family.”
Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s most thoughtful journalists, in an article entitled To my brothers and sisters wrote “People 60 and up cannot live without Israel. Those who are between 40 and 60 generally still have some kind of affinity with Israel. But young Americans in their teens and 20s are in a different world.”
Most of the people I encountered in San Diego were probably 40 and above. However, this is not the time to give up on the younger generation for each generation expresses its desire to be different from the one before it. The marvel of the human spirit is that it questions and re-questions contemporary assumptions. The teens and 20s do undoubtedly have certain problems with Israel, but so do I. Ari Shavit emphasizes that “a common past and a common destiny and a future that must be defined together” is our challenge. I couldn’t agree more!
During the exhilarating five days , my sense that this complex and confusing idea of “Jewish Peoplehood,” the common understandings of Jews throughout the world and the determination to work together, remains central for many of us. Some thousands of years ago a small and vulnerable people set out on a perilous journey to the Promised Land. Moses could only see it from afar whereas we, the beneficiaries of so many who went before us, can visit Israel or decide to live there. How lucky we are!
Paul Liptz is the Director of Education at the Anita Saltz International Education Center of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He was on the Tel Aviv University faculty for 35 years and also lectured at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. He made aliyah one day before the Six Day War.