Defining Our Identity
By Barak A. Raz
Growing up in Queens, NY, I was taught by my Hebrew School teacher that throughout history, the Jews can be likened to olives – “the good stuff comes out when they are squeezed.”
For the Jewish community in the United States, between the recent Pew research poll that shed statistically-proving light on a long-known challenge to the community (assimilation) and the announcement of the ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I'm waiting to see the “good stuff” start pouring out from the American-Jewish community spread across the country.
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These two issues, important enough on their own, are part of a larger issue – one that questions the way in which American-Jews define our identity and the issues that matter to us. These issues, like others, certainly draw various ideas, positions, and opinions, for the Jewish community is certainly not one to be labeled homogenous (“two Jews, three synagogues”).
I'm now approaching the end of my post-army vacation and travels. This period has given me some much-needed down time following my seven-year service in strategically important positions of the Israel Defense Forces. Equally important, if not more-so, I have gained valuable insight that I'm sure will escort me in the next chapter of my life.
During the past four months, my travels have been enhanced through providing professional lectures, focusing on a strategic update of key security-issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
These lectures have provided me the great opportunity to meet hundreds of members and leaders of the Jewish community, of diverse ages and in various settings - from junior high and high school youth groups, through college campuses and young professional meets, to civic groups and senior centers.
Travelling around, I have seen the sharp contrasts throughout the American-Jewish community – the way we identify as Jews, the way we in which we gather, and the various issues that matter to us, from domestic and foreign policies of the United States, through issues facing the community, and of course, the relationship of the community to Israel.
The fact that we are not homogenous in our views is a good thing, whereas this might be one of the greatest characteristics of our people, providing us with the ability to span the rise and fall of entire civilizations. However, we must hold fast to the fact that our values are what bind us as a community, and our ability to come together when it matters should trumpet all, despite our differences.
The issues facing the community are very real, and should not be trivialized. They should be discussed and dealt with. Our differences in opinion should become topics for conversation and dialogue, food for thought and discussion, and not a force that divides us.