Should the Jewish World be Reorganized?
Moderator: David Landau-Israeli Correspondent for The Economist and former Editor-In Chief of Haaretz
Ariel Beery- Cofounder and Director of PresenTense Group
Yossi Beilin- CEO and founder of “Belinik”-Business of Foreign Affairs
Pierre Besnainou- Former President of European Jewish Congress
Richard Pearlstone- Board of Governors Jewish Agency
Colette Avital- Israeli Politician and former Member of Knesset
Should the Jewish world be reorganized is not really a question, but more of a statement. According to all the panelists the answer is yes, the Jewish world needs to reorganized. The real question is how? Each panelist presented in their opinion, the main factor that needs to be reorganized.
Ariel Beery, representing the voice of the younger generation, said that there are three things that the Jewish people need to do; search for what empowers the youths’ needs, recognize the social networks and their platform for unique identities to interact, and cross network action, which enables people to work with others they have never met in order to reach a goal. He mentioned these three things as the way to find the meaning of the Jewish world because without meaning, the Jewish world cannot succeed. An example of this is a program that has been implemented into Jewish education where the Bible is taught through hip hop. Students not only can relate to this, but even produce their own versions of raps all about the bible. It is taking what the youth can relate to and adapting it to provide a means of Jewish education.
Pierre Besnianou, focused less on the individuals involved and more on the centrality of Judaism. He explained his view as follows: “Diaspora Judaism built Israel; through the Olim, through financial means, and through political support.” Now diaspora Judaism and America in particular, are weak; and the question is, what can Israel do to unify them, because unity is the Jewish peoples’ strength. “Israel,” Besnianou says, “is the centrality of Judaism and they need to reinforce this as their responsibility.” Moreover, options such as Taglit, Birthright, and sending Shlichim abroad, have now turned into a monetary matter. Money is preventing the Jewish people form Jewish identities.
Colette Avital focused on Jewish identity as well. She said that we need to reorganize our institutions so that they are relevant to the Jewish youth. “We need to transmit Judaism in an interesting and relevant manner so that it becomes important.” This is a grave concern, for how do you transmit this message to a generation where religion is optional? “With the media at our disposal, this is our means to reach everyone. It can be used effectively to reach the minds and create a common ground.” She agreed with Beery in that we need to understand the advantages of the world of communication we are in and use them to form ties throughout the Jewish world.
Yossi Beilin expanded on the need to reorganize our institutions because by their definition, they do not fit the needs of the 21st century. That is to say, worldwide Jewish organizations were founded in the late 19th century/early 20th century and their sole purpose was to rescue Jews, help build their communities, and enable Jewish societies. These functions are not needed today. The tools of the 19th century are not sufficient to reach the goal of the 21st century; Jewish continuity. Beilin says to ensure this continuity, we need to reinvent our values. “We need to be open to secular conversion if we even want there to be a people.” These organizations have to restructure themselves to what matters and that is continuity. “Israel is practically immune to the problem of assimilation. No special effort is needed to educate the Jews in Israel to marry Jews. They do not need zionism or Jewish education in order to continue as Jews. I am worried about the diaspora, about the ones that study zionism and then marry Non-Jews. We (the Jewish people) are a mishpacha and we need to keep it as such. We need to keep the family together.”
David Landau intercepted Beilin’s point to make note of the fact that Beilin and Avital were both not re-elected to power because a large part of their career was focused on Israeli-diaspora relations. “This hurt you because Israelis do not care. They do not give a damn about it.” He said that within Israel as well, Jewish identity needs to be fixed because it is lacking in their education and this absence causes an absence of Jewish worth.
Richard Pearlstone, the only representative of an organization, explained the issue of reinventing organizations as such; “Do we believe in collective responsibility? And if so, can we we reinvent the responsibility in a way that everyone will buy into?” All of the aforementioned ideas are important but the organizations need to be used as resources. “The Jewish Agency is a covenant that was established in 1929 and has not be refreshed since.” He said that we need content, that we cannot be swept away by technology; we need content on an intimate, human level and not necessarily a religious level. Once this content is established, we should refresh the organizations’ functions to be that of a resource.