eKI: Universalism and Particularism

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 2:16pm -- Clergy

Ever since the Jewish people were granted the choice to live as free members of society we have struggled between our obligations towards our own people and welfare, understanding that “all Jews are responsible one for another” (Particularism) and the obligations to “Love they neighbor as thyself” The choice is hardly simple… as detailed by Pirke Avot “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” And “If I am only for myself what am I” concluding with “If not now… when?” 

Torah portions in Deuteronomy feel quite particularistic at times, reminding the Jewish people of their journey towards the promised land and their obligations towards the community and God. This week’s Torah portion is no exception. 

As some of you know, I have had the honor of working on the Jewish life team at URJ Camp Harlam this summer as part of a new shared position with camp and our congregation. My work at camp supports and informs my work at KI and allows me to spend time learning from kids and teens. This week there were several conversations about teens view of the state of Israel and the philosophy of Israel education. 

What was most pronounced was the strong pull of universalism in these teen's lives. The universalistic beliefs were deeply grounded in Reform Jewish tradition. “We were taught to care for the stranger.” they said, “We were taught to learn from our experience in slavery. "Their desire for Israel to welcome refugees and provide a path to citizenship was not rooted in universal secular values, rather their universalism is rooted in their Jewish upbringing and Jewish social justice education. You taught us Tikkun Olam - repair the world - shouldn’t that apply to Jewish organizations, or countries, that are not living according to the mitzvot? 

Prior to our conversation I had thought perhaps younger Jews don’t care about Israel because they are rooted in their own American experience. For some this may be true. But for others, what I learned is that they want Israel to do better, to be better, as a Jewish country. 

Summer is often a challenging time in the land of Israel. We observe the holiday of Tisha B’Av when many different catastrophes are said to have happened all on the same day. When questioning the possibility of this historically one must acknowledge the role that sheer heat plays in aggravating an already volatile situation. This Summer has been challenging to liberal Jews who support the state of Israel in different ways. Laws and actions that seem to condemn what we hold dear. 

Summer is also filled with opportunity. Each Summer thousands of young Jews, including many of our own KI students, tour the land of Israel and learn about Israel at camp not only from American educators but from Israelis. What they learn is that Israel, like other countries, has flaws, has complexity, and has diversity of opinion. What they learn is that Israeli Jews too struggle with the balance between universalism and Particularism, what is necessary to feel safe and secure and what is necessary to do for other human beings who are created in God’s image. 

After reflecting on our week, I’m not worried that young Jews will abandon Israel, I’m hopeful that young Jews will work equally towards Tikkun Olam - repair of our world - the entire world, and all its inhabitants. At the same time, they remain anchored in Judaism and have a love of Israel. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler