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Jewish diversity

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2006-02-20

Leslie Bunder

Leslie Bunder

In San Francisco a conference recently took place that was about Jewish diversity.  Attended by Jews or all backgrounds, from Europe, Israel, Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Australia, it was pretty much a United Nations of Jews.

Sponsored by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research. the Be'chol Lashon International Think Tank four-day event saw topics discussed and debated including issues of communal development and common bonds of the community as well as the threat of anti-Semitism and internal community conflicts between Jews of different backgrounds and origins.

Be'chol Lashon itself in Hebrew means In Every Tongue

Hard as it may seem to some people, not all Jews are white and of European decent, indeed, Jews come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds but it is rare for the subject of Jewish diversity to be discussed.

Whether we are Jews living in London, or New York, or Tel Aviv or anywhere else, we sometimes overlook our own internal community dialogue. An event such as this needs to organised, not just in San Francisco, but in other cities around the world.

As Jews we are a small global community, maybe 13 million, maybe a few more or even a few less but how often can we as Jews in our own community talk about the work we do in uniting ourselves.

Our self-elected leaders will often talk up the work they are doing with developing dialogue with other communities, but how many of these leaders are actually doing work to develop dialogue with their own community and the diverse make up of it.

Recently in the UK, we saw a falling out within the Jewish Association For Business Ethics over the role non-orthodox rabbis would play in this organisation.

The orthodox element did not welcome greater involvement from their non-orthodox cousins and so some of the backers and supporters of this group had enough and decided to no longer get involved.

We have all too often seen some leaders and rabbis shake the hands of their non-Jewish peers and contemporaries but refuse to be seen to do the same or share a platform with their own Jewish cousins because of a conflict in torah interpretation.

So why do we need Jewish diversity events in other cities? So we can being the issue onto not just a global level but also a local level.

We need to stop all the backstabbing and internal conflicts among the Jewish religious organisations and a way to do this is to start developing a level of mutual respect for each other. It is not about tolerating one person's interpretation of the Torah, it is about respecting one person's interpretation and understanding as to why their branch of Judaism is being followed in that way.

As Jews, we talk so much about the importance of tolerance and of respect to others, but within our own communities the power struggles that religious organisations have for the control and influence they seek to maintain is leading to bitter conflict among members of the community.

The Jewish Association For Business Ethics issue highlights this well in the UK and there are likely to be other cases similar across the world.

Celebrating Jewish diversity and the challenges and opportunities it presents is something we should all embrace.

An Ashkenazi Jew from London could learn from an Japanese Jewish convert living in France, while an African Jew could teach an Indian Jew something as well,  it's all about providing a forum and opportunity for Jews to communicate, not just how alike they are but how different they are tow and how each can learn something to being back to their own community.

As Jews, we have enough problems from anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and other negative issues, so to allow our own internal problems to develop without being resolved is nothing short of a catastrophe facing us with which a bit of thought, could be resolved.

The Be'chol Lashon International Think Tank has highlighted the importance of Jews from all backgrounds to engage in communicating with each other.

We need to really seize the opportunity that the conference has highlighted -  we need to open our mouths and start using our tongues to talk to each other, rather than shout, backstab or insult each other.

What we need to see from our leaders if they are really concerned as they claim they are for the interests of the community is a bit more talking with fellow Jews outside of their own little communities and then some action to continual dialogue with them. Maybe then we will see a stronger community which will benefit everyone.

Related link:

Institute for Jewish & Community Research