MOMENT ASKS 35 AMERICAN JEWS TWO BIG QUESTIONS: What does it mean to be a Jew today? What do Jews bring to the world today?
FEATURING (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):
DANIEL S. ABRAHAM • MARC ANGEL• ED ASNER • ADAM BERGER • DAVID BIALE • MAYIM BIALIK • SHARON BROUS • ANDREI CODRESCU • ANITA DIAMANT• ARI FLEISCHER• JOSHUA FOER• YURI FOREMAN• SAMUEL FREEDMAN • MYLA GOLDBERG• PETER HIMMELMAN• DARA HORN• YITZ “Y-LOVE” JORDAN• DEBORAH DASH MOORE• WALTER MOSLEY• ARYEH NEIER• ELISA NEW • JUDITH PLASKOW• FRANCINE PROSE• JONATHAN ROSEN• HANNAH ROSENTHAL• ELIZABETH SAMSON• DAVID SAPERSTEIN• ZALMAN SCHACHTER–SHALOMI• HAROLD SCHULWEIS • HOWARD SCHWARTZ• DANI SHAPIRO• YOAM SHOHAM• RIGOBERTO EMMANUEL VIÑAS• EDWARD WITTEN• DAVID WOLPE
Daniel S. Abraham
When I sold Slim-Fast, I made the decision to give every employee of the company a full year’s salary as a bonus. People said, “Wow…so amazing, so generous.” I didn’t want people thinking, let alone saying, “Well, that son-of-a-bitch, I worked hard for him, and he takes all the money.” I wanted to make the day of the sale a day of celebration for everyone. I want people to associate me, and to associate Jews, with the values of generosity, education, family, fairness in business. Not just because I think these values will cause people to admire and like Jews but because they are characteristic Jewish values. For thousands of years, anti-Semites poisoned people’s minds and caused them to think that Jews despised non-Jews, that Jews are the sort of people depicted in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, who will take a pound of flesh from a man who can’t repay a loan, and who are even involved in a conspiracy to rule the world. These hateful images have caused Jews to be victims of terrible violence, culminating in the Holocaust. It is one of my passions to make known all the good things Jews have done, most notably that we are the people who introduced the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” to humanity.
Daniel S. Abraham is a businessman, creator of Slim-Fast and founder of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
After nearly 2,000 years of exile, Jews returned to Israel and revitalized the Hebrew language and culture. For an ancient nation to rise again in its homeland is an awesome historic accomplishment. To be a Jew today is to share in the glory and responsibility of Israel reborn. Jews, who may number 15 million in a world of seven billion, offer the world unparalleled idealism. In spite of centuries of anti-Semitism, we have retained an amazing optimism in the ultimate goodness of humanity. There is scarcely a humanitarian cause that does not include Jews as leaders and activists. A recently deciphered inscription dating from the 10th century BCE—the earliest known fragment of Hebrew writing—captures the essential spirit of the Jewish people: “You shall not do it, but worship the Lord. Judge the slave and the widow; judge the orphan and the stranger. Plead for the infant, plead for the poor and the widow. Rehabilitate the poor at the hands of the king. Protect the poor and the slave, support the stranger.”
Marc Angel is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in New York City.
Being Jewish has subjected me to influences that had I been a non-Jew wouldn’t have entered my life. It has given me the quality of being identified as the other, which has special blessings. It has given me greater vision, tolerance and compassion and fewer boundaries than I would have had as a non-Jew. A little prejudice goes a long way in shaping a better, more interesting, character. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What can we offer the world? Never lose sight of the principles instilled in us and there for us to resort to whenever we’re in doubt.
Ed Asner is an actor who starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and in the movie Up.
We are a group of people whose fundamental religious belief is to question everything for ourselves. We call our temples shuls—schools. We don’t read the Bible or the Torah, we study them. We don’t just recite prayers, our prayers are embedded with questions. We believe in an annual cycle of self-evaluation and atonement and, throughout that cycle, the practice of tikkun olam. We don’t follow a particular dogma. Decisions, whether in the Israeli Knesset or in charitable organizations in the United States, are made through vigorous debate. If there were enough people who questioned what their leadership was doing in Weimar Germany, history might have been different. We offer to the rest of the world the model that everyone ought to question and participate and that we move forward in light of those debates. The way societies should operate is also the way families should operate. Great relationships are born of not only recognizing differences, which is important, but in appreciating those differences. It’s important for people to debate and question in relationships. How do we want to spend money and raise our children? How do we feel about politics? How do we feel about sex? Do we just suffer in silence with one dominant view prevailing or do we communicate and exchange ideas, agree to compromise and, in that way, live a fuller life?
Adam Berger is chairman and CEO of Spark Networks, the company that owns JDate.
To me, a self-professed secular Jew, to be Jewish is to engage personally with the historical sources of the Jewish tradition and to teach them in a secular university setting. This is something entirely new in Jewish history. We can bring to bear all kinds of new approaches and ask questions that had no place in earlier Jewish scholarship. For example, Jewish studies scholars in universities have investigated the role of women in Jewish history as well as popular culture, both subjects outside of the traditional rabbinical curriculum. One of the unremarked-upon revolutions in modern Jewish life is that Jewish studies, which used to be the province of rabbinical seminaries, is now found on virtually every campus in the United States. We have been liberated by the university. The university now provides Jews with an alternative space in which to be Jewish. We’re teaching Jewish history to tens of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish students, often without knowing who’s who in the classroom. I can turn my students on to the sources of Jewish tradition, I can teach them about Maimonides, and they walk out of the class excited by his ideas. That Jewish studies will inform the identities of these students is something we can offer the world.
David Biale is professor of Jewish history at the University of California at Davis.
I am Jewish. I was born a Jew. It’s not a choice; it’s who I am. For people who choose to join our faith, there’s something very attractive about Jewish intellectualism, culture and ritual, even if you don’t practice it. There’s something enticing about an ancient religion and culture that can exist in every place on this globe. Although I don’t live under threat of pogroms or oppression, and my life is much easier than those of my Eastern European grandparents, I never take for granted the freedom and opportunities that we have in the United States. We were strangers in the land of Egypt, and we should never stop trying to make the world better for our people and for other people who suffer.
Mayim Bialik is an actress who played Blossom Russo on the television show Blossom.
To be Jewish today is to be animated both by gratitude and unrest, by humility and audacity. It is to recognize the utter magnificence of the world, the miracle of human life and human connection, the possibility of love and the abundance of life’s blessings. And at the same time it is to feel the exodus from Egypt—the journey from slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity—in our kishkas; to refuse to accept a world saturated with injustice, oppression and human suffering. It is to be simultaneously wholehearted and broken-hearted—to engage deeply in the world as it is, but to always believe that things can be better. It means to become agents of social change whose fiercest weapons are love, faith and holy chutzpah.
Rabbi Sharon Brous is a rabbi and founder of IKAR, a Jewish community that combines spirituality and social justice.
My family fled Hungarian-occupied Transylvania to escape the Nazis to Romania, where I was born after the war. Being a poet, I work with language, which is something we Jews are very good at. We have survived by means of a book, the perpetuation of one language and the invention of another. Hebrew words still maintain a potent link to the sacred, just as Yiddish, our other language, keeps us rooted to the bitter ironies of the human world. Of course, any language can connect to the divine under the ministrations of a poet, but there is something in our use of it that transcends both education and prayer. We offer the world a model of survival for thousands of years without a bureaucratic state (until Israel) or an official language. We are a shining and tragic example of what happens to the powerless when the powerful need scapegoats, and we provide at the same time a model for existence through learning and community. We possess a stubborn sense of justice born out of being the perennial subjects of injustice. Our moral history consists largely of reflection on the laws of men and the Law of God, a subject of existential urgency to all humans.
Andrei Codrescu is a poet, novelist, essayist and commentator on National Public Radio.
It is a great time to be a Jew for many reasons but the most exciting and transformative one is the spectacular diversity of our community. We have always had porous boundaries, which explains the multiple cultures, languages and skin tones among us. Today, we can publicly celebrate and embrace our diversity, which makes us stronger and smarter and healthier; it also makes for better art, food, music, scholarship and debate. By including women in every Jewish conversation, we have doubled the potential, power, energy and creativity of the Jewish people. This enrichment is also happening thanks to the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, Jews of color and Jews whose origins include many religious and ethnic backgrounds. And because Jews contribute to the larger culture in innumerable ways, we can now share more thinkers, leaders, artists and problem solvers—not to mention more jokes, more prophecy, more poetry, more holiness.
Anita Diamant is author of Day After Night and founder of Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh in Newton, Massachusetts.
There are many people in positions of power who don’t treat people well, who are good at managing up but not good at managing down. What I take from Judaism is the importance of humility and the idea that you should do good unto others. I always try to treat people well and to be fair. And it’s not a bad thing to constantly be reminded that I should do what I can to repair the world. What Jews can offer is a constant reminder that there is moral right and moral wrong and that one of the greatest dangers is relativism.
Ari Fleischer is head of Ari Fleischer Sports Communications and was White House press secretary for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003.
The most Jewish machine in the world resides at the Science Museum in London. It is a mechanical wonder, a prototype of a device called the Clock of the Long Now, which will remain accurate for 10,000 years. Its creators hope their timepiece will help recalibrate our culture’s pathologically near-sighted perspective on time. We’ve become endlessly hung up on the next quarter, the next election cycle, the next new thing. But solving the great environmental and social problems of our world requires looking at time with a wider lens—a Jewish lens. The Clock of the Long Now is a stainless steel vision of the clock that is programmed into every Jewish soul. We Jews are trained from birth—by our liturgy, our seders, our arguments across the millennia—to place ourselves in the long rhythms of history and to see each generation as a link in an eternal chain. Nations comes and go, ideologies come and go. But we, uniquely, have discovered the secret of endurance. In the Jewish vision of time, the world cannot be repaired through rapture but only through the tedious and diligent work of each generation here on earth. What can we as Jews offer to a world that has become obsessed with the now? A vision of the long now.
Joshua Foer is a science journalist and author of Moonwalking with Einstein, to be published this winter.
When I was a kid, I didn’t believe in multitasking. I thought you had to choose just one way. But with Judaism, I’ve learned that there are many things that you can do and that you don’t have to choose just that one thing. I am a prize fighter, and I am studying to be a rabbi. Judaism has broadened my vision and has helped me not to lose my head in the ring. Judaism has helped me become a better person by bringing spirituality and meaning into my life. What Judaism brings to the world is elevating the mundane.
Yuri Foreman is the World Boxing Association junior middleweight champion and a rabbinical student.
To be Jewish today is to live a strange double life. On the one hand, it is to be more secure, comfortable, accepted and loved than ever before in the United States. At the same time, it is to be more of a vulnerable target to Islamic militancy, to be seen as an enemy by woefully misguided minority in the Muslim world. We live at a time when there is much intolerance for dissent, when authors are subjected to fatwas for what they write about Islam, when cartoonists and filmmakers are subjected to death threats and even killed because of polemical critiques of Islam. Jews have a tradition of dissent, of having good debates and disagreements and not using them as an excuse for intolerance—with the terrible exception of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. We Jews can show as a polity that we can have serious disagreements without having people pay a terrible price for being dissenters. We can offer the world tolerance.
Samuel Freedman is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The diversity and vitality of American Jewish practice today means that I can be a secular humanist married to a non-Jewish atheist and still be part of a vibrant Jewish community that embraces my family. For such a long-lived, established religion, Judaism has remained steadfastly and impressively committed to its founding spirit of questioning, which has led to our current freedoms in belief, philosophy and practice. On a spiritual level, that means that eschewing a traditional deistic God concept in favor of a humanistic one hasn’t made me a pariah: I can derive inspiration and meaning from the limitless potential of collective humanity and still feel welcome within the larger Jewish community. Though my Jewish identity informs my writing, it does not define my writing, nor do I feel the need to put a label on myself to find readers, as previous generations of Jewish writers may have felt compelled to do. I find the whole Chosen People thing outdated and distasteful, nor do I think that we have a monopoly on any particular set of values, but there are some fantastic ideas contained in Judaism that we can and should offer in our engagement with the world. We find ourselves in an extraordinary place and time in Jewish history, with unprecedented freedom to define who we are and who we wish to be. We should strive to engage the world with the same qualities of open mindedness and empathy that have led to our own success.
Myla Goldberg is author of Bee Season.
To be Jewish is to bring a disproportionate amount of life into the world. My belief is that God imbued in us the spirit of a talker, a shouter. To be Jewish is to be both restless and to know how to wait. To be Jewish is to be in the service of God. We Jews are heroes and brilliant thinkers. We Jews are sniveling little assholes. We’re lovers, fighters, artists, doctors and scoundrels. And we sure are noisy, aren’t we? We bring a lot of noise and, often, we bring a lot of beauty into the world.
Peter Himmelman is a singer-songwriter.
I am often astonished by how many people believe that the chief goal in life should be personal happiness. In America and elsewhere, this is almost a public religion. I see Judaism as an alternative and corrective to this disposable culture. While the world around us claims that only the new matters and that only the individual counts, Judaism claims that what happens today only matters because of its reverberations through previous and future generations and that what I want from the world matters less than what the world wants from me. To me, being Jewish means remembering at every moment that the highest possible goal of our lives is not happiness but holiness.
Dara Horn is author of All Other Nights.
Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan
What it means to be Jewish is that one has a metaphysical, pan-national, supra-everything identity that connects one not only to fellow Jews but to the Creator and, in a special way, to the rest of humanity. Jewish identity is based on something so metaphysical that what it means to be Jewish never changes. We live in a world that is post-industrial revolution, post-sexual revolution, post-technological revolution. Everything is in real time. We’re supposed to be connected and unified, but we are often disconnected from one another. To be Jewish implies the exact opposite: We’re all connected, we’re all one. Alle yidden, ein mishpacha—all Jews are one family. God is one. The world is one. The idea that we are connected to all those who are suffering and are going to do something about it is imprinted on every Jewish soul. This idea of oneness can break down walls and is what Judaism can offer the world, especially today.
Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan is a hip-hop artist.
Deborah Dash Moore
To be a Jew today is to be heir to a constantly changing civilization and culture. We transform the places where we live into Jewish places resonating with Jewish traditions, innovations, and accommodations from other times and places. In the United States, Jews have modeled varied expressions of how to live as a minority, participating in both a complex American culture as well as a diverse Jewish religious culture. In Israel, Jews have created a robust Jewish world, with religious and secular components that reflect their position as a majority. Sometimes in the breach, sometimes in practice, Jews exemplify ways of living as a minority as well as ways of living as a majority.
Deborah Dash Moore is director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and a professor of history at the University of Michigan.
To be a Jew is to be a part of a tribe. As part of a tribe you can never really escape your identity, which is both a boon and a bane. Inside of that you can be anything you want— but you are answerable to your blood. That is what being a Jew means now and what it has always been. What do Jews have to contribute to the world? Albert Einstein.
Walter Mosley is author of the Easy Rawlins mysteries.
To be Jewish today is to be conscious of a deep history of persecution. At the same time, it is to understand that some of our achievements relate directly to a shared capacity to derive advantage from that history, to triumph over adversity. It also means we must be sensitive to the persecution of others, align ourselves against persecution and try to assist others in triumphing over adversity. Because we as Jews are vulnerable, we can win only brief respite from persecution in a society in which encounters are settled by power. I am therefore one who seeks to impose limits on the exercise of power. I was an infant refugee from Nazi Germany, but I think the power to curb anyone in expressing his point of view has to be restricted, even though it may appear bizarre to be defending the rights of those who would kill you if they had the opportunity. Placing limits on power is ultimately a way of safeguarding ourselves as well as others.
Aryeh Neier is president of the Open Society Institute.
Being Jewish is a lifelong investigation and experience, and it can change over one’s lifetime. Today, Judaism has become, in a very stimulating way, non-exclusive. There’s very little that’s meaningfully Jewish that has only to do with being with other Jews. Jews can add what they’ve always added to the world: resourcefulness, intelligence, irreverence, questioning. We are, by training, a more argumentative people. The pursuit of truth and an inquisitive attitude toward cultural norms is something that Jews bring to our own culture and to the culture at large.
Elisa New is professor of English at Harvard University.
To be Jewish today means to have the privilege but also the challenge of constructing one’s Jewish identity from an enormous range of choices. These choices for women and gay, lesbian, and transgender Jews have vastly expanded in all spheres over the last 40 years. When I was an adolescent, I wanted to be a rabbi, but there were no female rabbis. It just did not seem that it was a possibility for me. That situation is very different for girls today. In a national and a global context where the right has claimed the mantle of religious authority, Jews can offer an understanding of religion in which rigorous debate, questioning and disagreements are part of classical religious expression. This gift of freedom to question and to argue has had a great impact on Jewish culture.
Judith Plaskow is professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and co-founder of The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.
I don’t go to shul, I don’t keep kosher, I am not observant, yet being Jewish is very much part of my identity. Jewish themes and characters keep surfacing in my work because that is who I am. Judaism is a religion with a strong emphasis on ethics and morality. Among the values that I was raised with is the importance of education. I think of it as a Jewish value as well as an immigrant value. Consequently, I think it is a Jewish responsibility to educate ourselves about what is going on in Israel and Palestine. As Jews we are in a unique position to raise our voices about what is happening there. A peace in the Middle East and throughout the world depends on finding a just and amicable settlement to the Palestinian question.
Francine Prose is a novelist and professor of literature at Bard College.
You ask what Jews have to offer the world today. I do think, after monotheism, the Bible, Jesus, Bob Dylan, Sigmund Freud, comic books, the department store, the theory of relativity and, of course, Hollywood, that perhaps asking what Jews have to offer the world isn’t the question. What does the world have to offer Jews? Can religions born out of Judaism, that inscribed in their scared texts images of Jews as villains, make a place for Jews in which they write their own story unfiltered through past defamations? Can cultures that built themselves up on the notion of Judaism’s supersession allow an autonomous Judaism, restored to its national homeland, to assert independence and autonomy in thought and deed, without ultimately seeing it as a demonic inverter of the natural order? If the world can grant these things to Jews, then the world will have liberated itself from the tyranny of the past and the perversions of enslaving narratives, and in so doing will have been freed, as much as the Israelites were freed when Moses led them out of Egypt. And perhaps that will be the greatest Jewish gift of all.
Jonathan Rosen is author of The Life of the Skies and editorial director of Nextbook Inc.
On a good day, Jews are two percent of the U.S. population. But we have ensured our safety, security and success in this country by building strong alliances with religious, civic and political leaders in our communities. They have recognized and admired our prophetic call to work for social justice and ability to maintain diverse practices, philosophies and opinions. We have flourished because we knew how to turn inward in prayer, in observances and in meeting the needs of fellow Jews. And at the same time we knew how to turn outward, to build bridges with other vulnerable populations. We Jews can walk and chew gum—we can focus on Israel and poverty and Jewish education and anti-Semitism and be hawks and doves and question policies of the U.S. or of our beloved Israel. Let’s learn by our own example.
Hannah Rosenthal is special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism at the U.S. State Department.
The remarkable survival of the Jewish people after centuries of oppression and genocide can largely be attributed to our guardianship of ancestral law and traditions while embracing modern opportunities. Today, in the face of global challenges from ideological extremism and terrorism, where western values that promote freedom, openness and truth are being questioned, the rule of law can be a positive and unifying force for the good of mankind. Just as adherence to Jewish law and custom has enabled the Jews to endure, the Jewish people demonstrate to the world that a collective tacit agreement to commit to a shared ideal can be a formula for survival.
Elizabeth Samson is fellow at the Hudson Institute and attorney specializing in international law and constitutional law.
Jewish contributions to every cause of social justice in America in the past century have transformed America and the world for the better. The passion for social justice has manifested a degree of astonishing creativity and power that remains the defining characteristic of the Jewish people in the 21st century. We live in a Golden Age of Jewish scholarship, music, art, dance, literature and ritual creativity. This is the first generation in Jewish history where Jewishly illiterate parents can raise a Jewishly literate and committed child by using available education and technology. But we do not continue for continuity’s sake alone. God has called us to a holy mission and to be a holy people, a light to and of the nations and God’s partners in shaping a more hopeful world for all. At Sinai, we were trusted with a vision of ethical monotheism that transformed the history of the world. We need to make real our vision of peace, justice and equality and to protect the Earth entrusted in our care.
David Saperstein is a rabbi and director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In the past, Jews were forced to be Jews or to break away completely. Nowadays, every Jew is a Jew by choice. All of us have autonomy as to how we want to be Jews. Since being a Jew means being part of an organic being, there have to be all kinds of Jews: We need the religious, who are the backbone, and the atheists, who keep us from having faith in foolish things, and the whole spectrum in between. What do we bring into the world? Davening. The word davening comes from the Latin word divinum: to do the divine thing. Some people daven by praying, others by feeding homeless people and in these different ways, we become the instruments of God. God told Abraham, “Those people who will bless you, I will bless.” The planet is underblessed today, and our task as Jews is to keep blessing things.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is a rabbi and founder of P’nai Or Religious Fellowship, now ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
To be Jewish is to love my people and to love humanity and to express my love of God through my responsibility for God’s creation. The core of Judaism is moral conscience. Our faith mandate is to protect the Earth, to struggle against all forms of xenophobia and to love the stranger as thyself.
Harold Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom congregation in Encino, California.
Before the Jewish people became the people of the book, we were the people of the stories. Wherever we wandered, we took our stories with us. These sacred stories about our deity, ancestors and heroes were re-imagined over many centuries and, in the process, engendered a mythology that is ancient, astonishing and profound. As a living religion, Judaism’s rituals continue to be observed. Why do we remember the Sabbath? Because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Observing the Sabbath is a way of recalling God’s creation, as well as of emulating God’s rest. Viewing Jewish tradition through the prism of mythology enriches our perception of our heritage and provides a way to include those who can’t accept the Torah literally but want to know what it means to be part of a tradition. Jewish mythology is one of the most precious gifts Judaism has to offer to the world—and to ourselves.
Howard Schwartz is author of Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism.
There was a time when I wasn’t sure if it all mattered. Though I never stopped identifying as Jewish, I pushed back from having been raised Orthodox. When I became a mother of a young child who began asking a lot of questions about what I believed, I wanted to pass down a sense of the complexity of faith, of pride in my own personal family history and a sense of a history of a people. We Jews—whether as a result of tradition or biology—are inherently a people who ask questions, who aren’t comfortable with the status quo, who are engaged in the teasing out of multiple layers of meaning. I am suspicious of the whole idea that there is one answer or any right answer. If we can continue to open-mindedly grapple and ask questions and reach across divides and allow for an honest and searching dialogue about everything that is urgent to us, I think that is what we have to offer humanity.
Dani Shapiro is author of Slow Motion and the recently published memior Devotion.
Is there anything universal that binds us together except a rapidly fading collective memory and, sometimes, the fact that others hate us? I think there is and, at heart, it is a place and a book. The place is the land of Israel, the book is the Torah; the rest is details. I say this as a thoroughly secular person. But take away the Torah, and you lose the Talmud, Bashevis Singer, Einstein, Mel Brooks. And you can’t take away the land of Israel without losing the Torah; it’s a package deal. Is it a foregone conclusion that Jewish connections among Jews will thrive in the 21st century? It is not, but it would be a shame if they don’t. This is not because Jewish values are superior to all others. Compassion, fairness, tikkun olam, education, excellence, intellectual honesty and other modern values are not unique to Jews. What is truly unique is our access to these universal values through Jewish culture, which has embraced them for millennia. This is our contribution to the world and to sustain it we must nurture the two pillars underlying Jewish culture: The book and the place. Even if mediated by Jon Stewart.
Yoav Shoham is professor of computer science at Stanford University.
Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas
To be a Jew is to be a part of a people with a very open, vibrant and inclusive spiritual path. I am a first-generation Cuban-American rabbi and am in contact with many people who are descendants of 14th-century Spanish and Portuguese Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition but who continued to practice Jewish customs in secret all over the world. Today, there are millions of such people in Latin America, and an enormous number of them are seeking out their Jewish roots. What is calling them home to Judaism is a spiritual quest to get above all the chasing after power and the unbridled hedonism that goes on in this world. Unfortunately, their openness to Judaism is often greeted with suspicion, legalism and exclusion by other Jews. I want Jewish communities all over the world to become more open to these people and to others looking for a connection with something larger. What Jews can offer the world is to present Judaism as the open spiritual path that it is. We should embrace Jews of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and share our diversity and openness with the world. If we do so, it will reinvigorate us and present a different and more accurate face of Judaism to the world.
Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas is a rabbi of Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers, New York.
I can’t think about what it means to be Jewish today without thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict puts everything about who we are as a people, our values, up in the air. Our whole future depends on finding a better way to deal with this conflict. This is what we have got to concentrate on not only because it is how we can help make the world a better place, although that is true, but because it is what we need most vitally for ourselves.
Edward Witten is a theoretical physicist and professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Being Jewish today is as difficult, frustrating, wonderful and indispensable as it has always been. Judaism can both enrich your life and make you better. We are placed on earth to grow our souls and Judaism is the most ancient proven, effective system for teaching people how to do just that. We should be proud that we not only grown souls but produce a group of passionately concerned good-hearted and striving people. We are not perfect, but we are also not satisfied.
Rabbi David Wolpe is a rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.