Adam Weiss has served the JCC of Stamford as shaliach – Israel representative – this past year. As he wraps up his year of service and prepares to return home to Israel in the next few weeks, he wrote this letter of farewell to Connecticut.
“Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – “All Israel are sureties for one another” said our sages in the Talmud.
When I was interviewed to be a shaliach for the Jewish Agency, they asked me, “Why would you rather volunteer in America than in Israel?” I answered: “To preserve the idea of Jewish peoplehood.”
I guess they liked the answer because I am here now. But to tell you the truth, if they would have asked me what I mean when I say peoplehood, I would have stuttered for sure.
While I’m writing this I notice that even the Spellcheck tells me that I misspelled “peoplehood,” meaning that there is no such word.
Is there really such a thing as Jewish peoplehood? Are we really one people, carrying the same legacy and history? Or is it just something we want to believe in? What is the connection between Shlomo the plumber from Tel-Aviv and Mark the lawyer from Stamford? They don’t know each other, they don’t speak the same language, and they have a different set of views and values.
The joke says that wherever there are two Jews, there are three different opinions, and if that is indeed the case then where does our peoplehood lie? If the differences between us are so big and so many, then what exactly unites us? How can we talk about “Jewish People” when we are so diverse and so scattered?
I don’t know the definition of peoplehood, but I do know that thanks to it, I am where I am today.
After the Holocaust, my grandparents emigrated from Poland to Israel. The ship carrying them to Israel was bought by American Jews who sponsored the entire operation. Those Americans believed that no Jew should be left behind in Europe after the war and that if they wished to start their new lives in Israel, then it was their duty to help them. That for me is Jewish peoplehood. When I was in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, I kept getting clean clothes and fresh vegetables at the front lines so I wouldn’t have to live on Spam and tuna fish while fighting for my country. Those clothes and vegetables were a gift of the FIDF (Friends of the IDF), an American organization that manages to raise millions of American dollars a year for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. That for me is Jewish peoplehood.
For me, being here, teaching about Israel, and learning what it means to be Jewish in America is some kind of a closure. I am not here on behalf of the State of Israel, but on behalf of the Jewish people living in it. For me, this year was an opportunity to thank you for all that you have done for me, even before I was born.
As I said before, I don’t really know what peoplehood is, but I do know that I am here thanks to it. I also know that within peoplehood lies our future – the future of Judaism and the future of Israel. Peoplehood is perhaps the only concept which we can all come together around – Democrats and Republicans, Orthodox and Reform, observant and secular, Jews of Israel and Jews of the Diaspora.
They say that time heals all wounds, and it is true. But time also makes us forget them. Yigal Alon, one of Israel’s greatest leaders once said, “A nation who does not know its past, its present is poor and its future will fade in the mist.” Before I leave this community and go back to Israel, I want to ask you one thing: know where you came from, so that you will know where you are going. If we forget our heritage, we, too, shall fade in the mist.
We are depending on our ability to remember. It will decide whether we vanish or flourish. Remember that there is no such thing as one truth or one way to be Jewish. There never was. It is up to us to work together, and to take care of each other. To repair the world and make it a better place for us and for generations to come.