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Jewish Journal

Global Jewish Identity- Utopia?

Katarina Rudolph, Germany

November 2, 2011 | 8:35 pm

Does something like the universal Jewish identity exist?

Good question.

There are Jewish communities around the world and they definitely aren’t the same.

In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for example, you can see four different kind of synagogues from different countries and different epochs. These synagogues, which are the part of the permanent exhibition,  were constructed as smaller models of the four types of synagogues from the places where they had stood before.  There are two European models: an Italian and a German (Ashkenazi) one and – on the first glimpse – two more unusual kind of synagogues: an Indian and a Suriname.  Obviously these prayer houses vary a lot in architecture and use of colours, because they were highly influenced by the cultural environment in which they were built.. Each of them is really unique and beautiful, but they also have similar symbols such as David star or Menorot. This example shows the versatility of Jewish communities – the possibility to adopt to the environment without forgetting their own roots and traditions.

So when we think about Jewish identity, things that come to our minds, are first of all the Jewish symbols, traditions, prayers and really important ones : Jewish holidays. The Jewish calendar is full of feasts, which are either based on biblical stories (e.g. Pessach, Sukkot) or on Jewish historical events (e.g. Channuka). Each feast has developed special customs , so there are special prayers and sometimes even specific food and clothes.
The Jewish holidays are celebrated all over the world and even Jews, who consider themselves secular, are eager to follow some of the Jewish traditions and rituals. It is celebrating the feasts at the same time for the same reason, that creates a belonging-to-the-Jewish-people-feeling (This, in my opinion, is totally independent from, whether you believe in Jews are the chosen nation or not.).

Another point is, that Jews, who live in the Diaspora still learn and pray the same ancient (sometimes slightly renewed)  Hebrew prayers. The Torah reminds the believers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. So, even if Diaspora Jews never have set a feet to Israel, most of them feel a strong connection with the country and have the desire to visit it at least once in their lives.

The security fever is one more component for being a Jew – not necessarily in times of war – because Jewish communities all around the world often are required to have high safety systems. So it is quite usual to see security guards or policemen, video cameras and sometimes even detectors around synagogues, Jewish Museums or Jewish and Israeli institutions and organizations buildings.

Some Jewish communities are better connected to their (non-Jewish) surroundings and some of them are rather isolated. But most of the time they are quite well connected within their own circles. Isn´t it clear that these Jewish communities consider themselves part of a bigger, global community?

And how a small nation as the Jews could have survived over 2000 years in the Diaspora, (just being one of the minorities in the countries they lived in) if there didn`t exist something like a Jewish identity that is the same, wherever life brought them?
Statistics say that nowadays there are about 13.428.000 Jews living around the globe, from which over 57 per cent are living in the Diaspora. But every year thousands of Jews from all over the world decide to make Aliyah (to immigrate) to Israel.

So, even if the concept of a global Jewish identity might not be easy to grasp, it isn´t an utopia.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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