Jewish Journal

The Quest for Jewish Literacy

Linda Katz

May 19, 2012 | 5:01 am

The need for Jewish Literacy was discussed at a Plenary Session during AJC’s ACCESS conference.  Jewish literacy (likely) includes the need to understand Judaism and what it means to be Jewish.  The speaker encouraged each of us to seek the path of self-education, implying the challenge as first learning enough to ask questions.  And answers always raise more questions.

Different sessions at the conference all suggested the same thing:Jewish literacy is founded in knowledge, action, and willingness to dance to any and all music.  It’s a foundation that expands into world Jewry, something I discovered as I chatted with attendees from around the U.S. and Europe.  Learning that Macedonia’s Jewish population totals to 150, I revisited a personal and persistent question about Jewish identity—what does it mean to be Jewish?

World Jewry surely holds secrets about Jewish Literacy.  I was lucky to attend the conference with the Jewrnalism delegation, a group of young Jews reporting on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe.  Discussing these issues with them uncovered thoughts – and – ‘secrets’.

Some shared secrets:

  Small and growing communities exist in Holocaust ravaged countries.
  Eastern European Jewish history (and literacy) extends beyond the six years of the Holocaust;
  Poland was the center of Jewish life for hundreds (?) of years, and, Polish Jews are NOT anti-Poland (unlike many Americans and Israeli’s);
  Jewish life extends beyond the shtetl, and, places like Vilna and Krakow are hip, modern cities;
  Israeli’s ‘Birthright’ experience of visiting concentration camps misses the mark on an important volume of Jewish Literacy by NOT visiting the living Jewish souls who live (here.)

Faced with assimilation and competition with time and energy in a secular world, defining and promoting Jewish Literacy seems increasingly important. Opportunities for self-education with AJC and groups like Jewrnalism can teach both where we have been as a people and where we are going. 

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