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Havdallah Message: Should There Be Jews?

Should there be Jews?

It’s a question that seems as if it should have an obvious answer, especially when asked of a Jewish audience. “Of course there should be Jews. We’re Jews and we should be here.” The only time this question is at stake is when someone seeking the destruction of the Jewish people (may their names be blotted from history) tries to convince others to join them in their quest.

But that question does not only have to be asked tongue in cheek or with hate in one’s heart; it can be asked with great sensitivity, great love, and great appreciation for what Judaism has brought to the world thus far in history. That’s the context in which this question – should there be Jews – was asked last night at a UJA event I attended featuring Tal Keinan, author of “God is In the Crowd: Twenty First Century Judaism,” Mijal Betton, Rosh Kehillah of the Downtown Minyan & a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, along with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England. Mr. Keinan uses this question in the first chapter of his book to emphasize that Jews, as individuals, will not disappear, but that after the next two generations, we will be so loved and accepted by others that Jewish identity, whether here or in Israel, could disappear. As such, we need to ask ourselves now – should there be Jews?

Rabbi Lord Sacks appreciated the seriousness of this question and offered an answer based upon the values Judaism has to offer to the greater world, regarding our ability to not impose our truth upon others, our ability to live in a world in which there is cognitive dissonance between being independent actors and being acted upon by others, as well our ability to live with uncertainty in the world. The world needs these values based on our history and experience as a unique people, and we must continue to teach them. It was an incredible answer that only touched the surface of what was an incredible evening of learning on what Judaism really is and can be for us now and in the future.

I shared some more of these insights during last night’s Friday night service, but I also think it reflects the message of this moment of Havdallah, this moment of separation between Shabbat and the week. There is something about a particular group’s uniqueness, its ways of being different than others, that gives it a platform for offering real and meaningful value to all who are willing to listen. Our Jewish identity is a currency a with a lot of value in the great marketplace of ideas. Let’s never forget that.

Shavua Tov,

Rabbi Ari Saks