Guest post by Editor Man – from Park City, Utah
The first panel discussion, titled “Between Religious Extremism and Secularism: The State of Global Jewish Identity,” features Avrum Burg, lapsed Zionist; Judith Liwerany, director of the Graduate School of Political and Social Sciences at the University Mexico, and Shmuel Trigano, a sociology professor at the University of Paris X-Nanterre. The premise underpinning the discussion is that world Jewry has seen the growth of two distinct movements:
“On the one hand, Jewry has witnessed the continued growth of a strong secular ethos that has people opting out of religious life. Conversely, it is also experiencing a more particularistic trend expressed by groups privileging a strong sense of belonging and commitment. These two growing extremes have pulled apart any semblance of shared national identity or a vital center that for years held together the Jewish people.”
So, we are supposed to ponder
* What do these two trends mean for the makeup of world Jewry, the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel, and the notion of Jewish peoplehood?
* If not peoplehood then what is or might be the new middle of hybrid between these two world views?
* Specifically, what kinds of institutions, initiatives, and organizations will yield a sense of belonging and commitment while being full partners in a multicultural and multiethnic world?
I have some qualms with the premise, but the questions have my mind churning. The problem, as this first discussion unfolds, is that the panel is made up of three non-Americans. For me, it’s not working as a mix (at least during the three opening presentations). How can we have this conversation without one of the largest Jewish communities, and the one where the two trends are arguably most pronounced?
To be fair, Deborah Lipstadt – an American – introduced the three speakers and is raising some points, but my sense is that the decision to globalize this discussion is keeping it from getting off the ground (at least from the perspective of this U.S.-centric attendee).
UPDATE: Things picked up to some degree in the Q & A. More details later after dinner. (Do I wear my jacket? I was completely overdressed with it for the panel discussion – a point especially hammered home by the shorts and sandles being sported by the chancellor of JTS.)
ANOTHER UPDATE: Word is that several of the academics in the bunch enjoyed the opening panel – so maybe it was just me.