Study, Social Justice, and Community

general
May 1, 2006
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Benjy Maor

For over 2,000 years, Jewish study for the sake of study has been inseparable from Jewish culture. The political and cultural encounter between modernity and Judaism gave birth to the Zionist movement, and at the same time, to the detachment of secular Jews from the rich world of Jewish texts, traditions, and values. Today, many young Jewish Israelis are averse to any kind of Jewish studies, perceiving that as an irrelevant act appropriate for Diaspora Jewry where religious study and observance is how Jews build their identity. For most non-Orthodox Israelis, though, national identity supercedes religious identity. Some fear the sweep of hazarah betshuvah (becoming religiously observant). Ironically, a majority of Jews in the Jewish State actually know very little about Judaism; even worse, many are repelled by a Judaism they associate with negative religious establishment and political party experiences. These young adult Israelis lack a basic familiarization with or appreciation of Jewish values, heritage, and culture. Added to this is the economic privatization and bankruptcy of the Israeli government on social and welfare issues, which has lead to the disintegration of the social cohesiveness and collective narrative that existed in Israel at the time the state was established.

Bina, an independent nonprofit organization founded ten years ago, creates study opportunities for secular and non-observant Jews in Israel. Responding to a thirst for new intellectual, philosophic, and educational materials that enrich the language of Jewishness makes Judaism accessible to all, Bina hopes to strengthen the Jewish and Zionist identity of new immigrants and native-born Israeli youth and young adults. Stressing the humanist aspects of Jewishness, one of our major projects is Bina b’shchuna (in the neighborhood) – an educational, cultural, and social action project in Tel Aviv neighborhood schools and community centers. We are engaging residents from the lower socioeconomic neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv; many are immigrants from Bukhara or Sephardic backgrounds who have not had opportunities to study Jewish texts or celebrate in a pluralistic fashion the Jewish holidays and festivals.

The program offers three gateways into Judaism: through study, social justice work, or community involvement.

An emerging leadership committed to Jewish values and versed in Jewish thought, is beginning to address issues of social justice and culture anew. This new leadership of young secular male and female scholars, talmidei chachamim and chachamot – follows in the footsteps of the rabbinic scholars of the Talmud and the pioneers of the second aliyah , renewing texts while focusing on action based upon our secular humanistic worldview.

In-depth study of both Jewish and general texts is intrinsic to building identity. It fosters inquisitiveness and dialogue, and creates an impetus for creativity – producing new Jewish texts on the civic issues Israeli society faces today. As we begin to establish a secular yeshiva, Bina is working toward producing a Talmud Tel Avivi , modeled on the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian) and Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) developed by the rabbis in the first to sixth centuries, C.E.

Israelis engaged in Bina programs adopt a social action, service, or educational, project, enabling their simultaneous engagement in Jewish study, values, and community.

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Benjy Maor (Munitz) was born in Los Angeles, made aliyah to Israel in 1983, and became a founding member of Kibbutz Lotan where he lived for 12 years.He has worked for over 25 years in informal Jewish education, including directing a youth movement and summer camp in Israel. He is Director of Resource Development for the United Kibbutz Movement, lectures on Israeli-Diaspora Relations at the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, where he also fundraises for projects furthering tikkun olam in Israel.

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