Peoplehood, Personalism and Pesach
by Dr. Gil Graff
“Your people (nation) is my people (nation); your God is my God.” With these words, the Biblical Ruth, a Moabite-born woman who was to become the grandmother of King David, indicated to her mother-in-law Naomi that she wished to join the Israelite community. The words bespeak a folk and a religious dimension of Jewish identity.
For millennia, Judaism was a matter of kinship and shared religious traditions. Jews imagined a shared past and envisioned a shared destiny. Jews understood themselves to stand in covenantal relationship with God and with one another.
In the United States, individualism has long been a hallmark of the American ethos. Jews have embraced (and have been embraced by) American nationality and religious or cultural personalism defines many Jews’ sense of Jewishness. It seems far more common to hear of “my Judaism” or “my Jewish journey,” than to hear of connection to a larger Jewish community.
Pesach is the holiday of shared Jewish memory and experience. All are invited and encouraged to participate at the seder, each in his/her uniqueness, but as part of a collective that crosses time and place. Not only do we recall the past, we together envision a “new song” of redemption.
While slaves are denied the role of actors in history, we commit ourselves—as free people—to the lessons learned from having been “strangers in the land of Egypt.” Pesach summons us to a sense of covenant, of shared purpose. It is a call, in the spirit of Ruth, to remember that we are not only individuals, but part of an enduring people.
One Point of View…let us hear yours.
Dr. Gil Graff is the Executive Director of BJE