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March 8, 2024

One People. One Destiny

Ari S. Lorge

One People. One Destiny.


Orthodox Judaism will go extinct in America. So declared one prominent Jewish sociologist in the 1950’s based on demographic trends. Many others joined in that chorus. Not only did it not come true, but orthodox Jews have increased their numbers, institutions, and communal influence.


American Jews will vanish. So said Look Magazine in 1964. American Jews didn’t vanish, but Look Magazine did.  


The Talmud teaches, “Who is truly worthy of being called wise? One who foresees the future.”


And yet littered in articles, blogs, and books are the spurious predictions of sociologists and pundits – especially of the Jewish world. The opening examples may be from decades past, but these voices still exist around us. We know why. Provocative theories sell. Doomsday forecasting is lucrative. And we all want to make our world predictable.


My teacher, Dr. Gary Zola, an eminent scholar of American Jewish History would often end his introductory course on American Judaism with historical examples of when the sociologists were so sure of the Jewish future – and how major world events burst onto the scene changing the course and trajectory of American Judaism. In addition to the ones I mentioned at the outset, we would look at how:


The mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe shattered expectations and made conservative Judaism the dominant Jewish movement, for a time, or how World War II and the suburban shift brought American Jews back into pews and created peak Jewish affiliation rats, or how The Six Day War radically reshaped American Jewish attachment to Israel and the necessity of Jewish security to generations of Jews.


Dr. Zola reminded us that history is not predictable. Often despite their own warnings, we treat sociologists like prophets who foresee the future, when we should really treat them like photographers who capture a moment. If we want to learn from history, we should expect that history making events will disrupt the models time and time again.


For the past 2 decades pundits have been sounding the alarm bells of the end of Jewish peoplehood: the concept that despite our differences, Jews are at the end of the day unified by a common past and collective destiny. Their voices have grown ever more dire. In the past two years The Jewish press has been inundated with articles entitled things like:

The End of the Jewish People is Here

The End of Jewish Peoplehood: An American Perspective



All of us can agree that October 7th is a watershed moment in Jewish life. It is too soon to assess the lasting impact of the atrocities and butchery of that day and its reverberations through the weeks and months that have followed.


But one thing I see in the immediacy is a clear refutation of the sociologists who told us Jewish peoplehood was dead or dying. My two recent congregational trips one with members of our Board to Israel, and one with our confirmation class to Portugal demonstrated that clearly. I could keep us all night with anecdotes, but I’ll share three.


In Israel we stood at the grounds of the Nova Festival turned X. We stood there with ultra-orthodox groups, IDF soldiers, national religious Zionists, other synagogue groups all mourning the same slaughter of predominantly secular Israelis. We didn’t question the other group’s motivations or intentions for being there. We stood in awe taking in the scene, seeing the pictures and memorials of the murdered. On the outskirts of the field impromptu prayers and vigils began. In one area a group of soldiers started saying Kaddish. Soon, without anyone asking or inviting, Jews of all observances, beliefs, and backgrounds joined in the common language of grief extoling our one God, yitgadal, v’yitkadash, shmeh rebah. One people, one destiny.


We also went to the Shuva Junction. In this area where soldiers travel in and out of Gaza, Israelis set up a place where soldiers can be fed a good hot meal, find quiet or comradery, and pick up goods soldiers need free of charge due to donations that have poured in. Despite all the barriers between us – age, nationality, experience we found ourselves sitting at tables with the soldiers, hearing their stories, offering our support and our presence – and of course playing Jewish geography. One people, one destiny.


And this is not some phenomenon that ends with one generation, as some speculate. Jewish teens have the capacity for deep feelings of peoplehood when we demonstrate to them it is important, and provide them language and understanding for it.


On each confirmation trip, we work hard to ensure we don’t just encounter the stories of Jewish communities that once thrived and then were slaughtered. Yes, we want our students to encounter Jewish memory – and incorporate more of it into their sense of identity. But, we also look for a place where we can connect to Jews living and out Jewish lives today. In Portugal we learned all about the medieval communities, but we also went to Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner at a local synagogue. We spent an afternoon with the Lisbon Jewish youth movement, so our teens could be with teens from the Jewish community today. These encounters become the highlight of the trip – and the Lisbon Jewish community was one of the warmest we’ve experienced.


Lucy summed up the transformation when she reflected, “Before this trip, I had only visited Jewish communities in the United States and Israel. It was hard for me to visualize what other Jewish communities looked like especially in Europe.”


Being with the teens Marin reflected, “I felt a part of one big family.” Andrew shared, “After meeting up with Jewish teens in Portugal… I have learned that it isn’t too hard to make connections to Jews from different cultures—you just have to find shared parts of your identity.” Anya summed up the experience, “I loved the way the chaperones framed the trip to the youth center - a meeting with distant cousins. Seeing how warmly they greeted us… made me feel connected to the Jewish diaspora around the world... Finding out that one student in their group had the exact same cultural and family story made me realize how we are all connected.” One people, one destiny.

The parshah this week is called Vayakhel after its first word meaning to form a group – a kahal or kehillah. In this case Moses brings the Israelites into a collective community to build the Mishkan: all the tribes of Israel came together for common purpose: building God’s sanctuary. But that verb – vayakhel, is the same that is used when the tribes come together to create the Golden calf. This teaches us that a group can be brought together to be a mob or a kingdom of priests.


We are in the midst of events that will change us. We are being brought close again – forming a renewed kehillah. Our task is to react to these days in a way that allows us to discern our people’s constructive purpose. If our kinship is to live beyond the fleeting moment, and I pray it will, the moderate majority must ignore the extremist voices on each side clamoring for us to worship their Golden Calves. We must continue the work of building a Jewish State that is a sanctuary for God, the Jewish people, and all people. A lesson of Jewish history is that we are not defined by what happens to us, but how we respond. History and destiny call to us once again.

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.