I once had a history teacher who often remarked that for a true historical context a fifty year period from a particular event or transformation is needed.
I also had a Rabbi who once exclaimed that we have two ears. One is to listen to what our grandparents were saying 50 years ago, and the other is to listen to what our grandchildren will be saying in 50 years time.
The Jewish people are living in one of the most dramatic and auspicious eras of human civilisation, yet so caught up in the quagmire of day to day living that we don’t take time to stop and notice the sheer magnitude and pace of change, and what it means for our identity and objectives as Jewish community members.
Fifty years ago, our grandparents were beginning to be confronted by the liberal revolution of the 1960’s. Until that time, tradition was steadfast and the dynamics of the Jewish home remained unchallenged. There was also a post Holocaust generation gap – a lot of old people, the emergence of young families, but not much in between. Of course there was a Jewish State, a victor of two existential wars, still vulnerable in pre 1967 borders. The land was yet to be cultivated and turned into the miraculous agricultural landscape that it has been transformed into. Diaspora Jews did not treat the State as a “birthright” our consider travel to Israel to be an inevitable part of their Jewish upbringing.
From the prism of Tammuz 5772, the Jewish State holds primacy and pride for most Jews everywhere. The vocal minority who reject Jewish nationalism and self-determination are nothing short of “useful idiots” supporting the enemies of Israel. As the centre of the Jewish world, Israel delivers education, modernity, technology, produce, and culture to its Diaspora.
There is also an awakening of Jewish observance and learning. The accessibility of Jewish texts has proliferated in the past decade at a pace that is nothing short of mind blowing. The number of students and the level of commitment to Jewish learning is stronger now, in quantifiable terms, than it has ever been any time in the history of the Jewish people. The youth and vitality of this resurgence is very inspiring.
For those caught up in the day to day monotony, who don’t stop to notice what is happening around us, they are losing their contemporary and future connection to Jewish destiny.
In Perth there are now hundreds of young Jews who identify and uphold their Jewishness. They learn Torah, eat kosher, walk the streets as visible Jews, and create vibrant activities and events. Then there is the older generation, some of whom seem to be embarrassed by public and overt displays of Jewish identity. People who shamelessly eat in non-kosher establishments, pay lip service to Jewish observance, and direct precious community resources away from supporting the critical infrastructure that will be needed to grow and develop the next generation of Perth Jews.
In the year 2062 it is highly doubtful I will be around to see how the generation of my grandchildren will be promulgating the Jewish identity of their own, or building Jewish communal life. I don’t want to be the one that leaves a legacy of wasted resources or attitudinal reticence that stifles their opportunity to further build the Jewish revolution.
As the Perth Jewish community continues to see a new senior generation evolve, and the building of a new generation of young families, the discussion of generational transition will become more important. Leadership succession in many settings will need to be accorded greater priority. Affordability and economic sustainability will make decision making harder, and more targeted. Above all, polarisation of the community will continue to intensify. This can be both negative and positive. However one thing is for sure. There will no longer be the luxury of “sitting on the fence” or “watching from the sideline”. We are moving into an age where every Jewish household will need to make a conscious decision. That is, whether they should move closer to, or further away from the intensive environment of Jewish community living, complete with learning, traditional Jewish observance, involvement in community organisations, and the social connections built by their children.