Removing the Cultural Divide

A plethora of cultural activity has been on offer to the Perth Jewish community in recent months. There is no shortage of opportunity for participation and involvement.  I have had the pleasure of attending some very moving and highly inspiring events, none moreso than NCJWA and Maccabi Pink Sunday presentation just yesterday.  There have also been film festivals, sporting, and educational events, much charitable fundraising, music, cooking, visiting speakers, Israel presentations, dance and social activity.

The community responded en-masse to the Shabbat Project initiative, a fusing of Jewish culture with Jewish observance. Precisely because this event embraced Jewish tradition, this undertaking delivered a sense of unity that exceeded the wildest expectations of all who participated. 

This trend should be noticed, and commended. There was a time, not so long ago that any cultural expression of Judaism was bound to disregard Jewish religious tradition, on occasion with deliberate intent to obfuscate.

Just a few years back you could not go to watch Maccabi sport and buy a kosher hotdog as part of the experience. The youth would kick off a party on Yom Kippur while the traditional amongst us would daven Neilah.  Community organisations would willingly display sensitivity to the religious customs of people from other faith, but show complete disregard for their own.  Flagrantly dressing down in Shule to ensure immodest and inappropriate standards were on display became a form of entertainment.

If you wanted to watch an Israeli film at a cultural festival, you had to be prepared to stomach a political narrative that was anti-establishment, obsessively leftist, and an affront to any association of Israel to its identity as a Jewish nation state. Whilst that still may be the case in some instances, even the Israeli film industry is now managing to blend the emotion and beauty of Jewish identity into its script and awaken itself to the compassionate values inherent in Jewish religious dictum. 

A recent article in the Jewish Standard noted as follows; This “spiritualization of Israeli culture” is a big focus of Yossi Klein Halevi, who frames it as an emerging phenomenon responding to disillusionment with collapse of the “messianism” of both the left (via the Oslo Accords) and the right (via withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank).

Both here in Perth, and all around the world, we have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction. The unity of Jewish communities has been enhanced by greater insularity.  It is in part a response to the negativity, intolerance and ignorance of those outside of our communities.  However it is also much more than this. 

Expressing Jewish identity is the richest and most in-depth experience that can possibly be imagined. Jewish expression is ingrained in our DNA, and our communities are growing in the confidence required to ignite our pintele yid and unlock the power of PDJI (Public displays of Jewish Identity).

Knowledge sits at the foundation of all Jewish tradition. Education, Jewish awareness, literacy and access to Jewish textual references, coupled with the power of Hebrew language, interpretation and the contemplation of centuries old philosophy combined with contemporary application, all serve to make our community unique. 

It is nice to see changing attitudes and greater respect for, acceptance of, and practice of Jewish observance. Judaism belongs to all of us, and it is also beholden on all of us to strengthen and enhance our rich traditions.  There was a time when being culturally Jewish served as a surrogate expression to shelter us from being religiously Jewish.  That time has passed.  The inseparable bond between Jewish religious, cultural and national expression serves to make us stronger.