JPPI’s 2016 Structured Jewish World Dialogue reveals a remarkable consensus among engaged Jews regarding the need for the Jewish world to:
Be inclusive and welcoming toward all those who seek to participate in Jewish life.
Maintain selective communal norms when necessary for practical or symbolic reasons.
In virtually every community, participants in JPPI’s 2016 Dialogue, many of whom serve in positions of Jewish communal leadership, believe that welcoming all who seek to learn and participate in Jewish structures will strengthen Jewish life. There were scant voices advocating limiting access to Jewish programs. Twenty-five years after the American National Jewish Population Study1 revealed the substantial increase of intermarriage in an open society, most Jewish leadership groups strive to seed, nurture, and strengthen a broad range of quality Jewish cultural and educational programs and a communal environment that welcomes all who seek to participate. Jews around the world also expect Israel to offer a welcoming environment to all those wishing to participate in Jewish life and identify with the Jewish people.
Maintain Communal Norms
Along with the consensus on welcoming that emerged in the discussions, there was also a near consensus assertion of the value of maintaining communal norms in certain areas; most notably, criteria for senior communal leadership and for the Law of Return.
Dialogue participants recognize that denominational perspectives and local community criteria will prevail at every level in matters pertaining to membership and participation. Still, it was agreed by most participants that select senior leadership positions, particularly those with symbolic significance, demand a higher level of accepted “Jewishness” norms than does simple participation in activities.
Despite an overwhelming cultural consensus of welcoming inclusiveness, there was a parallel consensus in favor of maintaining certain standards. Said differently, it was acknowledged that individuals are living in an open, fluid context in which their search for identity and meaning is personal, idiosyncratic, and unique; still, the value of sustaining particular collective norms was recognized.
The acceptance is needed both to accommodate current realities, and is also believed by many Jews to be of value in and of itself. The norms are needed to maintain the Jewish people as a collective, and prevent it from disintegrating into a fragmented and diffuse collection of groups and individuals.