The Jewish Left’s Tragic Problem With Solidarity for Jews
Wherever there's a large and flourishing Jewish community, it's never one community. It's hundreds of them. The freedom to live as Jews and citizens with equal rights means a natural Jewish diversity is free to thrive. With no existential threat, there's no need to huddle together for protection.
So the term "the Jewish community," when used for any country where many thousands of Jews live safely and spread out geographically, is always an illusion. There are many Jewish communities. Those organized around synagogues: Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, non-denominational. Communities where Jews gather around schools or cultural centers, or youth groups, or secular Jewish culture.
Observant communities who require a more elaborate infrastructure: a supply of kosher food, Jewish schools and ritual facilities. Highly identified Jews, not necessarily religious, who need reassurance in numbers to fill communal roles, and for their children to socialize with and ultimately marry. Those with storied histories and legacy buildings, and fluid, ad hoc communities of Jews with shared interests.
The advantage of a Jewish population that feels secure and is economically self-sufficient is this free choice between different kinds of communities. Most of the time, they don’t even need each other. Some of the time, they don't even want each other.
Outsiders – Israelis, non-Jews, even those Jews unfamiliar with communities other than the one they grew up in, often find it difficult to grasp these differences, and the complex relationships they have with the world around them.
When I lived in the UK for the second time, as an adult, I found the cosmopolitan British Jews in London had very little in common with the small insular Orthodox community in Manchester I had known 30 years ago. It felt, and it still feels, that secular and religious Israelis, despite all their differences, have a lot more in common with each other, than Jews from two such separate communities in Britain.
"Britain doesn’t have a Jewish community. It has a hundred Jewish communities," says Laura Janner-Klausner, UK Reform Judaism's senior rabbi, and that strikes me as a brave thing for her to say, though she probably wouldn’t agree.