A review of the book
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Futurizing the Jews
Written by Tsvi Bisk and Moshe Dror
Writing a book about the future of Jews and Judaism is, was and always will be about survival. This book does that and more. It gives a glimpse of a future in which Judaism not only survives, but flourishes. It has a personal component for this Diaspora reader. It forced me to think about my own relationship to Israel and Judaism, clearly the intention of the authors, Tsvi Bisk and Moshe Dror.
Futurizing the Jews is like a stew with two main ingredients. One ingredient is the future of the State of Israel and the other ingredient is the future of Judaism and Jews. Just as these subjects cook together in the same pot, so are they entwined in the book's text. Also sprinkled throughout the text are strengths and characteristics of Israel as a country and those which increase the chances of Jewish survival. Seasoned by a strong measure of criticism, both when it comes to Israeli internal policy and relations with Jews outside Israel, the book thickens like a good stew.
The Introduction presents us with an explanation of the field of futures studies, its purpose, goals and tools. As all futurists the authors struggle to envision futures that are not mere extrapolations of the past, but twists on the past that take learning from the present to a new step. To actually describe such a future is for most mortals impossible but a futurist tries to jump out of his/her own paradigmic structure and see beyond it. One senses Tsvi Bisk consciously struggling to create a future which doesn't repeat past mistakes. His future is build upon lessons learned as we read in chapters 1-10 for which he was responsible.
Several chapters are devoted to explaining the Zionist movement and its philosophy. After 50 years it is easy to loose tract of Zionism's aims and goals. The vision they had then is in many ways fulfilled with the creation of a Jewish state. The new vision we are presented is that of Israel as a world metropolis. A "society with the highest possible economic, scientific, cultural, and social standards" peacefully integrated into the region.
Chapters 8-10 focus upon relationships between Jews and Arabs, Orientals and Sephardic, and Christians. We are treated to a clear definition of one of the major differences between Jews and Christians. "Jewish 'doctrine' is preoccupied with the earthly behavior of human beings as a supreme value in itself and is the key to the world to come, not the true nature of God and getting this right in order to enter the world to come.
In order to explain what possible future actions could be taken to realize there vision, the authors present the necessary historical background so that a wide range of readers will be able to understand their thoughts on the future.
To fulfill the vision the authors present what they call a "Grand Strategy". Here are some of the major steps:
- Create Israel as a center for Judaism with a caring and justice as key qualities. Israel's economic role in the world would not be as a nation state, but as a medium-sized city. Bisk uses Boston as an example, "where the largest activity is education" combined with health services and science based industries.
- Utilize Israel's multicultural makeup as the base of a metropolitan node would help in providing Israelis and the world with needed services.
- Become a member in a "transnational framework" such as the European Union by 2010 at the same time willingly giving up a certain amount of national sovereignty.
- Strengthen ties with the United States and the new Asian powers.
- Enter into a new peace agreement.
- Move from a Second Wave (Industrial) economic structure into a Third Wave structure (Information and services) by building an economic structure that has a few people in agriculture, less than 15% in manufacturing and "the rest in services or the creation, processing and exchange of informationů"
- Change the relationship between "diaspora-Jews and Israel by asking diaspora-Jews for services instead of money.
- Eliminate the social gap and build social solidarity.
The style of the first ten chapters moves between well written, understandable English and academic English. Those who distain academic writing style can just hop over a sentence or two and be assured that there will be another, more pedagogic explanation with examples or metaphors that clear up the whole issue.
Chapter 11 begins to look at the second ingredient in the stew, that of the Judaism and Jews in the future. An honest look at the situation of today's many secularized Jews is that they are trying to live with honesty and integrity guided by the structures of today; a system of law, capitalism which emphasizes the individual and democracy. Many are now finding that this is not enough and young Jews are being drawn to the spiritual side of Judaism, the Kabala and Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. We are told that Jewish tradition is flexible as it is based on personal behavior. Signs are that these hyphenated (Jewish - Buddhists) religious approaches are a growing trend.
Another question of the future of Judaism is related to how a Jew can retain his or her Jewish identity in a time when the trend is assimilation and a counter trend is religious fundamentalism. The future, offer our authors, is a Jewish citizenship. It has to do with behavior, not belief. Behavior is a key ingredient in Judaism. Belief in God is not necessary. The main ingredient will be a feeling of belonging one will get through this citizenship.
If one is not living in Israel, how is one to get this feeling of citizenship? Possibly in cyberspace, where individuals can access: information which is a decentralized source of information that no one owns; empowerment and freedom of access; and a hospitable and customized climate.
The coming together of concepts from quantum physics and various religions is well documented by Peter Russell and Fritof Capra, both scientists and philosophers. Co-author Moshe Dror means that the connection for Judaism is to that of light, the photon and the concept of God as light is the link between an outer, rational and scientific paradigm and a spiritual inner view. The fact that Judaism has never separated body and soul means that exploration of the more spiritual side of Judaism is still waiting. The Kabala is the prime source of Jewish mysticism and in combination with cyberspace could be one of the major sources for Jews who feel a need for a spiritual connection. For those futurists and really long-range thinkers the authors present a vision of spiritualism that is in a time when the physical world no longer exists. A time when we let go of the physical body and take a consciousness with us into the cosmos. This concept is linked to and inspired by what quantum physics is learning today. Today is sounds impossible, but not more impossible than the leap a person from the 1600's would have to make in order to understand cyberspace.
Dror describes how the past and the future of Jewish education have met. He compares the structure of a Torah page with a page of text on the internet with hypertext. He sees a future where the book gives way to the new information technology. Books have always been sacred for Jews. They must maintain that quality in a digitalized form in the future. Dror pictures a move from linear approaches to education; he describes a Jewish school classroom modeled after the yeshiva, with students sitting in learning clusters and learning from each other. A rabbi or scholar moves from one group to another. This school is a place to learn, where learning by doing and discovering goes on. He sees a role for edutainment and a new roll for teachers. This means that teachers have been trained to be facilitators instead of deliverers of information. In this school of the future, children learn and also learn how to learn, each in the way best suited to their particular learning style. In this Jewish classroom the students can be of any age as learning never stops.
Indeed, all learning doesn't happen only at school, for some Jewish learning happens at home as well, in a modern version of the home schooling model. And, Dror sees students having fun!
Futurizing the Jews: Alternative Futures for Meaningful Jewish Existence in the 21st Century
Tsvi Bisk and Moshe Dror
November 30, 2003
List Price: $74.95