Image courtesy BimBam (formerly G-dCast) who created this collection of animated shorts for teaching Jewish Peoplehood basics.

By Dr Shlomi Ravid

Enduring understandings are defined as “statements summarizing important ideas and core processes that are central to a discipline and have lasting value beyond the classroom. They synthesize what students should understand – not just know or do – as a result of studying a particular content area. Moreover, they articulate what students should “revisit” over the course of their lifetimes in relationship to the content area”[1]. In the case of Peoplehood education, they also help educators understand what is essential to Jewish Peoplehood and through their articulation help frame the field, its purpose, content and pedagogy. Taken together, holistically, they point to the need of developing curricula (like a citizenship curriculum for example) to be implemented both within and, more importantly, discrete from the two main pillars of Jewish Studies and Hebrew.

Before delving into the enduring understandings of Peoplehood education it may worth reflecting on the overall state of the field. Interestingly enough, while we see Peoplehood taking a prominent role on the institutional Jewish agenda, the same cannot be said as it relates to Peoplehood education. The hope that a challenge to Jewish collective identity will be met with an appropriate educational response has not yet materialized. What can explain that?

  • Most Jewish educational entities feel comfortable teaching and developing Jewish individual identity but are less equipped to addressing the collective dimensions of Judaism. How to nurture active and caring members of the Jewish community locally and globally seems at time to be beyond their mandate and capacity.
  • Many of those organizations actually think that they are addressing the notion of Jewish collectivity directly or indirectly, through events, mifgashim and experiential interactions. However the fact that it is not done in a structured and holistic fashion is educationally problematic. A piecemeal and ad-hoc approach would most likely not yield Peoplehood consciousness. It may create a sense of engagement but developing a sustainable consciousness requires a more thorough process that includes study, reflection and identity re-interpretation.
  • Peoplehood is a complex topic not just for the students but also for the faculties and leadership of educational organizations. It requires intellectual courage, commitment and openness to embrace new concepts and ideas. Yes, it spells more work.
  • Despite some unique universal resources such as the Jewish Peoplehood Toolkit Peoplehood educational resources, teachers’ training and professional developments are still sorely lacking.

Despite the complex picture painted above, the field of Peoplehood education has grown and matured over the last decade. The rest of this article will be dedicated to framing the essential understandings that are at the core of Peoplehood education – the enduring understandings of Peoplehood education. Those essential understandings can provide the basis for an educationally oriented conversation on the future development of the field:

  1. Judaism is a Civilization

From a Peoplehood perspective Judaism is a civilization. It is the sum total of Jewish rituals, customs and culture, languages, values, texts, connection to a homeland, institutions to strengthen community … and more. Judaism as a civilizational enterprise enables each and every Jew to contribute to this collective creation in every community throughout the globe. Jewish Peoplehood is about sustaining, growing and enriching Jewish civilization. Peoplehood education is about engaging individual Jews in this collective enterprise and building their commitment to its future.

  1. Peoplehood is the collective dimension of Judaism

Judaism as a faith and world view is very personal. And yet through the history of the Jewish people a collective dimension and ethos have also taken center stage in the minds of Jews. A sense that Jews share, as Soloveitchik taught us, a covenant of fate and a covenant of destiny, have become central to the Jewish ethos. It means that caring and feeling responsible for fellow Jews as well as embracing a collective destiny of a “holy nation”, are integral to Jewish identity, thus providing the rationale for the Jewish collective enterprise at the local and global level. The Jewish communal enterprise and the thick network of Jewish organizations and philanthropies are all expressions of the Jewish collective drive.

  1. Family is a core metaphor

Family is the core metaphor for understanding the Jewish people. We understand who we are as a People through the familiar notion of family, and we strive to cultivate the feeling of family, of connection to other Jews as parts of the extended family, in our learners. This also means that we care for other Jews even if we disagree with them and do not have the privilege of disowning them.

  1. Mutual and collective responsibilities are core expressions of Peoplehood

As with all families, there is a feeling of connection and also a responsibility to everyone in the family. One of the core components of being in the Jewish People is the notion of being responsible for other Jews, kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh. This means being responsible for their well-being as well as for the way they behave. It also applies to the family as a whole. Jews, as individuals and as a collective, carry a responsibility for the future of the Jewish people.

  1. Pursuing Justice and contributing to Tikkun Olam are core Peoplehood values

Seeking justice and fixing the world are not only part of the Jewish historical legacy as expressed in ancient texts and the words of the prophets, but very much at the heart of the Jewish collective ethos today. In some respects Jews today are at the position to do more for both their own and others in need, than ever in Jewish history. This enables more platforms for social activism and service throughout the world.

  1. Pluralism is a core Peoplehood value

Modernity opened the door to pluralistic Judaism which became part of the Peoplehood paradigm in our time. This not only means that Jews are entitled to practice Judaism in different ways but that we should be respectful and understanding even if we disagree.  We should actually celebrate our diversity.

This is also true regarding our interpretations of Peoplehood and its core values. There is not one single correct interpretation of what Jewish Peoplehood means. People interpret the core values differently and give them different priorities (for example particularism vs. universalism). This is a true reflection of the nature of Peoplehood in the age of pluralism.

  1. Israel is the Vision and Venture of the Jewish People

Modern Israel is the vision and venture of the Jewish People. The Jewish people initiated and built it in the spirit of the right of nations to their own State but also as an instrument to ensure the People’s continuity, well-being and cultural thriving. Being a vision and venture of the people makes every Jew a virtual share holder of the enterprise. It entails having a relationship to the State even if there are disagreements regarding its policy. Israel is too central to Jewish life and the Jewish collective enterprise for Jews to disown.

A Final word on Pedagogy

The end goal of Peoplehood education is to nurture active members of the Jewish community and people with a heightened sense of commitment to the Jewish collective enterprise. This entails engagement, consciousness building and motivating to act. A rather tall order. The good news is that we do not need to start from scratch. The current Jewish landscape provides components of all of the above. The challenge is to package them into a cohesive and effective educational intervention. Peoplehood consciousness should not be perceived as a byproduct of current Jewish upbringing. It just does not work. The time has come to develop targeted curricula and educational programs towards the attainment of that goal. Programs that integrate the enduring understandings of Jewish Peoplehood into the world views of the 21st century’s Jews.


Dr Shlomi Ravid is the founding director of the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.
Special thanks to Lisa Grant for her helpful comments.