The Wondering Jew
New book explores Israeli Judaism and the conflict between religion and secularism.
By David Glass
January 7, 2021
Zionism began as a movement full of contradictions, between a pull to the past and a desire to forge a new future. The challenges of polarization faced in Israel can be seen in the political square, cultural and ethic notions of belonging, and among religions. Additionally, within sectors of Israeli Jews themselves, Israel has become a place of fragmentation, between those who sanctify religious tradition and others who wish to escape its grasp. Now, a new middle ground is emerging between religious and secular Jews who want to engage with their heritage — without being restricted by it or losing it completely.
In Dr. Micah Goodman’s newest book, The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity, he explores Israeli Judaism and the conflict between religion and secularism, one of the major causes of political polarization throughout the world. However, he suggests, in a very Israeli paradox, that Israel is not polarized.
“Israel is misunderstood because we always see it through a political lens,” said Dr. Goodman in a recent telephone interview. “When you learn and hear about Israel through that lens, it seems like a messed-up place — and every election season bruises Israel even more. What if you looked at Israel through a different lens — say of culture, Judaism or a spiritual dimension? You will find that Israel is more united than it ever was.
… In Israel, politics hides the fact that we are not polarized…we are seeing more unity than we ever have before. That is the paradox. That is the lens I use in my book…”
This concept and others, including an explanation of the rich diversity of secularism in Israel, will be addressed during an hour-long online program hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC (JCRC/AJC), in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute, at 10 a.m. on Sunday, January 24.
In addition to serving as a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Dr. Goodman is president of Beit Prat, one of the leading organizations in Israel for young adults wishing to learn in a pluralistic Beit Midrash setting. Considered one of the most original and influential public intellectuals in Israel, he also is the author of Catch-67, published in 2017. It quickly became the subject of great debate throughout Israel as it addressed the challenges Israel faced after the 1967 war.
Added Randi Sakwa, co-chair of JCRC/AJC’s Israel Programming Committee and a participant in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Detroit Community Leadership Program, “A leading voice on the challenges and opportunities facing Israel and world Jewry today, Micah Goodman encourages us to listen with empathy and embrace community in order to bridge our divides even with those whom we may disagree. Having heard Dr. Goodman this past year on many occasions, I could not be more excited to hear him explore his new book with us on January 24.”
While the upcoming election in Israel, the fourth in two years, will be addressed briefly by Dr. Goodman as an illustration, more attention will be put on the importance of learning from each other and healing.