Let’s Just Say it…The Jewish World is facing some fairly unprecedented challenges these days…
That’s right, in Israel and the Diaspora, Jews are struggling with their sense of identity.
Israelis—the majority of whom are secular and culturally oriented—are fending off relentless attempts to rewrite their collective narrative and national norms along lines that are increasingly doctrinal and orthodox.
Diaspora Jews—who feel increasingly distanced from classic modes of Jewish belonging—are searching for connections with Judaism that reflect their unique intersectionality and which speak to cultural rather than other forms of Jewish expression.
Fortunately, there is a common language and heritage that can assist Jews from both communities to strengthen their sense of identity and intensify their connection with Jewish people-hood. It is a form of Jewish thinking and expression that has its roots in the liberal, secular worldview that formed the basis of modern day Israel. It is known as Hiloniut (in Israel and maybe “Democratic Judaism” in North America).
The Hiloni Jew draws inspiration from the Cultural Zionist movement which sought to re-envision both Jewish practice and the sense of self. It sought to liberate Jews from the burdens of the past by offering them a new way of viewing and connecting with their history and heritage.
Hiloniout studies a broad array of texts that represent the breadth and depth of Jewish history and scholarship, as well as ideas that come from the broader spheres of world philosophy. It includes in its cannon an array of expressions from the arts and sciences, including music, poetry, dance, film, theater and the visual arts. It gives equal weight to past and present, looking to all forms of Jewish energy in its building of the future.
Hiloniut is a values driven philosophy; it is liberal, progressive and democratic. It places value on the needs of the individual as well as the collective. It seeks the betterment of Jews through the opening of new vistas, aspiring to harmonize Jewish ethics with Humanist values.
Hiloniut is largely expressed through the Hebrew language, the revived and renewed lingua franca of the Jewish people. At the same time, it acknowledges and refers to aspects of Jewish languages and dialects that helped to forge various Jewish cultures throughout history.
Although it is its own distinct version of Jewishness, it is neither elitist nor hierarchical, doing its best to bring various ethnic and cultural experiences into its expression. It can accommodate a range of political views.
Hiloniut defines itself along secular lines, it rejects a Judaism that is overly prescriptive or which seeks to limit the sovereignty of the individual. Its adherents will for the most part, find spiritual nourishment through learning, literature, song, and the arts, from family, community and interaction with nature.
This notwithstanding, it does not preclude Jews whose natural inclination is toward religious forms of expression. One can theoretically draw from both the wells of culture and faith.
Israeli and Diaspora Jews can share in the long and rich heritage of Hiloniut and use it to construct a mutual dialogue and as the building blocks for a shared future. We encourage these interactions, since they will no doubt serve the needs of each community, while at the same time hold the possibility of creating a new, collective sense of understanding. More importantly, the exploration and development of the Hiloni path can be mutually beneficial in helping to solve the existential crisis that most contemporary liberal-minded Jews are facing, namely the desire to see an open, creative and accepting form of Jewish life blossom and flourish throughout the Jewish world.
The “Hagut Institute” is in the process of being established by educators, academic researchers and people whose future of Judaism is dear to their hearts.
Let's sit together and learn, research, share and discuss the ideas that have made the Jewish people strong, vibrant and creative in the past and which can potentially take it into new, as-yet unknown spheres of the future.
For more than anything else, the Hiloni world view aspires to use the collective wisdom of the Jewish people to consider and assess the challenges of the present, rather than to simply reflect on what once was. It is this brave desire for renewal that makes Hiloni Jewishness unique, since it digs deeply and broadly into the roots of Jewish experience as it branches itself out in new and innovative ways.
The Jews are Coming . Photo: Michal Efrati
A new educational and civic discourse: Secular humanist Judaism