I often find myself thinking about the term “Window Jew” (Yehudi Haloni) coined by the Israeli Poet and Jewish educator Be’eri Zimmermann. Zimmermann (1951-2016) was one of the leaders of the movement for Jewish renewal in Israel and the Kibbutz Movement (the largest movement for the establishment of kibbutzim in Israel). He was a well-known commentator of the Torah and felt that the common ways in which Israelis define their Jewish identity are quite narrow. In the following well-known text of him he is doing a play on the Hebrew words ‘Hiloni’ (secular-חילוני) and ‘Haloni’ (window-חלוני).
In Zimmermann’s perspective, the Hebrew words ‘Dati’ (orthodox) and ‘Hiloni’ (secular) were creating a world of dichotomies. He would sometimes use the world ‘Datiloni’ which combines the two, but it was not sufficient. It was then that he developed the idea of ‘Judaism as a Window’ and wrote a short text explaining his thought process. Below, you can find my English translation of the text which I’ve translated for the curious readers (from an unknown date, you may view the Hebrew source here).
I’m not ‘Hiloni’ (secular). This word is jarring to my ears. However, I’m not really ‘Dati’ (orthodox). There are orthodox Jews with whom I feel greatly connected to their Judaism, and there are secular Jews with a kind of Judaism I’m not comfortable with. In short, I’ve had enough with these terms and definitions that do not properly map out the religious borders I seek. And today I bring news to this self-debate – I’m a Window Jew (‘Yehudi Haloni’). The secular and orthodox are like the window shutters, then – a Shutter Jew.
Who is the Window Jew?
His windows are open to other types of Jews, to other possibilities, he is aware that there are many other windows out there from which people are looking at him.
And the Shutter Jew?
His shutters are closed. In his shut room he shall dwell. He will not see others, nor be seen by them. A single truth is embedded in his bones and he will never know that shutters surround him. When looking at his shut windows, at the scenes of his life, he will view there only himself as if looking at a mirror. He will not see me there, nor any of the other Window Jews who are looking at his sealed shutters through their open windows.
Blessed be he, the Window Jew I am
When I was first introduced to this text, in the fall of 2016, by a great Jewish educator (Regev Ben-David), I felt as if someone wrote it just for me. Reading it brought me back to so many different events in my life when I was that curious young Jew who was experiencing the many different colors, shapes and manifestations of Jewish life – not with the desire of converting these Jewish expressions to something else, using my own narrow definitions – but with awe, with respect and admiration for how Judaism has evolved throughout time with different people in different places.
If you were to ask me to serve as an advisor on a board, filled with members of great Jewish philanthropic foundations, debating which Jewish non-profits should receive their funding – I would tell them – give your funding to those who can assure you that they intend to create more Window Jews in this world.
And to the Shutter Jews I say this – whether you are secular, orthodox, or “just Jewish” I invite you to slowly reach out your hand and open that window. Let some air in, let some light in. Opening your window does not necessarily mean jeopardizing what your currently have. It means that I can take a look into your house, learn about you and your life, and you can get inspired by what is out there, enrich yourself with new ideas, and turn back inwards with fresh perspective about what you already know.
I would rather live in a neighborhood of people who keep their windows open, people who encourage unity without uniformity, than a neighborhood filled with closed shutters.
If you would like to read more about this notion and ideas I recommend you check out this great book – The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity by Dr. Micha Goodman.