What does it mean to be Jewish in the Twenty-First Century?

Being Jewish in the Twenty-First Century

To live a meaningful Jewish life we must ask ourselves “Why?”

Why should we carry on with our millennial legacy? What difference does it make in the world if we Jews continue to exist or not?

The answer is not straightforward. It should take into account a diversity of factors. Ffor being Jewish means not only subscribing to cultural norms, rituals, and traditions but also having a type of “software” that conditions our outlook on life. But what does this outlook consist of?

Philosophy of History might as well be a Jewish discipline for Jews were among the first people to give a transcendental reason behind the events that shape the lives of individuals and nations.

3,500 years ago, in Mesopotamia, a man called Abraham changed the way we looked at the world. The first Jewish Patriarch conveyed to his people the idea that the world was created by a single entity with a single purpose; and that, as human beings, we must take a more active role in our worldly lives. Abraham’s great-grandchild, Yosef, son of Jacob, shared a similar vision of leadership, through which he managed to end one of the most severe droughts in the region and provide food for a large sector of the Middle East.

Moises himself, by choosing freedom over slavery, helped to promote an active stand against in the tide of History.  His story of the emancipation of a group of people, and their escape from exploitation, injustice, and oppression—is today an example of humanist values applied.

In the end, this is what it means to be Jewish: to carry with the world’s injustices as if they were our own.It means taking on the privilege and responsibility of acting as a “light unto all nations”.It means facing, head-on, the generational challenges posed by our environment and dealing with the most essential economic, ecological, social, education, scientific and artistic issues of the time.

In other words, the Jew of the Twenty-First Century must strive to be a Universal Jew. He must be aware the tides of globalization and take root in his Jewish identity to face the enormous challenges that are in our midst. He or she must be mindful of the vertiginous social changes brought about by unstoppable and unimaginable technological revolutions and then engage with the world to satisfy the genuine, worldly need for an ethical life.

This century needs people who can balance the consumptive and productive forces of our economy with the need for equality and social justice. It needs people willing to navigate the global and the local –the new and the old, the simple and the sophisticated– with the commitment to never leave anyone behind. As fathers, brothers, sons, and professionals; as sons and daughters of Abraham—this is our daily task.

It was through CADENA, the Jewish Humanitarian Relief Agency based in Mexico,  that I have found a path to living a Twenty-First Century Jewish life. Humanitarian aid connects me to my father’s education and has become an important part of what I teach my children.Rooted in biblical precepts of Care for the Other and Healing the World (Tikkun Olam), it is through CADENA that I’ve been able to find meaning in my life.

I hope you can join me in this life-altering path.

About the Author
Benjamin is the Secretary-General of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City. He's the winner of the 2020 "Changing the World" Award, awarded by President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.
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