“Israelis are realizing that Zionism is only one chapter of the Jewish story. Now we want to enjoy the whole book.”
—Kobi Oz, Israeli song writer, artist and leader of a daily Talmud class for secular Israelis in Tel Aviv.
Who has not used Waze to navigate a road trip?
Most of the American Jewish community has a prideful appreciation of the magnificent explosion of Israeli entrepreneurial talent in the tech sector over the last twenty years (Waze!). Today, relative to its population, Israel has the most start-ups of any country in the world. The moniker Start-up nation has wide cultural resonance as the burgeoning Israeli economy of the last two decades has become synonymous with innovation, creativity and success.
However, what is not talked about is the parallel – and related – period of cultural and religious renaissance in Israel today that has come to be known as Israeli Judaism. Similar to their peers in the tech industry, Israeli spiritual entrepreneurs have begun to unleash and leverage an enormous amount of creative energy.
What is this bull market called Israeli Judaism? And Why has it picked up at this moment in Israeli history?
Paradigm Shifting: The Economic and Spiritual Backdrop
Would Ben Gurion or Golda Meir or even Menachem Begin ever have imagined – even in their wildest dreams – that Israel would be exporting energy to Arab nations?
So many of us grew up with the narrative that Israel was a country filled with metaphorical “milk and honey” but thoroughly energy starved, existing in a hostile neighborhood of oil-rich adversaries.
Today, Israel can’t export enough natural gas! Over the last ten years there has been a total paradigm shift in Israel’s relationship to energy production.
This specific paradigm shift is representative of other transformational shifts occurring within Israeli society that have created the fertile ground for Israel’s cultural and religious renaissance.
Consider that more than four decades have gone by without a major conventional war. While the present generation of Israelis certainly know the threat and costs of terror and conflict, they experience a higher level of existential security than ever before.
Israeli society has entered into an unprecedented stage of economic maturity coupled with physical security. The amazing growth spurt in Israel’s economy has created new levels of material blessings and has also generated new sets of attendant life questions. The absence of major geopolitical conflicts – of the like that Israel experienced in its first decades – affords Israelis the “space” to pursue questions around meaning and purpose. And the stresses of modern, fast paced, competitive, digital, urban living have made these questions more pressing.
The Modern Predicament of (Un)Connectedness
Many have pointed out the sad irony that in our culture of hyper virtual-connectivity, too many of us feel unconnected and alone. The curated worlds of Facebook and Instagram have ironically bequeathed much alienation.
William Deresiewcz has thoughtfully noted that one of the great epidemics of our time is the fear of not being seen, of anonymity. So, we post and post in the hope of making our lives and ourselves visible to others across the abyss of a cellular network.
These are the pressing spiritual and communal questions generated by our historical moment.
The search for authentic Jewish and Israeli responses to these questions has helped birth this new renaissance of Israeli Judaism.