The Jewish Community Story

The materials in this curriculum seek to help students understand the history and dynamics of the Jewish community, to help them appreciate the community that surrounds them, and to encourage them to see it as a positive entity that in their deepened understanding and heightened awareness, they might wish to join and in which they might want to play an active part.

The curriculum is made up of four units, which include a total of seventeen distinct lessons/chapters.

Click here to download the Introduction and Rationale for this curriculum.


UNIT ONE: Today’s Jewish world
UNIT TWO: The Historical Framework for understanding the Story.
UNIT THREE: The Dynamics of Jewish Community
UNIT FOUR: The Community Section

Introduction to Community Section



Hillel Director counts the “wounded”, after BDS “battle”

June 1, 2014 by

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First appeared on
Rabbi Oren J. Hayon is the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington.

In his biography of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Plutarch recounts the details of the ancient Greek general’s costly victory against Rome at Asculum in 279 BCE. According to Plutarch’s account, shortly after the battle, Pyrrhus considered the devastating losses to his Macedonian troops and made the dark but prescient reflection: “If we were to be victorious in one more battle against the Romans, it would utterly destroy us.” [Life of Pyrrhus, 21:9]

The story of that long-ago battle comes to remind us that some victories produce a sense of exhilaration so intoxicating that they prevent us from realizing that we are actually marching unwittingly toward defeat. I write these lines in the immediate aftermath of a period in the life of our organization which looks unmistakably like a time of triumph. Nevertheless, as I write, I am keenly aware of how we have been diminished by the events of this year. I find myself surprised and concerned about how much we have lost, and about how much more we stand to lose in the future.  To Full Post

A different way to approach Yom Kippur

August 1, 2013 by

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A possible script.

At synagogues throughout the world.

Yom Kippur 2016.

*delete where appropriate:

[The Cantor clears his/her throat, and announces:]

“Just before we/I sing Unetaneh Tokef, I wonder what associations arise when we think about Yom Kippur? I know that we have often/rarely/never talked about this before: For some of us, we think about a cleansing of sins. Some of us contemplate the previous year, some of us think of our relationship with God, and some of us just think about food! But today, I would say that about one out of every two Jews in the world is also thinking about the horrors of war.

Because on Yom Kippur exactly 40 years ago a war broke out in Israel, and it has never been forgotten.

Now I am aware that we rarely/often talk about Israel in synagogue, and that Israel is a controversial/significant part of our community. But I would venture to say that most of our activities to do with Israel happen outside the prayer service. To Full Post

Chapter 1: Demography – Where are the Jews today and how did they get there?


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One of the most difficult series of questions in the Jewish world today concerns demography. How many Jews actually exist in the world today? What is happening to the Jewish population in different centers of the world? What are the relative shares of Israel and Diaspora in the overall Jewish population of the world? And as important as the numbers themselves are, the really crucial questions lie underneath the surface.

What is the meaning of the numbers? What is the nature of the changing balance of demographic power between the State of Israel and the Diaspora as a whole? What trends do they suggest? What are the implications of today’s numbers for tomorrow’s future? And perhaps the most difficult question of Jews for those who spend their lives counting Jews: Who, exactly do you count? In other words, for the purpose of demographic calculations, who is a Jew?

Click for the downloadable pdf of this chapter. To Full Post

Chapter 2: The Jewish People’s story, the early period


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In order to understand the Jewish community of today – we need to examine all sorts of phenomena that explain why the Jewish community today, in different places in the world, looks the way that it does. We need to understand too, why the idea of Jewish community has been so central to Jews for thousands of years. 

For this and the next two chapters, we will be following the strange path of the Jewish community as it wends its way through time, changing and developing as it encounters new situations and finds itself forced to adapt to strange and often difficult circumstances. We will see how the framework and the content of the lives of our ancestors changed and indeed revolutionized themselves in the three periods in question. Let us now open our story and plunge into the first period: how does the whole story begin?

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Chapter 3: The Jewish People’s story, the pre-modern period


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In this chapter we will examine the dynamics of Jewish community in the emerging Diaspora center. We will see the growth and the decline of great Jewish communities, each with their own Rabbinic leadership in different parts of the world. The basis had been laid in Palestine. The results were to be seen throughout the world. The story of the Jews was changing yet again.

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Chapter 4: The Jewish People’s story, the modern period


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Towards the finishing line

We live in a modern Jewish world.  The world that existed before modernity was a very different kind of a world, organized in a totally different way, based on different premises.  In this chapter we are going to try and survey the changes in the Jewish world and the reasons for those changes. 

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Chapter 5: The Jewish community in time and space


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 Looking for a place to park our weary bones

We will be looking at themes connected with the idea and the practice of Jewish community within the historical framework that we have already established. The development of the Jewish community is an inseparable part of that story.  The question that we are going to examine in this chapter is ‘why?’  Why was the Jewish community such an important part of the historical story?  What was it in the Jewish community that made it so central in Jewish history? 

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Chapter 6: The structure and institutions of the Jewish community


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So what did the whole thing look like?

In this chapter we will examine how the Jewish community was structured and how the values and beliefs that lay behind the whole Rabbinic system produced an institutional structure that reflected them. We will examine the institutions of the community and we will acquaint ourselves with the main types of personality that could be found in such communities. We will then go on to examine the way that individual communities fitted into a wider structure within a given center and finally we will look at the issue of relations between different centers.

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Chapter 7: How did we get to be us?


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Changes in the Jewish community after modernity

In the previous chapters, we have dealt with all four of these themes – Jewish identity and the relationship of the individual to the community, the structure of the community, the relationships between different communities and different centres and the relationship with Eretz Israel – in relation to the pre-modern world. Now we bring the story forward and turn to them, systematically, one at a time, to create an understanding of the Jewish community in the world surrounding us today.

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In this section we will bring ten Jewish communities in the contemporary Jewish world. They include seven of the largest communities according to the demographic estimates currently accepted in the Jewish world (in order of size, the United States, France, Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, Germany and Australia) and two others, Hungary and South Africa that we think are particularly interesting in the context of the Jewish world today.

Click for the downloadable pdf of this introduction. To Full Post

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