The latest edition of the Peoplehood Papers focuses on "Peoplehood in the Age of Pluralism." In this edition of J-Vault, we'll see that elements of this current conversation are, of course, anything but new.
Falk Younger outlines the genesis of the YMCA movement, in a passage with obvious relevance to modern Jewish communities:
In England, about seventy years ago, a small group of earnest, liberal and highminded men met in conference to consider what could be done to keep within the fold the large number of young men who were rapidly drifting away from the influence of the church. They realized that the emphasis that was laid upon ritual and ceremony by the various denominations at the time, and which aroused more or less feeling and dissension among them, did not appeal to the young men and that some means must be devised to retain their fidelity and devotion to Christian ideals... something practical was needed to properly guide them and aid them to recognize the fact that to lead a clean, honest and upright life is not after all such a lonesome job, and that to be a church member does not necessarily mean to be serious at all times and to wear a long, sad face.
Younger goes on to describe the founding of the YMHA and YWHA along the same lines, as a means of engaging the next generation of Jews. But the mission of these community centers goes beyond engagement, he writes, and into topics related to what we would now describe as both peoplehood and pluralism:
All those truly interested in the progress of Jewish affairs must deeply deplore the lack of union in our midst and the consequent waste of energy. This condition of affairs is often disheartening to those most optimistic. Our communities are divided and sub-divided, and each faction attempts to go its own way, and a lack of sympathetic co-operation is manifest everywhere, especially when it comes to questions concerning the good name and general welfare of all, when it is absolutely necessary that we should work in unison as a people...
Let us therefore be Orthodox or Reformed, as our feelings may prompt; but above all things, wc must learn to understand that questions of detail regarding religious forms and ceremonies are matters concerning which we may honestly differ. Our influence for good in the world surely does not hang on these things. If our mission as a priest people is to mean something more than an empty boast, an idle dream, or mere play with words' and the world shall some day witness the realization of this ideal, let us emphasize the many things we have in common that demand our hearty co-operation rather than those minor matters in reference to which we may hold different views. We may have diversity of opinion and at the same time have perfect union when it comes to the solution of important problems...
Judaism today needs—aye, is weeping for—a class of young men and women who will come forward and be broad, liberal, generous and tolerant as well as magnanimous in spirit. Such young men and women must assert their Judaism, not by constantly referring to the forms and ceremonies they keep or have cast aside, or by boasting of the food they eat or do not cat; that they pray in Hebrew or in English, as the case may be, or with head covered or uncovered. No, not so our methods. Let the purity, integrity and virtue of our lives, our characters, our modesty, culture and refinement as well as our devotion to all that is lofty and elevating proclaim our Jewishness.