Wednesday, October 2, 2013


On a mission recently in Europe I led a discussion about "turf."

Turf is one of those Jewish-community concepts that we all know what it is when we see it. It's a combination of institutional pride, territorial protectiveness and - sometimes - overeager delineations that block cooperation and detract from community-building.

So when we talk about turf in American Jewish community life, it's often seen as a negative. Someone is being overprotective, or mean-spirited, or overly competitive against a different organization, for example.

And yet ... increasingly I've noticed how important turf is, especially in some of the countries in which we work where the Jewish community is still building up its sense of identity.

When you look at countries that, for some seventy years were cut off from all organized aspects of Jewish community life, it's not surprising. And then, in the early 1990s, precisely when the Joint returned formally to these countries and started working with these communities, all those on whom we would have built leadership programs ... were precisely those who got up and left. All those with the strongest Jewish identities were among the first to make aliyah, or move to Europe or the States.

So the revival of Jewish life took time. It couldn't have happened in the early 1990s. And the way to build Jewish community was - and is - through pride in institutions, through belonging, through participation.

Brick by brick, JCC by JCC, Hillel by Hillel ... You need turf to build a community.

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