Between My Nation and Yours: Judaism, Multiculturalism and The Future of Business

In Jewish Day School I was often fed an idea of Jewish history in which it was every nation beating up the Children of Israel. Every era of history was channeled into this idea, from Pharaoh to Titus to the Iberian Expulsion to Hitler, not to mention a host of other contemporary figures.

As college student at Wesleyan University, this changed. The many flourishings of Jewish culture throughout the world, despite persecutions and times of deep sadness, were brought to my eye. No longer was Jewish history solely a history of suffering, but also one of deep accomplishment, resilience and times of great happiness as well.

Testaments to such flourishing included the Bible and Talmud, the Yiddish Theater, poetry written in Judeo-Arabic and, of course, the legendary impact of Jewish-Americans and their world on many aspects of an increasingly global popular culture.

Jews and Transnational Identity Through the Ages

Present in all of these cultural movements is the idea that something is amiss in the world, that there is injustice and suffering present throughout the world but human determination, wit, humor and collective identity can help thwart it at least in part.

Also present in a lot of them was an idea that no nation ever stands alone. Abraham, Moses and David had confederates abroad, Talmud stories take place on multiple continents, and Yiddish music and art references many other cultures and languages shared by Jews and Gentiles as well (not just ones like Polish and Russian but even Argentinian and Anglo-Saxon!).

The University of Greenland

No doubt there is some frustration leveled against governmental institutions (such as the Roman Empire or the Tsar), but above all, despite the pogroms, crusades and expulsions, there is an understanding that Jews have to be bridge-builders and are uniquely poised to create transnational moments, and such moments are increasingly being found in our world. This is true both in Israel and in the Diaspora, both of which have continued to globalize, to reach out, and to learn to understand other people with whom we share the planet.

Jewish communities in North America, Israel, Europe, throughout Asia and even further afield have been instrumental in bringing minority communities together and starting dialogue programs. In Brooklyn, the Afro-Caribbean Community and Jewish Young Professionals continue to learn more about each other. In Yangon, members of many ethnicities and religions celebrate Hannukah together as a testament to Burma’s small but still extant Jewish presence, complete with some monks lighting some menorah candles. In Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Israel and many more, youths of different religions continue to come together for art projects and sharing their childhood memories, and Jews have been instrumental in ensuring that these bridges continue to get built.

Further back, Jews conversed with wealthy Romans about their beliefs, served as merchants who travelled to distant lands and shared pieces from their travels with their local communities. They have taken up residence in the most distant corners of the planet, bringing with them art and music that continues to enchant millions around the world until this day.

Petra, Jordan

 

Building Bridges to New Cultures

As a child in an Orthodox Jewish Day school (although certainly not all such schools condone this), there was this idea that Jewish culture was the only one worth learning about. Somehow finding a deep interest in another place or another people was seen as fraternizing with an enemy. Sometimes at Jewish institutions in graduate school I found myself judged for wanting to learn about Inuit cultures or Southeast Asia in addition to my work with Jewish studies (and my interest in Scandinavian heritage sometimes proved to be a liability!).

Being a business builder I discovered that always seeking to explore and learn the many dimensions of human thought will build trust and peace, and will endow you with a legendary character that others won’t forget.

For one, if there are immigrant groups or minority neighborhoods in your area (or ones that have historically been a part of your area and have since moved somewhere else), learn about them by speaking with them, via travel guidebooks or library research. Go to international events and seek out people who are different from you and make sure to listen, ask questions and share details of your life story. There are many people in the world that are genuinely curious about Judaism and will see you as a means to start real conversations with their communities.

Escher in Het Paleis (the M.C. Escher Museum), The Hague, Netherlands

Feel free to pick up even a few words of a local language anywhere in the world, using apps, phrasebooks or web pages—with it you’ll come to know a culture that will reflect the human condition in ways you didn’t even think possible. They may inspire you to float into new creative directions!

After all, I’m Jewish and I love my heritage. I also love everywhere else. It seems that the God of Abraham also loves everywhere, too. And I like it that way.

 

 

jared.gimbel
Jared Gimbel teaches Jewish and Nordic languages and also sometimes works as a seasonal synagogue cantor. Having mastered 18+ languages spanning almost all continents, he also works as a translator from various languages into English. His new video game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a cartoon adventure game set in contemporary Greenland, is set for release in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.