This is truly a most remarkable, original, and inspirational book. While aimed at building a body of knowledge and skills for a new leadership of the Jewish people in individual communities and worldwide, it deserves a readership among all Jews and, indeed, all students of the Jewish journey through history. It is nothing less than a map for the Jewish future based upon a keen understanding of the Jewish past and the challenges of the present situation – a mixture of prosperity and power on the one hand, vulnerability on the other.
Get past the gimmicky title: the jamming together of the counterpoint traits of flexibility and rigidity that Grinstein sees as the essential character of Jewish experience. Get past the unconventional but highly functional design, an extended outline form laced with text boxes and boldface passages that announce the most important concepts. Forgive what seems like a technical report or systems analysis approach. This book is nothing but good sense writ large.
Although the author takes us through almost all of Jewish history to make his points about the processes of Jewish survival, he pays particular attention to the last 130 years “of radical and fundamental transformations” resulting “from the compounded effect of repetitive disasters in Europe, as well as from the dramatic successes of Zionism and Americanism.” Grinstein urges the necessity of a productive respect among Zionists and Israelis for a healthy and growing Jewish diaspora and a powerful understanding in the diaspora about the essentiality of Israel for the Jewish future.
He worries, as others have done, about the concentration of the Jewish population in so few places, while recognizing that there are benefits to that concentration as well.
Grinstein launches his discussion with an outline of the “Four Founding Stories”: faith and covenant, peoplehood, nationhood, and being a light unto the nations. He demonstrates the interplay of flexibility and rigidity in each of these distinctive modes of collective identity.
Hebrew literacy, based on the historical transmission of Judaism’s sacred texts and the Zionist insistence on (re)building a Hebrew-speaking nation, is one necessity for which the future might have to find more flexibility than rigidity. Nonetheless, Grinstein values such literacy as usefully bonding and differentiating.
The author effectively demonstrates the existing and necessary interconnectedness of all factions of the Jewish people. His thesis, analysis, and synthesis ably and stridently portray “flexigidity” – the framing design of a people who are “a network of small units – communities and their institutions – as the most important foundation of Jewish longevity.”
This book should find a readership among leaders and aspiring leaders of Jewish communities and institutions everywhere. Bibliography, epilogue, footnotes, prologue.
- Jewish Leadership Reading List
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.