Flexigid­i­ty: The Secret of Jew­ish Adaptability

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

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.

Relat­ed Content

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.

Discussion Questions