Charles Lon­don, author of Far from Zion: In Search of a Glob­al Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty, is guest-blog­ging for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and the Jew­ish Book Council.

Recent­ly, Tel Aviv’s Muse­um of the Jew­ish Dias­po­ra announced that it will com­plete­ly over­haul its exhi­bi­tions in an effort to put Dias­po­ra Jews on an equal foot­ing with those in Israel.” Part of that effort even means that muse­um is get­ting a new name: The Muse­um of the Jew­ish Peo­ple.

This devel­op­ment acknowl­edges that the mind­set in Israel has shift­ed from the nega­tion of exile,” to the real­i­ty that the Jew­ish Peo­ple are a geo­graph­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly diverse peo­ple, a glob­al people.

In the past year, while doing research for a book, Far from Zion: In Search of a Glob­al Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore some of that diver­si­ty. What I saw astound­ed me, from the Abayu­daya in Ugan­da — black African farm­ers who have been con­vert­ing to Judaism by the hun­dreds and build­ing Jew­ish insti­tu­tions in the dusty hills out­side of Mbale — to the so-called Wal-Mart Jews of Ben­tonville, Arkansas, a group assem­bled from all over the coun­try and all across the spec­trum of Jew­ish affil­i­a­tion who are cre­at­ing an amaz­ing com­mu­ni­ty in the heart of the Bible Belt.

I was lucky enough to get into Iran, where I could learn first­hand about the large Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty liv­ing in the Islam­ic repub­lic, and I even cel­e­brat­ed the High Hol­i­days in Bur­ma, while thou­sands of monks staged the largest pro-democ­ra­cy demon­stra­tions in decades.

With­in each of these Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties there was noth­ing sta­t­ic about their iden­ti­ties, but also some­thing amaz­ing­ly uni­fied, a sense of his­to­ry and pur­pose that was awe inspiring.

It is that awe that I hope the new Muse­um of the Jew­ish Peo­ple will cap­ture. Its new­ly-stat­ed pur­pose reminds me of a famous Jew­ish explor­er. In the 12th cen­tu­ry, a man known as Ben­jamin of Tudela took a jour­ney. He set out from Navarre, in north­east Spain, to vis­it the Holy Land, but he took the long way round, so to speak, and vis­it­ed Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in India, Africa, Europe and the Mid­dle East. His pub­lished account, The Itin­er­ary of Ben­jamin of Tudela, pro­vid­ed a descrip­tion of west­ern Asia one hun­dred years before Mar­co Polo.

At the time of his jour­ney, things were pret­ty rough for the Jews of Spain. The pub­lished Itin­er­ary told of count­less oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of Jews, some of which were thriv­ing, some of which were suf­fer­ing. His jour­ney seemed to say to his peo­ple back at home that no mat­ter their cur­rent state, there were Jews all over the known world whose cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent. Some­times we are up, some­times we are down.

He even described a war-like race of Jews in India who raid­ed the lands from high atop moun­tain cas­tles. All these diverse groups shared a Jew­ish — which he read as dis­tinct­ly reli­gious — iden­ti­ty, and the ris­ing and falling of the com­mu­ni­ties gave his brethren in Spain a sense of the his­tor­i­cal sweep of the Jew­ish people.

We can’t be sure why he wrote the book he wrote, but I think of it as a kind of com­mu­ni­ty ther­a­py for the times he lived in. Things may be uncer­tain, his work said, but Jews will sur­vive and will con­tin­ue to find their place in soci­eties as diverse as Ethiopia and Bagh­dad, the French coun­try­side and Jerusalem.

I hope this new­ly-con­ceived Muse­um will pro­vide a sim­i­lar com­fort to Jews now who wor­ry about our unsta­ble times. Every­where we find our­selves, from Arkansas to Tehran, we find ways to build mean­ing­ful Jew­ish lives and mean­ing­ful lives as glob­al cit­i­zens, serv­ing our neigh­bors and our nations. My own jour­ney through the Dias­po­ra cer­tain­ly made me opti­mistic that we’ll con­tin­ue to do so for a very long time. I often think that the great­est gift of the Jews to the world was not Monothe­ism, but Dias­po­ra — the abil­i­ty to be a peo­ple scat­tered, home in a thou­sand places.

Charles Lon­don is the author of One Day the Sol­diers Came: Voic­es of Chil­dren in War and the just-released Far from Zion: In Search of a Glob­al Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty. Vis­it Far From Zion, his offi­cial web­site, and come back right here, where he’ll be blog­ging all week.