Lauren Trevisan/The Hoya E.J. Dionne, Jr., a professor in the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, moderated a panel addressing the role of Jewish kinship in the 21st century at Reiss on Wednesday.

A panel explored the meaning of membership in the Jewish community as well as the complexities of Jewish identity in the United States and Israel as the opening event to an inaugural two-day conference for the newly established Center for Jewish Civilization.

Yossi Shain, director of the center, and Provost James J. O’Donnell delivered opening remarks and addressed the increase in Jewish community outreach at Georgetown through the Center for Jewish Civilization.

Shain, a professor of comparative government and Diaspora politics at Georgetown and of political science at Tel Aviv University, highlighted the war in the Middle East and the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 as the key factors strengthening the return of Jewish kinship politics.

“Vulnerability has been driven home to the Jewish in America, as shown by the conflicts in Istanbul and the killing of Daniel Pearl,” Shain said. “Currently Jewish Social Action organizations and grassroots solidarity groups are growing worldwide, ties of which are the motivation for our speaking here tonight.”

Michael Walzer, the keynote speaker, a permanent faculty member at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, emphasized the main themes of the Exodus story which have characterized the Jewish community in the Western world: oppression and hope.

“Exilic politics have been central to Jewish political thought for 5/6 of our 3,000 year history,” Walzer said. “The common commitment to escape from danger has formed Jewish solidarity throughout history, but emancipation has loosened the kinship. Jews who once lived under commandment now live under persuasion, and must strengthen their membership more than ever.”

Walzer discussed his recent book, The Jewish Political Tradition, which examines the complexities of describing current Jewish political thought and its framework among American Jews today.

“Just as one particular King sent his son to go and learn French political thought [and that son] came back without a clear answer, such is the situation of Jewish thought in America,” Walzer explained. “There are capitalists, monarchs, communitarians, xenophobes, fascists and many more types in the realm of Jewish politics; there is no single framework.”

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic since 1983, offered a response to Welzer’s remarks by elaborating on the complexity of current Jewish politics in America, commenting on the multi-faceted identity of Jews living in America.

“The idea of a single identity is a myth – a simplification of human life,” Wieseltier said. “When people live simply like this, it usually means something dangerous is about to happen. Jews are a people whose history runs along histories of other people. We are neither Westerners nor not Westerners, and neither Easterners, nor not Easterners,” Wieseltier stated.

Wielseltier also discussed another paradox present in current Jewish identity and membership – the discrepancy between the traditional experience Jews inherit through previous generations, and the own personal experiences of being Jewish in the 21st century.

“We have to find the connection with our current blessings and our ancestor’s curses,” Wielseltier said

Walzer has published over 15 books regarding topics in political theory and moral philosophy, and is currently working on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought. Wielseltier has studied Jewish history at Harvard, Oxford and Columbia Universities.

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