-R. Buckminster Fuller
When Abraham is first introduced in the Bible, G-d tells him to leave his home in Ur Kassdim and travel to the land of Canaan. Upon his arrival, the people of Canaan call him “Avram Ha’Ivri” (Genesis 14:13). Ivri means “Hebrew” and has the same linguistic root as the word “to cross over” or “to pass.” Rashi explains that he is called this because he comes from the other side of the Euphrates River. He is seen as an outsider, a cultural Other. However, there is a deeper reason for his Otherness. The Midrash says that Abram and Sarai arrived in Canaan accompanied by all the souls they converted to monotheism. They arrived with all those they drew away from idolatry and brought to worshipping the living G-d (Genesis Rabbah 84). Through fearless leadership and staunch commitment to their beliefs, Abram and Sarai extinguished pandemic idolatry in their time.
This paradigm shift changed the course of world history. It is the bedrock of Judaism as well as Christianity and Islam. Abraham and Sarah’s work hundreds of years ago still affects almost 70% of the entire world’s population today. That’s over four billion people.
Currently, ideas involving American Jewish education need a boost. Existing models must adapt to today’s evolving society in order to optimally serve the vibrant range of thirsty Jewish minds. Therefore, the Jewish educational realm needs more people like Abraham and Sarah: real Ivrim, Others, to lead the way of the future. With new ideas and solutions, a similar paradigm shift in contemporary American Jewish education is possible.
It’s time for change – for Otherness. The numbers don’t lie. Statistics show that Jews are an endangered species in North America. The number of active Jews – socially, communally, intellectually, and spiritually – has been declining through most of the 20th century and it continues. If there’s going to be a change, it has to be something big.
Where are the modern day Ivrim that live R. Buckminster Fuller’s idea to the fullest? Is it even possible to bring about change today as profound as Abraham’s and Sarah’s? Certainly, change doesn’t happen over night. It also has to start small and then can snowball into something much greater.
It’s apparent that collaboration is the most productive approach. I want to know what you think; what are your ideas on the subject? Do you or your organization have any Ivrim?