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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

Building Community

April 30, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

The bulldozers started working last week, preparing the land for the expansion of Shorashim from 50 to 80 families. We have been working toward this moment for almost 10 years, crossing a seemingly endless course of bureaucratic hurdles in the transition from a commune to a community of homeowners.

For ten years we have felt the need to grow: without the absorption of new young families, the community will stagnate, and be unable to support itself institutionally: not only do leaders burn out, but families mature, making the operation of early childhood education uneconomical. Fifty households is too small a mass to support adequate cultural and youth programming, insufficient for the bus company to serve us, etc.

However, as we imagined the benefits of growth, we tended not to think about its costs. Now that the ground has been broken, we are being forced to confront them. With the rapid absorption of such a large group, the intimacy to which we have become accustomed will certainly diminish significantly - soon we will reach the size at which no one will be able to know every member of the community. With growth will come more diversity - a healthy development, but one which may well strain the comfortable status quo we have attained in terms of public/private religious observance and the range of “acceptable” behaviors. Moreover, the bulldozers building the Zionist dream of Jewish settlement of the land are at the same time tearing up the time-worn natural landscape, driving away wildlife, converting hiking trails to driveways and Beduin goat paths into suburban back yards.

Already the process of growth itself is causing internal tensions, between those who see growth - and increasing diversity - as values in themselves, and those who see maintenance of the present atmosphere, tone, ideology as the primary goal. The former faction favors virtually open membership; the latter feels we should continue a selection process that will maximize the number of new members who are likely to be active and to contribute to communal and religious life. The “open” membership approach envisions a “normal” distribution of people, a more urban model, where smaller subcommunities will exist within a diverse whole; the “selective” approach sees the goal as a relatively homogeneous community, existing side by side with other, different, homogeneous communities in the region. Both are pluralistic visions, but their consequences for life here on Shorashim are very different.

As an ambivalent member of the more “selective” faction, I fear that open growth will lead to changes that to me are unwelcome; that the balance between Jewish traditional observance and individual freedom will be knocked askew, and that the population interested in maintaining a Shabbat atmosphere, and in maintaining an active synagogue, will become an embattled minority. And yet, I find myself uncomfortable with selection processes, with “voting in” and “voting out.” I guess there is an inherent conflict between values here, and there is no simple way out.

And then there is the even harder question of what will happen when the first Arab family applies for membership. The standard communal constitution, restricting membership to Jews only, has already been called into serious question by Israel Supreme Court decisions in the past few years. I imagine that the debate here at Shorashim, when that day comes, will be difficult and fascinating. So will the debate inside my own head.


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