The Case for Pluralism

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

This week, Mazkir Joe Woolf makes the case for pluralism. Joe outlines where pluralism's real values begin to take root, and explores what could be possible if we could engage more proactively with our pluralist values.

Often, pluralism is used as a means to an end, a marketing technique, or a gimmick. It makes us scared to take sides or explore political opinions, or it results in us compromising our beliefs. In 1993, FZY decided to formally adopt pluralism as a central ideology. Before that, it was always there, but not explicitly something that members would talk about. The movement believed in discussion and debate from all different standpoints and none, but until 1993, pluralism wasn’t viewed as a value in its own right.

If you ask any FZY member, past or present, ‘how do you see pluralism in your movement?’ the answer would most likely be: ‘we offer three services on Shabbat’. And each year at Veida, delegates raise important questions about the legitimacy and the practicality of the three-service model. Or, members ask: ‘can we force people to ensure there is a minyan at the Orthodox service and Reform Service before filling the Alternative Service?’

Pluralism is difficult to articulate as a positive ideology. Over the last few years, I have come to see pluralism as a plethora of things. Some of these are very superficial, and I think it is ok to be honest with ourselves about it, but also some of these are profound, enabling FZY as a movement to effectively strive towards our vision.

Marketing and Recruitment

Pluralism has allowed FZY to reach out to people who previously would not have wanted to engage because they for so long had only viewed Israel and Judaism with blinkers

Firstly, let’s get it out the way. Pluralism helps FZY attract all kinds of people; it’s a big part of the reason that FZY has been the centre of the young Jewish community for so long. Pluralism enables those who identify with one type of Judaism or Zionism – or indeed no type – to come and interact with concepts that they may connect with. What this does is a few things: it means that our programmes have been full of amazing chanichim and madrichim that all believe in and care about different elements of their Jewish and Zionist identity. It also creates a space that means those that don’t want to interact on a profound level with these identities can come and still have a meaningful experience. Options are offered to all, but nothing is forced upon anyone. Pluralism has allowed FZY to reach out to people who previously would not have wanted to engage because they for so long had only viewed Israel and Judaism with blinkers, a right or wrong that maybe didn’t fit into their personal identity. On a very simple level: pluralism has enabled FZY to be a home to all, and for all in that home to find their place at the table.

The Framework of our Ideology

There is no debating when it comes to FZY: we are a ‘Jewish, Zionist Youth Movement’ similar to many Youth movements in the UK, but with FZY there is a specific preface to this ideology. This is something all movements have. For example: Habonimis a Socialist Zionist youth movementand RSYis a Reform Jewish youth movement.

For FZY however, the caveat in front of our Judaism and Zionism is: pluralism. FZY is a ‘pluralist Jewish and pluralist Zionist youth movement’. Pluralism is a framework for us to view of Judaism and Zionism, and develop our Jewish and Zionist identities.

This framework allows us to create an environment that will help us to best achieve our vision. Because in order to do this, we can’t be seeing our orthodoxy or liberal Judaism as the only method, and we can’t see our Ahad Ha’am and Ze’ev Jabotinsky with rose tinted glasses; we need to invite, understand and accept all, and celebrate what it means to be a collective, so that we can most effectively follow the road towards our vision.

Inviting, Accepting, Understanding and Celebrating

These four words create a sort of poetry to pluralism, cute though it may seem. They actually help to frame pluralism and the importance of it as an ideology in its own right. Now, by re-framing Pluralism, we as a movement can ensure that we are truly operating a pluralist environment by:

1) inviting people of all denominational backgrounds and political beliefs into our space;

2) encouraging participants to accept one another, even if they disagree on certain values;