The Geographies of Jewish Life: Building a Home Within Which Jewish Education Can Dwell

Dec. 08, 2011

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 74, Issue 4, pages 326-349


This essay reviews the Geographical section of the International Handbook of Jewish Education published in 2011.

Editor's article review (Michael Zeldin):

Finally, Jonathan Boyd reviews the last section of the Handbook, titled simply, “Geographical.” He starts out by telling us that the chapters in this section “take the reader on an extraordinary journey across the Jewish world, taking in Israel, North America, South America, Europe, the FSU and Australia, in each instance exploring aspects of the historical, political, cultural, sociological, and demographic facts that have shaped and informed Jewish life.”

Boyd goes well beyond summarizing each of the chapters; he provides us with analyses that help us see beyond the forest of geographical details to the trees of the largest issues facing Jewish education. After exploring some of the issues facing Jewish education around the world (e.g., anti-Semitism and terrorism) and some of the internal issues (e.g., funding and personnel), he goes on to explore “something more fundamental about Jewish life itself that needs to be addressed in order to transform the context within which we are trying to operate”; namely, “how to negotiate the balance between our individual desires and our collective responsibilities.” It is this question, Boyd argues, that “lies at the heart of all Jewish educational discourse, irrespective of national, communal, or institutional context.”

He concludes with a reconceptualization of Jewish geography. He notes that “Jewish life is not only lived on a national scale.” He cites evidence showing that “when we think about Jewish geography on an urban rather than national basis, our views begin to change slightly.… Israel and the United States still remain dominant, but 5 of the top 20 centers of urban Jewish life are in neither country.” Boyd concludes with a rather provocative idea that “our Jewish lives are informed by multiple geographical factors that together comprise the contexts of our existence.”

Updated: Jan. 10, 2012