Desert Island Texts

Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

This week, Amit Handelsman, community partner at the Movement for Reform Judaism, selects: On True Community

In his book I and Thou, the Jewish Zionist philosopher Martin Buber wrote: “The true community does not arise through people having feelings for one another (though indeed not without it), but first, through their taking their stand in living mutual relation with a living centre, and second, their being in living mutual relation with one another. The second has its source in the first, but is not given when the first alone is given… The community is built up out of living mutual relation, but the builder is the living effective centre.”

What I like about Buber as a philosopher is that he puts relationships as an important part of our existence. A significant and spiritual life is determined by people’s relationships with each other. However, in Buber’s definition of a ‘true community’, he recognises that there is something stronger that binds people together to form a community, beyond relationships. He names it the ‘living centre’.

The centre could be any ideology, culture or religion, but this centre isn’t static. It is a living centre. A centre that changes, develops and adapts itself to the ever changing reality and needs of people while still inspired by the original values and ideology. It is the relationship of people to this living centre that defines a true community, while mutual relationship to one another could be a result of the relationship to the centre.

A community without a living centre, according to Buber, isn’t a community. A community should evolve and grow, asking questions, challenging itself and changing if necessary.

This is the essence of true community and in many ways, for me, the essence of Reform Judaism that evolves in response to the contemporary world and the changing realities of our community.