It is unfortunate for historical reasons – we no longer exist as living entities in most of the geographical regions where so much of our history was made – and it is unfortunate for political reasons – we need to be able to demonstrate that we are not just a marginal ethnic group living almost entirely in the United States, France, England, a handful of other Western countries and, of course, Israel.
Our strength as a people derives from our diversity. That diversity is a direct consequence of our dispersion. The tragedy of the Holocaust was not just the loss of so many millions of lives but the destruction of so much of Jewish culture. That Jewish culture was tremendously variegated, not only from country to country but even within different regions of the same national unit. Likewise, the ingathering of the exiles, a process that brought many of the Jews living in Arab countries as well as Holocaust survivors to Israel has had the unintentional result of ending magnificent cultural effervescence in countries around the world.
We need to devote more time and resources to cultivating Diaspora communities, whether in Kingston, Jamaica or other relatively obscure corners of the world. These communities are an underappreciated resource of Judaism that can serve to inspire alienated Jews today as well as help us preserve much needed cultural diversity and ensure a brighter Jewish future.
Dana Evan Kaplan (www.danakaplan.com) is the rabbi of Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica and teaches Judaism at the United Theological College of the University of the West Indies. A widely published author, he holds a Ph.D. in American Jewish History from Tel Aviv University.