Voices from the field

Judaism as Popular Culture

By Rachel Smith-Savaya, Jewish Agency for Israel Shlicha to The iCenter

Not long after I made aliyah, I was staffing a trip in the North of Israel. I got to my hotel room after a long day of hiking, and relaxed in front of the TV. The idea was to totally switch off, and yet from a random commercial, I was suddenly very "on". I had one of those "ah ha, only in Israel moments". What was so special about the commercial? Honestly, 13 years later, I couldn’t tell you the details. I was simply blown away by the presence of a TV commercial all about dairy produce, cottage cheese, and cheesecake, in the imminent lead up to Shavu'ot. In fact, the last line of the advertisement was "Chag Shavu'ot Sameach," offering wishes of a happy Shavu'ot holiday! That was the concluding line on a TV commercial on a major, national channel.

I grew up in a modern orthodox family in London. Christmas is an example of a non-Jewish holiday that I never celebrated yet was always aware of from an early age. This was due to popular culture: what was being sold in shops and what was being shown on TV. It was a total paradigm shift for me to suddenly be confronted by Judaism, as a commercial on TV. In that moment, I had a whole new understanding of what it means to live in the State of Israel, and to contemplate Judaism being "popular culture".

Food for Thought

  1. What does it feel like to live in a place where you are a minority?
  2. What does it feel like to live in a place where you are the majority?
  3. What responsibilities and opportunities do both offer?