Borders are alluring and charged places. In Orson Welles’ classic film “A Touch of Evil,” a psychological study of life at the border, the place where America and Mexico meet is full of shadows. It’s hard to get a fix on it. The old rules don’t seem to apply at the border, and a new reality is born of the collision of two worlds.
The publication you hold sits at the border of two centuries. Produced in the 20th, it is meant for consumption in the 21st. It is a document that occupies a space between the second millennium and the third. So the metaphor of the border seems an apt one for a project whose aim is to look ahead to a Jewish community that is yet to be, that has yet to come into focus. For in a sense, we have a foot in two worlds — the here and now of 11th-hour 1999, and the near future of the year 2000 and beyond.
Trend spotting is often a dangerous and foolhardy endeavor, a roll of the dice, $2 to win on a 20-to-1 long-shot. But life at the border can be liberating, so we’ll lay our money down.
Our modus operandi for this special issue is simple, and radical, given today’s too-loud America: We opened our ears and tried to listen. There’s far too much talk in the Jewish world, far too much bluster, a mirror of the wider culture. We tried to quiet ourselves down, the better to hear which way the new winds — social, political, religious, cultural — are blowing in our community.
What did we hear? That the very nature of Jewish identity is changing. It is based now less on the old cultural identifications of the past and more on a kind of personal spirituality; there is a searching in the land.
We heard that the pulpit, long the central address of the rabbi, is not the be-all and end-all for a new generation of spiritual leaders who sense a different calling. That a new Jewish family, small but growing, is developing right before our eyes — single women having children, or adopting them. That the old denominational boundaries are blurring; there is a spiritual improvisation in the land.
We heard other things, too. That the Jewish community is going green. That the old black-Jewish relationship has played itself out, to be replaced by new ethnic coalitions. That the sound of the New Klezmer is a woman’s sound.
So here we are at the border, one eye surely looking behind us, full of the beautiful and damned visions of this century, the other trained straight ahead, staring into the next. Moses was stopped at the border, so to speak; a new order would step into the Promised Land.
John Keats, the Romantic poet who died too young, sensed the old giving way to the new when he wrote, touchingly: “On our heels a fresh perfection treads.” It’s a sweet thought, here at the border. So as we put one foot in front of the other, crossing over into a new era, where, for a moment anyway, all is promise and perfection, grab hold of our hand and march with us. We’ll make history together.