Gidi Grinstein is the founder of Re’ut, among Israel’s most visionary and influential think-tanks. Raised as a secular Israeli, as a naval officer he spent a month at the Brandeis Bardin’s Collegiate Institute (BCI), which prompted a new awareness of belonging to a Jewish people who have a spiritual mission. He was the youngest participant on the Israel team at Camp David exploring peace with the Palestinians. With his mentor, Avraham Infeld, Grinstein helped design the business plan and the launch of Birthright Israel, which has led to 360,000 American Jewish youth sharing an all-expense-paid, ten-day trip to Israel. Now, he is the author of Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability, a summation of what Grinstein has learned in the past twenty years of communal service and his thoughts on how to best strengthen Israel and the Jewish people.
In Flexigidity, published in December 2013, Grinstein offers a bird’s eye, systemic view of Jewish society, exploring the secret of Jewish survival, resilience, security, prosperity and leadership during past millennia. He argues that this secret stems from a unique societal hybrid between old and new, tradition and innovation, rigidity and flexibility – Flexigidity. He shows how this hybrid exists in many areas of Jewish society including mission, community, law and membership.
Grinstein then explores the impact of the State of Israel on Jewish society and on the Flexigidity of Judaism. He argues that Flexigidity, which has been the secret of success for Zionism and for the State of Israel, is being compromised by modern Israel. He then puts forth that Judaism’s legacy of Flexigidity may be key to Israel’s future prosperity and security.
Grinstein then articulates a bold vision for Israeli society that stems from that legacy of Judaism. He envisions a network of vibrant and prosperous communities that are engines of local and inclusive growth, prosperity, resilience and cohesion. That vision may be highly relevant to other nations and societies that grapple with the challenges of the 21st century.
The last section of the book calls for “Flexigid leadership.” It establishes the characteristics of such leadership that takes a broad view of society and history and argues for its critical importance for the future of Israel and the Jewish world at large.
Grinstein believes that Israel has four mission statements – peoplehood, nationhood, covenant of faith and light unot the nations – all of which are embraced by Zionism and all of which are rooted in the legacy of Abraham, who was willing to make the sacrifice. Rabbi Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin recently interviewed Grinstein at the synagogue.
RS: How is Flexigidity at play?
GG: It’s never been better to be a Jew. Jewish people have never been more powerful. Ninety percent of Jews live in the most prosperous countries, but they’re vulnerable. Eighty percent of Jewish eggs are in two baskets – the U.S. and Israel. Previously, this kind of situation has been a disaster. In the 1950s the Israeli government took over the running of community organizations, so Israelis don’t have the DNA of community participation. When they come to the U.S., they don’t participate.
RS: Why are there no third-generation Israelis?
GG: If Israelis don’t become active diaspora Jews, they assimilate and intermarry. The first generation (of Israeli Jews who move to the diaspora) speaks Hebrew to the children and then disappears. We have to integrate them into the community where they live.
RS: What are the challenges of Flexigidity in the diaspora community?
GG: The Federation community has to be the hub of the Jewish community while figuring out how to bring value to other sectors of the community. We have to increase the opportunities for Jewish education. We need to understand what makes an act of leadership – where it came from, where it is and where it should go.
RS: In 1973 there was a rise in nationalism. Israel channeled its resources into nationalism. How did that affect its other missions?
GG: The rise in nationalism suppressed other elements of the story. That’s a problem. We had to re-embrace our other stories. Birthright is a post-Zionist program, because we’re not trying to keep the students in Israel. That’s a new reality.
RS: Is there tension between the diaspora and Israel?
GG: Lots of communities are into tikkun olam and a covenant of faith, but 65 years later Israel is about peoplehood. Israel has to be relevant to the diaspora.
RS: How does that manifest itself in terms of the settlements?
GG: Israel went from a powerless minority to a powerful majority controlling other people. In the long term Israel can’t stay connected to the diaspora if it is controlling Palestinians in the west bank. It’s an ideological problem.
RS: What advice would you give to (U.S. Secretary of State) John Kerry?
GG: We should recognize the Palestinian state and then work out the issues.
RS: What’s your big idea?
GG: If we improve the lines of communication between the U.S. and Israel, we can improve lives around the world. It would improve the legitimacy deficit Israel suffers and bring Americans and Israeli together to help humanity.