The Continuity Paradox

Alex Luxenberg
3 min readDec 14, 2023

At a recent event, the keynote speaker, Rachmiel, fought tears as he introduced himself. Rachmiel, an executive in his 60s, had always been known as Robert until October 7th. This day and its aftermath rekindled a part of his identity — his Judaism — that lay dormant for decades.

This phenomenon is striking. Instead of cowering in the face of the worst antisemitism in 80 years, Jews now emerge with pride. From secular parents choosing a Jewish preschool to friends hosting their first Shabbat dinner and colleagues displaying Israeli flags, a noticeable shift is underway.

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It’s as if individuals like Robert have carried their Judaism in a long-lost heirloom locket, now rediscovered. Joseph’s son, Manashe, embodies this paradigm shift.

In Genesis 41:51 we learn:

“Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.””

Based on this verse, we’d assume that Joseph’s goal was to shape his son in a new image, one removed from Joseph’s past, perhaps an image modeled on Joseph’s new identity in Egypt. Manashe is about what is next, not what has been. In other words, he is a break from tradition.

In the next chapter there is an incredibly dramatic scene in which Joseph’s brothers stand in front of him, not recognizing him as their kin.

As the scene progresses we find out that “They (the brothers) did not know that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between him and them.” (42:23).

Rashi, based on a Midrash, posits that Manashe was the interpreter.

Think about what the means for a moment…

It implies that Joseph had taught his son, the son that was meant to represent a rupture from the past, his ancestral language.

Joseph taught Manashe the language of his parental home, placed it in a locket around his neck and kept the key just in case.

Manashe is the paradox of continuity:

Raise my kids in a way that they will fit in and raise my kids in a way that they can translate an ancient language that only 0.02% of the world understands.

It is in moments like these that the tension of that paradox becomes too great to bear.

The thing I fear is that people have finally located the long lost locket key and don’t know what to do with it. I am not sure I have an answer, but I learned a few years ago that it helps to name your challenges. So this is my attempt to do so…

People, like Robert and Manashe, have the tools to be proud of their ancient identity. The tools may be dull, but they are there. They seem to want to locate the best way to fix these tools but they don’t have a sense for where to go or who can help.

Those with a lot of Jewish infrastructure in their lives aren’t feeling this as acutely. In fact, they’ve likely been inundated with to many opportunities to connect and reconnect.

So we’ve arrived at this moment where the people who have signed up for an enaged Jewish life have so much coming their way, and those who haven’t can’t find the right place to spark their new energy.