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I have a photograph. It’s an old black and white taken by a Kodak instamatic camera. I remember the outfit I was wearing. It was a madras plaid blouse woven in burgundy and navy hues, and I have on a pair of navy Bermuda shorts. My mother had a blouse just like it; it was cool to dress alike back then. I am standing in front of some whimsical animals made out of car parts. I was 17 years old, and it was my idea to come to this place. It was 50 years ago and I was at the New York World’s Fair at the General Motors Pavilion.
There were so many wonderful things to see in those days! The future was in our hands. We saw the beginnings of the computer age and the “picture phone” (think video conferencing), super cars, new transportation systems of the future. We loved the auto animatronic dolls in the Pepsi Exhibit, now at The Magic Kingdom in the Small, Small World Attraction. And there was the G.E. Carousel of Progress, now at Epcot, with its advances in making life easier for us all. And wonder of wonders, National Cash register had invented something called “NCR paper,” carbonless carbon paper that I thought was just amazing!
Looking back at the 50 years since the fair erected its iconic symbol of the Unisphere, a metal sculpture of a globe symbolizing a united world, so much history has passed that continues to influence us today. Many areas moved ahead quickly with advances in medicine, education, industry, science and yes, even in religion.
In the 50 years since the Unisphere, Judaism, always evolving, made some major changes and advances. What seems to stand out prominently are the roles and recognition given to women especially in the more liberal branches of the faith. By the early ‘70s, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements were ordaining rabbis. The Conservative Movement followed in the mid 1980s, although women had been counted as part of the minyon (religious quorum) by the Conservative movement early in the 1970s. The Reform and Reconstructionist branches allowed this in the '70s as well.
In 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was founded, and Reconstructionism, a fourth movement in Judaism had a theological base in which to train rabbis and cantors. Always equalitarian from inception, it would go on to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis as well. The movement introduced the concept of the bat mitzvah, the female equivalent to the bar mitzvah, when a young 13 year old is called to the Torah and becomes an “adult” member of the Jewish community. While the concept has been around since the 1920s, its popularity took off in the late 1960s and continues unto this day.
In the years since Unisphere, there have been new interpretations of the Torah in view of modern living. New discoveries in Biblical archeology have shed new light on the ancient Biblical narratives, giving us more insight into what the Bible is trying to impart to us. The excavation of places like Masada, where Jewish zealots in 70 C.E. gave up their lives rather than live under Roman oppression, brought Jewish history to the forefront and connected those of the Jewish faith to history and survival.
While the more liberal branches of Judaism have gained momentum these past 50 years, traditional Judaism has also seen changes. Women are gaining more rights among certain traditional groups and they are taking on more roles as leaders within a traditional framework.
A movement/trend towards returning to Jewish roots also became popular in the mid-’80s. A person returning to Judaism from another faith or from lack of observance was called a baal teshuvah, one who returns. Many of these returnees to Judaism were products of mixed marriages and those with little Jewish education who wished to delve more into their faith. Many traveled to Israel to study in yeshivahs, religious academies, and many became followers of charismatic rabbis.
Zionism, too, has blossomed. With the victory of the 1967 war, Jewish pride swelled to new heights and support of the Jewish State took on new precedence. Tourism to Israel also became popular and just about every Jewish group had pilgrimages to Israel.
I have a photograph. It is in black and white taken by a Kodak Instamatic camera. I am standing in front of the Unisphere, a stolen moment captured from the millions who also wanted a shot in front of the iconic metal sculpture.
I wonder: when will we have one world?
Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Ocala with her husband, Phil. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.