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Identity

15 January 2021

Dear Members and Friends,

James Marcia is a clinical and developmental psychologist. His area of research is identity crisis and the achievement of adolescents. He is best known for his extensive research and writings on identity development.  According to his theory, there are four stages many people go through in life: foreclosure, identity diffusion, moratorium, and identity achievement.

Marcia writes about the first stage the following: ‘The foreclosure status is when a commitment is made without exploring alternatives. Often these commitments are based on parental ideas and beliefs that are accepted without question.’ The story of the Jewish people began with an unchallenged identity of slaves. There was no one to question it until Moses came and said, ‘Let my people go, you can be free, you can be more than slaves.’

The second stage is identity diffusion. It is described as ‘the mark of those who have neither explored nor made commitments across life-defining areas.’  I think that this week’s Torah portion corresponds exactly to this stage. All we know at this stage is that Jews started the process of questioning their identity. Probably the Plagues story gave some people a sense of empowerment. However, at this stage, the only approach they had was a ‘negative identity’. The process of national change takes a long time. At this moment all they knew was that they were not slaves anymore.

Later in the Jewish story we are going to read about The Ten Commandments, Golden Calf story as a crisis of faith and national identity. It has a strong parallel with the ‘Moratorium’ stage. Marcia notes that this stage is common for individuals who are in the midst of a crisis, whose commitments are either absent or are only vaguely defined. We can find this approach among many Jews today too. For instance, one can hear from a progressive Jew that ‘we are not orthodox’, while an orthodox Jew may define themselves as ‘not a progressive Jew’. It takes time and effort to articulate the set of values, test them in real life and define oneself.

Crises often serves as a catalyst for understanding who you are. Once a crisis has been experienced and processed, Marcia concluded, ‘a likely progression would be from diffusion through moratorium to identity achievement.’ The Torah story of the Exodus from Egypt has many parallels with this theory. The story we read every year is a story of a struggle for freedom, seeking our identity and asking ourselves important questions: Who am I? What do I stand for? What are my values?

In the time of uncertainty and crisis, we hope that lessons of this time will become an inspiration to articulate, distil and express our identity and core values for us and generations after us.

Shabbat shalom,

Igor Zinkov

Mon, 25 January 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781