By: Aviel Parente  | 

Make Unity a Reality, Not Just a Response

It goes without saying that the events we heard unraveling in real time over the past week have been horrifying and unconscionable. The death toll is over 1,400 — of which the overwhelming majority are civilians. 250 hostages are being held in Gaza — mainly women and children. Thousands more are injured. No word exists to describe the absolute tragedy that befell the Jewish people just a few days ago. Most of my family and many friends of mine are there, some serving, and I know many people who had direct connections to victims — who at this point doesn’t? I have not much to offer that has not already been spoken about, but there’s one important point that has not gotten enough attention in thought as much as it has in practice.

Since the dawn of man, siblings never really got along. And whether you are a Darwinist or religious, the story of Cain and Abel read in last week’s Torah portion speaks volumes about the dynamic of sibling rivalry and relationships. Throughout Sefer Bereishit, the Book of Genesis, story after story relayed is about sibling rivalry. 

For thousands of years, Jews have been feuding over anything and everything, from the time of the Twelve Tribes until the destruction of the First and Second Temples. In that time, we even experienced civil wars and the splitting of our kingdom.

Since the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel and its dispersion throughout the Diaspora, we have continued to become more and more polarized. With the formation of new sub ethnic groups — Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, etc. — each followed their own tradition with a superiority complex that bleeds into Jewish society to this day. We all hear and make jokes about the different groups and stereotypes. But a lot of the time the comments are not so lighthearted. Some of these communities still don’t allow marriage between these groups, following a trend over the course of centuries.

Starting in the Age of Enlightenment, civic dispute shot even higher amongst international Jewry due to the fractures within the community into different denominations. Reform Jews were not Jewish enough while Orthodox Jews were far too observant — and then you have everyone else in between. This interdenominational infighting continues all the way to the present day, a time in which we have countless “flavors” of Judaism.

And the resentment did not die down. With Zionism gaining popularity in the late nineteenth century, everyone had what to say with their own spin on it, and many who disagreed in the slightest viewed everyone else as absolutely wrong. Even in the founding of the State of Israel, different factions fighting, albeit for the same cause, began targeting each other. And just a few weeks ago, due to disagreements on government actions, Israelis were at each other’s throats. Some had even started saying earlier this year and as late as August that Israelis were on the brink of civil war!

And to this day, political unrest in Israel, inter-Jewish discrimination, tribal elitism and true ideological hatred continue to plague our people. As the age-old adage goes: What happens when two Jews are stranded on an island? The establishment of three synagogues — we even joke about it! This is known as “Sin’at Chinam,” or “baseless hatred,” which is essentially the disdain between people for no justifiable reason. Sin’at Chinam has been a cancer on Am Yisrael since before there was even an Am Yisrael throughout the stories of inter-sibling hatred and envy told in the Book of Genesis, and we have yet to find a remedy.

But if I may, in wake of the greatest tragedy to befall the Jewish people in eight decades, there is also a lesson to be learned. As incredible as the response from Jews everywhere has been, I fear that if we do not explicitly discuss the lesson and or analyze what led to such a reaction, it will all quickly fade out of our minds and with it, we will slip back into our antiquated ways. And that is: unity.

Hamas appallingly and unspeakably attacked Israel at the moment of greatest civil unrest in the country’s short history, unjustifiably seizing an opportunity to catch us at a moment of peak vulnerability. And, again, as strongly in our hearts as we know their actions to be inconceivably inhumane, there must be something to take away; the only way that the innocent bloodshed of our dear brothers and sisters will not have been in complete vain is to understand this lesson of unity. Being unified cannot just be a response to tragedy, it must continue beyond this hour of horror and these days of despair.

Unity tends to be a cliché spewed by our politicians to garner votes and admiration in the public eye. It hardly seems attainable, rather appearing to us far-fetched and out-of-reach. But you have to be living under a rock to have not seen the Jewish people from around the world and all walks of life coming together in an unprecedented effort to fight unified together against our common enemy. I sit here, writing this article, with a pit in my stomach trying to grapple with this massacre, but with a tear in my eye thinking about the countless stories of chesed, loving-kindness and self-sacrifice circulating the internet of all the Jews rallying together in various different places and ways.

Hamas thought that attacking when we were most vulnerable would break us. But saying that they miscalculated would be an understatement. They committed ruthless and merciless crimes against humanity. And the “achdut,” the “absolute oneness” of Am Yisrael in its entirety, has prevailed. Hamas’ actions are “sheer evil.” And we, the Jewish people, respond with sheer goodness. In the face of a godless enemy we must emulate G-d by becoming One. And that is precisely what we did. Any time the Jews have fallen throughout history it was because we stood fractured and broken in front of our enemies. And any time we have overcome challenges no other nation could, it was because we stood strongly and proudly together. 

I pray that this lesson be realized and taken to heart, and I call upon world Jewry to do so. Whether you are Ashkenazi or Sephardi, secular or observant, regardless of which country you come from or what your wear on your head, if you are neged reforma or be’ad reforma (against Israeli judicial reform or in favor of it), Chassidic or Mitnaged, scholarly or not so learned, and so on and so forth, we are all part of a collective. And we have our differences, and we continue to believe that “I am correct and others are not.” But we must never lose sight of the fact that despite those differences, we are brothers and sisters. We have defied the test of time, and will continue to do so, by sticking together. 

Once this war is over and our captives and soldiers have returned home safely, G-d willing soon, everyone will continue to live their own lives, their own way, with their own beliefs. Some tell me that it is too soon to speak of these events in such terms — as a lesson to be learned. And it might be. But if we do not recognize the opportunity we have for true unity, we are doomed to fall back into our own vicious cycle of “baseless hatred.” We must use this momentum of being unified and carry it into the future. If anything good can come of this tragedy, even just a little bit, it must be the long-term peace and cooperation of our people despite our differences. The cost was beyond imagination, a hefty price our people paid to say the least. Let it be a lesson learned and never forgotten — a call to action answered by all, together, as one.

To drive this point home, here is an idea my late grandfather, Chazan Moti Fuchs z”tl, taught me:

King David writes in Psalms, “Behold! How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together!” (Psalm 133:1). 

As straightforward as the idea expressed by King David seems to be in theory, we struggle to make it our reality. It is not easy. But hidden within the words is the key. The Hebrew word for “together” is “yachad,” spelled yud, chet, daled. My grandfather teaches not to read yachad as a word, but rather as an acronym: Yesh Chelukei De’ot, which means, “there are differences in opinion.” And that’s just it. There will always be a different way of thinking and practicing, but once we put those aside and realize, yes, we are “Am Echad, K’Ish Echad, B’Lev Echad,” “One Nation, like one man, with one heart,” and yes, we are brothers and sisters, only then, with that understanding, will we learn to live well together and pleasantly with one another.

May those injured have a complete and speedy recovery. May our people be comforted for the calamity and carnage. May Heaven comfort those who directly lost loved ones among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and that their loss not be in vain. May the souls of those stripped away from us in cold, vicious blood rest in eternal peace in Heaven. May those held hostage return home safely and quickly. May our soldiers who fight to defend and protect the Jewish people be swift, strong, and courageous! and their return home be safe and hasty. May we continue to love one another, be there for each other, not just in these dire times of need, and may we continue to be unified.

B’sorot Tovot, only good news! Chazak V’Ematz, be strong and courageous! Am Yisrael Chai!


Photo Caption: Am Yisrael Chai!

Photo Credit: Pixabay