Am Echad B’lev Echad

About six weeks ago I sent the following email to 30 Rabbanim, writers, thinkers, and chaveirim:

“Hello all,

“We have all experienced the detrimental pirud that often exists both within our chareidi world and between the chareidi world and other Yidden, both shomrei Torah and not. This pirud was exacerbated during the recent debates over the draft law and cuts in funding to yeshivahleit in Israel. It is worth pointing out that the philosophical underpinnings that led to these differences are real and meaningful. Attempts to paper them over or convince one side or the other that it is wrong seem to be exercises in futility.

“Having said that, when Klal Yisrael is under attack or going through an eis tzaarah such as we are going through now with the murder of the three yeshivah bachurim, Hy”d, and the Gaza war, a sense of unity sets in. It is at least a notable positive byproduct of the tzaarah. One would expect that when the tzarah passes, we will be back to business as usual.

“My question is, why does it have to be that way? Is there anything that well-meaning and thoughtful people can do to keep this achdus going while not feeling compromised in one’s yesodosdig beliefs? I feel that there must be. I also feel that if there is a chance for this to happen, we would have to start working on it now.

“While I might have some thoughts on the subject, I am merely posing the questions for now.

“Is this a worthwhile endeavor? Is it even desirable? Is it a waste of time? Who should or could work on it? How could we accomplish it? When can we start?

“Please feel free to share your thoughts or forward this email to whomever you feel appropriate, to share theirs. Hopefully some good will come from all this that may lead us to the ultimate goal of greeting Moshiach bekarov. IL”

As one might expect, the responses were thoughtful and meaningful. Not surprisingly, most wrote of our need to learn to speak with respect to others, to lower the level of rhetoric and, most importantly, to listen. One prominent Rav sent the following:

“Harav Ruderman, zt”l, spoke of shalom in Baltimore: ‘Veil mir arbeten oyf shalom.’ Too many are of the opinion that shalom is the absence of malice. They are wrong! Oseh shalom bimromavMen darf shafen shalom! Our machaneh has to be more proactive. A grassroots approach is the best. Bnei Torah, baalei batim/professionals can accomplish extraordinary things. Beware the negative soundbite. Project the beauty and sensitivity of Yiddishkeit. Teach Torah to everyone. We have much more in common than the secular media suggests. Don’t allow yourself to be stereotyped. Come across as a unique, creative Jew. Learn how to listen. Often we are saying the same thing.”

I suggest that we have to create a significant culture change in our machaneh, much as we have in other spheres. Forty years ago, for example, it was considered proper chinuch for a rebbi to hit a misbehaving child. Mekoros in Tanach and Chazal were frequently cited. Today that culture is vastly different in our yeshivos ketanos. Maybe because of legal issues or just because we realize that such punishment is counterproductive or even damaging to children in our generation, we have changed the culture and stopped the practice. This has been accomplished under the guidance of our Gedolei Torah, working with those very mekoros previously cited.

We live in a new world of soundbites and sensitivity. What we say is broadcast to the world, often out of context. We have to be aware of that. Today, using degrading and demeaning language against any of those who don’t share our dei’os, whether they are shomrei Torah umitzvos or not, is not productive and, worse, is destructive. It should no longer be considered acceptable speech. What worked during the milchamos Hashem of 50+ years ago, when we were a weak, fledgling community fighting for our existence in a world that was just waiting for us to die out, may not be appropriate today, when we stand strong and proud. Again, this culture change is not about an iota of compromise in “shitah”; rather it is about how we speak and interact with others. This culture change will not only make us more effective, but it will allow us to create the kiddush shem Shamayim demanded of us.

The question is, how do we accomplish this? In the next article I will quote some practical ideas that I have received from others. I invite readers to participate in this discussion.


 

Dr. Lebovic can be contacted at ilebovic@hamodia.com.