Am Echad B’lev Echad

Last week , in this column, I presented a challenge. Could we capitalize on the unity exhibited by the Jewish community during the recent difficult times, maintaining it post-tzaar? As I wrote, many have responded by emphasizing that we should change our way of speaking, toning down the rhetoric and listening to what others are saying. While this is certainly a laudable goal, the question remains, what are the practical steps that we can take to effectuate such a culture change? Are there any other practical ideas that will help maintain the achdus we are experiencing?

 

First a caveat. When speaking of unity I am not advocating the compromise of strongly held beliefs. I mean being able to get along despite them. Achdus might mean recognizing commonalities. We have a lot in common with all shomrei mitzvos and lomdei Torah, whether they be Dati Leumi or Satmar. We have a lot in common with the non-Dati world in Israel as we all share a concern for the future of the Jewish people, even if we have different visions of how that future should look. Again, we most definitely have mutually exclusive positions that we cannot and should not abandon, but by the same token, we may not be able to afford to overlook commonalities either. I may think that an opposing philosophy, or “shita,” is dead wrong. In fact I should feel that way if I truly believe my own position. Yet at the same time I can respect an opposing position or advocate for “meaning well,” even if I disagree. As an example (I realize that this is overly simplistic, but just for the sake of example), I may strongly believe that the yeshuah for Klal Yisrael will come through limud haTorah, yet I can respect those who emphasize army service as at least being concerned about the physical survival of the Jewish people. This could be a first step toward civil discourse.

So here are some practical suggestions that I have received over the past few weeks.

Many respondents wrote of the powerful experiences they had by reaching out to the families of Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war. Others wrote of delivering food packages, medical supplies and even simchah to various Army bases. Still others related how secular Israeli soldiers begged them to go back to their Gemaras and Tehillim to protect them in battle. There is no substitute for reaching out and showing concern. The success of the many outreach kollelim in communities all over America should have taught us this by now. As one respondent wrote, “There is an entire generation of Jews who know little about Torah and about our history. An olive branch, a bridge, to collaborative dialogue and positive influence with that element must include Torah. There is a latent thirst, among many, for meaning, for values and for direction. Speaking in an articulate and informed manner, presenting a caring and sensitive front, modeling the values which we are supposed to endorse, goes a long way in setting aside suspicion, mistrust and preexisting prejudice.”

One renowned woman’s lecturer submitted a proposal to create a video that would highlight many of the stories referred to above. It would also include video clips from Gedolei Torah, the parents of the three young bachurim, Hy”d, who were murdered, and others, speaking of the need for unity and how we can go about achieving it.

On the communal side, there were some important suggestions. One major askan wrote, “As evidenced by the most recent Siyum HaShas, and by the learning and shiurim that are taking place in shuls across the Orthodox/Chareidi landscape, Daf Yomi is a positive unifying force among Torah Jews of all stripes. Perhaps siyumim of individual masechtos (or sedarim) can be organized in different communities that bring together the diverse elements of the community under one roof, with a dais and program that reflect that diversity. [At the National Siyum HaShas] we had some success… in promoting a sense of achdus among a broad array of participants. We can have [the same or] even greater success, I think, in local community forums.” We have to find opportunities to engage others in those activities that are central to Judaism. Certainly Torah study is one. “The Shabbos Project,” which is the brainchild of Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein of South Africa, is another.

Lastly, a few respondents wrote of our need to do a better job presenting Chareidi Jews to the world in a positive light. We are losing the PR war and have thus become easy targets for those who oppose us. This only leads to a vicious cycle where we are attacked and respond with anger, which only leads to more attack, etc. One prominent mechanech wrote, “When folks in our community who are in (even low-level) leadership positions in education, Rabbinics, Chareidi media and should know better, utter hurtful, foolish and divisive comments, they are broadcast worldwide in seconds. Generally speaking, these statements are not condemned by mainstream leaders of ours so they just reverberate in the echo chamber of technology and social media….This is who/what is representing us to the world at large — and to our own 20-35 year olds who consume these media tools… [Do] you know who explains our view to the world AND TO OUR OWN PEOPLE?? The Jewish Forward, Jewish Week and the bloggers. Until we make use of technology to get our message out, it is hard to see things changing in a meaningful way. We are doing a great job retail (one on one) but getting clobbered wholesale on the internet. Not engaging technology in this supremely important arena would be the equivalent of an army using bows and arrows to protect against rockets and missiles.” Whether or not one feels that the internet belongs in a Jewish home, some of us have to start thinking about effectively using it as well as social media, to portray who we really are, lest others do it for us.

Next week I will try and submit some of my own concluding thoughts.


 

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