It has been a disconcerting reality for me to grow up noticing that the Jewish community displays most cohesion and solidarity in times of crisis. What binds us are times of duress, or when we feel ostracized by the outside community.
A few years ago, for instance, I remember having a conversation with a Jewish friend of mine about a vote at McGill university to promote a boycott of products from Israel. We noticed that this single event drew in the largest turnout of Jewish students that either of us have witnessed until that point. We also agreed that it was a discouraging, unpleasant, and divisive experience for all, ending in a clear dichotomy of who’s with us and who’s against us. I have no doubt that this is a familiar story in cities across North America today as the conflict has begun to flare up again, ravaging Israeli and Palestinian societies alike. These brief moments of solidarity are not sustainable ways to cultivate and perpetuate meaningful communities in the Diaspora.
We cannot continue to purely accuse every media outlet for purveying false reporting and lies. It reassures me that the community is working to hold journalists accountable when no one else will, but we live in an open society with basic freedoms, including a free press. While transparency is far from perfect, one can assemble a somewhat ambiguous picture of what is truly going on. It is indisputable that what emerges is an undesirable and tragic situation for both sides. I am constantly fed “updates” on my news feed with youtube videos and stories from 2008, 2009, 2010 and the like, about which side is in the right and which is wrong. As if everyone is suddenly an expert on the conflict and as if nothing has changed.
In many ways, this latest outbreak of violence is nothing new. But as a Jewish people that strives for peace and justice, the status quo is unacceptable and we must work to effect change. The Jewish community is now presented with another opportunity to rally around the flag and come together. We need to use this moment to reaffirm the moral and timeless values that unite us.
I caught a glimpse of this effort at the Jewish General Assembly in Baltimore this past week. Tikun Olam, or the Jewish responsibility to make the world a better place, was the main focus, if not at least alluded to, in every major lecture or discussion. Unfortunately, only a day after the conference did Operation Pillar of Cloud begin. Israel must defend itself and needs our support. But we shouldn’t ignore the reality on the ground. Even if we destroy Hamas’ weaponry, or remove Hamas itself from power, we know that another aggressor will soon arise and suffering will continue.
Tikun Olam speaks to all of us as Jews, regardless of our affiliation. In our day and age, the notion of international Human Rights has similarly become somewhat of a universal religion that is, at least in theory, blind to nationality, sex, race and religion. The Jewish community is well aware of the power of these ideas. Now is the time to declare our support for them in an effort to maintain our moral high ground. I came across an important message expressed by Dr. Elan Ezrachi, an independent activist in Jerusalem. In his article, he opines: “Let us hope that our children in Israel and around the world will not define their identities on the basis of who was closer to the Kassam rockets range, but rather on the shared challenge of building a better Jewish world and Tikun Olam.”