The new Israeli TV series Shababnikim has captured the hearts and minds of millions in Israel and around the world. The series follows the lives of three Yeshiva students and their struggles with the modern world. This is huge news. Why? Because in a divided world in which we interact so little with people who different than we are, this is a game changer. Israeli TV producers have done a great service to the Jewish people by helping bridge the divide between religious and secular Israelis, an opportunity for better mutual understanding could not be overestimated.
I am often shocked when hosting Reform, Conservative, or just unaffiliated Jews in our home for Friday night Shabbat dinners, how little I know about their world. It is especially astonishing for me since I consider myself highly informed, read a lot, and know different kinds of people, and yet so often I realize how little I really know.
The same is true for others when it comes to the Orthodox world. Despite all that, there is in the media about Orthodox Jews, despite countless Wikipedia pages, and a world filled with information so much goes unnoticed. And so, we sit around the Shabbat table and get to know each other. We all find ourselves pleasantly surprised, realizing how much more we had in common than thought before, and how much more we have to learn.
TV shows like Shababnikim are changing the face of a fractured nation who can use so much healing. For too long sectarianism, denominationalism, and social barriers have divided, subdivided, subsubdivided, and yes, I am sure you know this to be true, subsubsubdivided the Jewish community. It is time for us to break down artificial barriers and get to know each other a little better, we what common language we can find with one another, and see how we can come together as a people.
The famous words of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Rabbi A.Y. Kook have never been truer: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam. (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)
TV programs like Yair Sherki’s recent documentary Holy Brooklyn on Ultra-Orthodox Jews in North America were also very well received by the Israeli community, as they help bridge a too deep of a divide. What we need now is to import this kind of social understanding here in the United States, between the various streams of Judaism. The sense that we are one people, with a shared heritage, and commitment to a better future, is one that needs to be deepened among American Jews.
This can be achieved through bottom-up based programs that bring together real people, in real settings. While artificial panels can help bring about academic and intellectual advances, nothing will substitute face to face interactions, that allow an interaction that is civil, friendly, and engaging.
Kudos to Israeli TV producers, you are real heroes. We are all trying to follow your path, but for now, I am going back to prepare for Shabbat, a time that helps me better understand myself and better understand all the magnificent young Jews that are out there, waiting just for an opportunity to connect.