Oh, I wish I could write a love story about my people, the Jewish people. After all, I do love them and apparently, according to the Bible, so does God. So, who am I to argue? They have contributed so much to humanity on all fronts in such unfathomable abundance that even the most defiant may have to concede that God has sanctified them for a greater purpose. But, sadly, my love story with the Jewish people is one that breaks my heart. As a journalist who finds herself at the epicenter of Jewish events, as an Orthodox Jew who has sat in pews in many states and many countries, as a Zionist who advocates aggressively for Israel on a daily basis, and as a mere human being who bumps elbows with my people in everyday life from kosher markets to nail salons, I can say, that my people, just don’t behave nicely toward each other.1
Unfortunately, I can’t summon the Queen’s English to query more fancifully. So I’ll ask you plainly: What’s your problem? In the political blogosphere Jews tear each other apart; in the different religious sects they deride those not holding their views, and in the social realm, some noses are so turned up that I’m not quite sure what they do when it rains. There is jealousy, gossip, glory hunting, and egomania like I have never seen before, and I’ve been watching my people and loving them for a long time, both as a Journalist and as a Jew. Yes, they are a generous people. Almost every night I can find myself at a fundraiser for one Jewish cause or another. Yippie! We eat salmon, a roasted chicken, raise a toast, raise some money, and everyone goes home. But I see no amity, no graciousness, no brotherhood, no warmth—and the shoulders are as chilly as the cold cuts and much less palatable. And then comes Operation Brother’s Keeper.
Last week three Israeli teens were kidnapped and quite magically Jews of every stratum came out from under their defining “hats” and joined together in compelling and touching unity and prayer. Once again, there’s some semblance, that we are one nation under God. The hashtag campaign #BringBackOurBoys went viral. Every Jew has become a soldier in one realm or another to help get these boys home. They weren’t someone else’s boy in trouble, they became our boys, our sons, our family–our Jews. My soul is stirred by our unity, but wary as to how long it will last. And my soul cries too. I want to know why Jews can’t unite in each other’s joys, despite our differences, and why it is we come together only in grief and tragedy. Can we only come together in crematoriums, in ash form?
I painfully question why we can’t find common ground in life—and in living—and why we have to wait for atrocities to have common graves. The Jewish people share one faith and one fate. Unity has always been vital for God’s chosen people. It is an essential precondition to every miracle and every great thing that has happened to the Jewish people throughout history–from the giving of the Torah at Sinai, where the Jews stood as one person with one heart, or the miracle of Purim, or the rescue of Ethiopian, Russian, or Syrian Jews. When we stood together, we could overcome every challenge. When we were divided, we paid a heavy price. We can even see in this week’s Torah reading how Korach and his men tried to divide the Jewish people for their own prestige and self-aggrandizement, and what was the result?: “The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korach and all the property.” And once again Jews were united in burial. So impactful is the divisiveness of the Jewish people, that it effectuated a new phenomenon in Korach’s time which mirrored it: the dividing of the earth.
Historically, although Jews were dispersed throughout the world, they could rely on each other because history had shown that they had only each other. They were a scattered nation but also one extended family whose cohesiveness was concretized by our common history, suffering, religion, and destiny. Today, I feel, we need to work very hard at restoring that cohesiveness. Each group and sect needs to stop vying for the spotlight and start acting like the refined lights that are supposed to radiate from Zion and the chosen people. A call to action: Let my people glow! In this selfie generation, perhaps it’s instinctual to want to cut everyone else out of the picture, but that’s not the Jewish way. And from God’s purview, He’d much rather we take a group shot.
The rabbis teach that each Jew is a letter in the Torah. Are we such great “editors” that we can erase any letter in the Torah because we don’t like it? Destroy one letter and the entire Torah is not valid. Are we so Godly to decide which Jew needs erasing? Which Jew isn’t good enough for me? Even Moses left that to God. It takes every letter from aleph to tav to write a Torah. And it takes a full gamut of Jews to comprise a people. Imagine what chaos would ensue if the letters held grudges toward each other and refused to share the same line on any page. Our national narrative echoes that imagery. In fact, that very writing is on the wall, well the one remaining wall. For how symbolic it is that rabbis teach that the Temple was destroyed because Jews did not behave respectfully and like mensches toward each other; for what building can stand when its bricks don’t cooperate and coalesce? As the words in the famous rock song go, “All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.” And those little prayerful-notes that today people stuff into the cracks of the Western Wall are the last traces of miraculous grout that holds up a people. There is one God, one Torah, one Israel, and we need to start acting like one people.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” the Torah instructs. And yes it’s hard to do and that’s why it had to be commanded.
Yes these kidnapped students have united God’s people and proved again that “there is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” But if we really want to be our brother’s keeper then we must show friendship and compassion to our fellow Jews even when they are not abducted by Hamas. For goodness sake, say hello, say thank you, say welcome aboard, help them get a job, offer someone a coffee, offer them humanity and dignity by merely being kind, don’t begrudge them joy and success, fix them up, be nice, be a mensch. Be one nation under God. Don’t just be a Jew, be Jewish.