It’s not every day that three ladies from across Israel’s religious spectrum sit down together to break bread and politely sip cups of foaming lattes. Did I say politely? Well, even if the word “politely” must be understood in the loosest sense of its meaning, there we were: Pam, Danit and I meeting month after month for the last three years to discuss Jewish unity matters. Did I say discuss? Let’s say there was far more than just the coffees percolating.

So why does discussion of Jewish unity surface now you ask?

Take this week. While it was heart-warming to see overwhelming Jewish unity at prayer rallies for the kidnapped boys, some blogs and Facebook posts were quick to report the lack of large-scale Hareidi participation in Kotel gatherings. Then, too, there were equally hurtful posts about some secular Israelis distancing themselves from religious teenagers that attend yeshivot in ‘the settlements’. And there it was, the much needed diversion in the intensive search for the missing teens: Jews fanning the flames at one another, adding fuel to existing tensions.

Are you kidding me?

At a time like this?

I don’t usually agree with too many Haaretz opinion pieces but Yair Ettinger, nailed it in his June 16th article: “Some people do not believe in prayer. Others do. Some believe in a unifying gathering of solidarity in the city square, while others take no interest at all in the story of the kidnap victims. Perhaps, at this point in time, we might ask both groups to stop arguing.”

At the end of the day, after the latest headlines dissolve into the mist of memory (and please, oh please G-d, we pray for a favorable outcome regarding our three boys!) the matter of Jewish unity and the religious–secular divide will have to be addressed in a constructive manner.

And that’s where Pam, Danit and my book project comes in: Three Ladies Three Lattes: Percolating Discussions in the Holy Land. What happens when three ladies from secular, Hareidi and modern orthodox circles sit down and discuss issues that are tearing our country apart? The army, Shabbat observance, the separation of state and religion and even the sanctity of clothing are merely a few of the topics we grapple with from our respective neck of the woods. The idea behind our initiative was never to convert the other to our way of thinking, but rather, to create bridges of understanding and a platform where we share ideas and have an equal say regarding the topics at hand. How can we dialogue with other Jews who don’t share our lifestyle and world view? Can we get beyond the exasperation, beyond the headlines and accept the humanity in one another?
Enough of the finger pointing, the vilifying, the intransigence and the sounding of alarm bells on both sides. It’s time to revisit our collective space on Israel’s religious turf and create elbow room for all. This Jewish unity business is more imperative than ever. If we don’t strive for an inclusive dialogue, our ship may sail with only the captain on board.

This morning, I had the opportunity to discuss the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, with a Muslim classmate of mine. She shook her head in commiseration. “I am thinking of these boys’ mothers, how terrible it is that they do not know if their children are safe. What’s happening in the Middle East is very sad. It’s so important to see the humanity in one another,” she said. “I hope they return home safely.”
Three ladies with three lattes are traveling the country hoping to hear your ideas, ladies, on how to build bridges and how to accept each other’s differences. Please join us in cyber space to participate in the discussions and help build achdut. May Eyal, Gilad and Naftali come home safely and with G-dspeed.