I don’t pretend to know the answers to all or even some of society’s troubles. I do believe, however — and it is supported by Torah — that Jewish unity overrides all other concerns.
Admittedly, many of the characteristics of modern Israeli culture which have become so commonplace – the lack of politeness, the aggressiveness and especially the infighting and sinat hinam (causeless hatred) — had led me to become disillusioned with Israeli society as a whole. But I’ve learned to accept that for all the good and bad, our society is still very young and it is evolving rapidly. Building a new and more perfect society is a gradual process, one that will not be completed by my generation.
New immigrants to Israel have a special historical role to fulfill, but it is limited. As with all first-generation immigrants, tremendous sacrifice must be made with the hope of a better future for our children. And I see enormous potential for my son’s generation. Jewish, and particularly Israeli culture and identity will be shaped by continual interaction of over time. This is one of the miracles of Kibbutz Galuyot, the ingathering of the Jewish exiles. Perhaps we can find some meaning toward this end from some of the many prophecies unfolding in our time:
“Thus says Hashem, G-d: ‘I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the Land of Israel. I will give them one heart and put and new spirit in them. (Ezekiel 11:17-19).” “Thus says Hashem, G-d: ‘I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them a single nation in the land. (Ezekiel 37:21-22)” “He will hold up a signal to the nations and assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Yehudah from the four corners of the Earth…Ephraim will not envy Yehudah and Yehudah will not harass Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:12-13)”
Israeli society is so beautifully diverse and we all bring our own cultural baggage with us. I, personally, may never be able to understand the background and fully integrate with Jewish groups from other parts of the world but my children are growing up together with their children, and that gives me tremendous hope. What holds the “tribes” together is the acceptance of diversity without losing sight of the underlying unity. We all have our responsibilities to fulfill. Can a Yisroel or Levi be jealous of a Kohen? No. Hashem assigned each a special tafkid, a special role, and that must be recognized, admitted and respected. Think of it as a national division of labor. In Biblical times, one tribe worked so that the other could sit and study. The tribe that worked, Zevulun, was highly praised and received credit for the Torah learning accomplished by Yissachar.
With this in mind, I would like to address one particular area of friction within Israeli society that has received a lot of attention. I think there is a terrible lack of respect as well as lack of recognition by some groups of the accomplishments of the others. I believe that secular Jews need to recognize the contribution of religious Jews, particularly the burden they carried in preserving Torah and Jewish identity through the long exile. I think both secular and religious need to recognize that even the Haredim have a special role to play, which may actually be to sit in yeshiva and learn full time.
But this goes both ways. I think Haredim in particular need to acknowledge that somewhere along the line (say around the time of the birth of political Zionism), they may have dropped the ball, so to speak. Yaakov spent 14 years learning in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. When it came time for him to leave the yeshiva, to build a family and impact the world, he had his dream of the ladder. Upon awakening, he exclaimed, “G-d is in this place and I didn’t even know it.” We learn that the place he slept that night was the future site of the Jewish Temple. But we also learn that that “this place” refers to the world outside the walls of the bais medrash, the study hall. Haredi society must accept and come to terms with the fact that G-d chose secular nationalists to carry out the most important function in Jewish history to date. And they certainly took up the mantle of leadership. They also need to realize that were it not for those serving in the IDF, it’s very possible that they would not have the privilege of sitting in yeshivot, carrying out the honorable task of learning and keeping the Torah alive.
We are taught in the Talmud (Berachot 43) that strict judgments are more likely to be imposed upon the individual rather than the community. We are therefore advised not to separate from the community, nor to focus on personal requests in our prayers, but rather to enter the High Holidays by increasing our love for and connection to all of the Jewish people, which will in turn bring Hashem to judge us with greater mercy. We certainly need Hashem’s mercy, particularly at this time, which it seems King David foresaw when he wrote “They plot craftily against Your people, take counsel against Your treasured ones. They say, ‘let us wipe them out as a nation; Israel’s name will be mentioned no more’ (Psalms 83:4-5).”
We need to try to see past the political and cultural clothing to recognize our common source. We need to possess an intense awareness of the common denominators unifying us all: we are all Jews and we all have a shared purpose and destiny. Each side needs to drop the stereotypes. Each side needs to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of the other. Each side needs to admit that the other has a very important role to play if we are to be successful at this great national project. There is nothing more important, especially at this juncture of Jewish history, than national unity.