On August 19, the Reform Movement published its official Response to Iran Deal. It expressed a great deal of concern and uncertainty about the future, but it seemed intent on refraining from making any clear statements because “At this time, there is no unity of opinion among the Reform Movement leadership — lay and rabbinic alike — just as there is not unity among our membership as to the JCPOA itself.” This, I believe, is our main, and really only problem.
Disunity has infected every corner of the Jewish world, and is the venom that lurks behind every slanted look we give one another, behind every bad word we say about each other (and there are plenty), and behind our indecision as to how we should respond to social and political events.
The disunity described in the Reform Movement’s statement echoes the spirit presented by other denominations in American Jewry. However, it pales compared to the disunity within Israel. The country is so divided and splintered that it should be called “The States of Israel” rather than “The State of Israel.” There is the state of Tel Aviv, the state of Bnei Brak (where the ultra-Orthodox near Tel Aviv live), the state of Jerusalem, and the state of the periphery. Actually, to many who live in the center of Israel it seems that the periphery is not even part of Israel, but some sort of an excess. Beyond that there are numerous factions and fractions divided by political alliances, ethnicity, culture, accent, education, neighborhood, level of observance, and so on and so forth.
In short, we are divided to the core.
But our bane is also our gain. We have always been divided, and there have always been disputes and at times even violence among us. The division is not bad in and of itself. On the contrary, it is a sign of vitality and pluralism of ideas. The question is how we handle our differences. If we use them as a level to strengthen our unity, it is our gain. If we succumb to our egos and let our differences separate us, it is our bane.
In our remote past, we overcame our differences and formed a nation like no other, a nation that was so worthy it was given a task to be a light to all the nations. It was bequeathed with the mission of serving as a role model of unity above differences. Hence, the more we united, the more our egos demanded to express themselves and the more challenging our unity became.
Once we united “as one man with one heart,” we became a nation. But since we have lost that unity, we have lost our right to be deemed “a nation.” It is with good reason that many people feel and say, both Jews and non-Jews, that the task of being a light for the nations is no longer relevant to today’s Jewish people. They simply see nothing “illuminating” about us. All we radiate is strife and discord.
We, the nation that coined the tenet, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” project anything but. Surely, some nations treat their own people with unthinkable cruelty, but the world all but ignores their atrocities, and instead portrays us as the world’s #1 villains. There is a simple reason for this: The world does not expect Syria, Iran, China, or even the United States to be role models of humanity. More accurately, it does not expect them to be role models of unity! It certainly does expect this of us, Jews.
Until we unite, we will continue to be called “war mongers.” Sure, it will be attributed to this or that political or social situation, but the underlying feeling that we are causing all the trouble is the reason why people make these accusations in the first place.
We are a nation that had succeeded in overcoming the deepest rifts by uniting above them, not by the suppression of all views by one dominant opinion. Moreover, we have succeeded in harnessing our differences for the common good in a way that not only allows for all views to exist, but even strengthens other views, without negating one’s own. This sort of pluralism does not exist anywhere in the world today, but it is mandatory that we implement it if we are to survive as a humane society. No one knows how, not even us Jews. Nevertheless, we will be blamed for not sharing it. Therefore, we have no choice but to relearn this craft in order to share it with all of humanity.
The call of the hour is not to fight this or that deal. It is also not to connect Tel Aviv with Sderot, or the ultra-Orthodox with the ultra-secular. It is simply to unite above our differences, and set an example of brotherly love, “as one man with one heart.” This is our call to action. External challenges such as the Iran deal will continue to pressure us to do so, so we may as well do it sooner rather than later.