Tamar Ish-Shalom is a leading news presenter and journalist. A proud secular Israeli, she was hesitant about accepting the invitation to compere this year’s gala event hosted by President Rivlin during which the 2016 Unity Prizes were awarded.
What about the event made her think twice before responding?
At the end of the ceremony she shared some personal thoughts reflecting her concerns about Jewish Unity (or in Hebrew אחדות ישראל). “In recent years I admit that I have been ambivalent about these two words. There are those who misuse this expression or indeed use it for ulterior motives in order to blur the deep divisions that we must debate and clarify. Indeed this expression has been used by some to exclude certain non-Jewish populations from among us, indeed from the country.” She wonders out loud — “Is there still a single positive common denominator that can connect us, all of us, here in the State of Israel?”
As Ish-Shalom begins to answer her own questions she admits, turning to the wonderful Shaer, Fraenkel and Ifrach families — “You have forced me to sit down for more than a few nights, and instead of folding laundry, getting the kids lunches ready or waste time on Facebook — I have tried to think more deeply about this question, and try and find the answer.”
In that moment, I realized that the amazing project that we were asked to join, almost two years ago following the fateful 18 days of unity in the trauma of the kidnap and murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad, had started to have an impact on Israel society.
Israelis and indeed Jews around the world have proved time and again that during times of crisis we can come together and show solidarity in support in each other in distress. However the inspiration for Unity Day and the Unity Prizes is to attempt to find the path to this same unity when the external threat recedes. From the beginning of this week, and through the end of next week there are hundreds of events in Israel and around the world marking Unity Day.
In the words of the wonderful Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau — “We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together.” It is the intent of the families and of Gesher to encourage Israeli society and Jews around the world to tackle this question.
Unity is not an easy concept to define, and indeed there are those who are nervous about it. On the one hand there are those who see unity as a code word for uniformity, obliterating the differences between us, and there are those who are nervous that unity is either too inclusive, or too exclusive, depending on their point of view. Moreover there are different levels of unity. Unity within my community, between communities, at a national level and of course across the entirety of the Jewish People. Each part of the Jewish Diaspora and of course Israeli society has different elements of unity that are more burning to deal with.
The wonderful opportunity afforded to us all by the explosive growth of Unity Day is the ability for us to look at unity as it is relevant to each one of us. We have noticed that as we approach the second Unity Day, marking two years since the tragedy, interest has grown exponentially with more and more communities and organizations joining, becoming partners in making this a truly global enterprise.
On Monday In Boca Raton, Florida, there will be an event combining over a dozen synagogues from every Jewish stream in a show of unity. With the leadership of the local Jewish Federation and the amazing local rabbis this will build on a similar event that they held last year. In addition it is amazing to see how the flagship event of the NY Jewish community, the Celebrate Israel Parade is embracing Unity Day, both at the event itself and also by holding a specially dedicated unity event with the IAC immediately afterwards. This event is happening this Sunday. Of course this is not restricted to North America — as far afield as Holland, New Zealand and even China there will be events marking Unity Day, and of course in Israel itself hundreds of thousands are taking part in events across the country.
The hashtag for Unity Day is “come as you are” – the first step to unity is joining together, each one proud of his own identity and background. Only through this proximity and learning more intimately about one another can we discover the beauty that lies across the different parts of our people, even as we continue to find things to disagree about. Unity does not and cannot mean uniformity, but it can and must be like a collection of musicians, each being the best they can be at their instrument, and then together starting to build an orchestra that creates something of beauty and of harmony.
Make sure to find an event near you where you can be part of this project, find someone that sees life differently and learn more about him, share this experience with others with the realization that the dream of unity in times of peace is not a dream but a real possibility.
This is the legacy of the boys, and the motivation of everyone involved.
See you on Unity Day and remember #comeasyouare.
For more information on the prize winners and the to find an event near you please visit: http://unityprize.org/unity-day/find-activity/