The discussions at the Shabbat table this week will likely be about Hamas, cease fires, IDF reservists, Morsi, Obama, Netanyahu, etc.  Did we do enough damage to Hamas?  Should there have been a ground offensive?  Will the cease fire hold?  And with primaries and elections on the horizon – how does Operation Pillar of Defense impact the election season?

It will be a true shame if our Shabbat table discussion does not focus on an entirely different aspect of recent events.

I had the honor of spending time in the South this past week.  I was in Sderot, Ashdod, Beer Sheva, and Kfar Aza.  I met with political leaders, business owners, spiritual leaders, soldiers, educators, parents, and children. The economic, psychological and emotional crisis which thousands of missiles have brought upon the South runs deeper than any government ministry can solve.

On the political and military front, I met people with decades of experience who explained the complexities of Gaza and other situations which make it clear that there is no simple solution.  People talk with much bravado but those on all sides of the political spectrum who are truly in the know recognize that there is no quick fix and, regardless of how we respond militarily and politically, we are surrounded by enemies. Total quiet is not on the horizon.

So, what should we glean from this operation?

To me, especially based on my personal experiences during the operation, the message is clear.  The need for unity.

During the operation I ran into a shelter on the side of the road and found myself “stuck” for 10 minutes with Jews from all walks of life.  I lay flat on the ground on the side of a road among total strangers while we heard the shriek of the missile above us.  We talked, got to know a little about each other, then shook hands and moved on.  These are people with whom I would not normally have spoken. Suddenly we were thrown together and we took the opportunity to talk.

It was also my great privilege to help place people from the South with families outside of the missile fire.  Once again, populations which rarely interact with one another were forced to do so.  Ultra-Orthodox families had to deal with life in Raanana because that is where I could find them an empty home and non-religious families needed to adapt to moving in with a religious Zionist family in Jerusalem because that is where there was space.  And everyone got along just fine.

Israelis opening their homes to total strangers, delegations from throughout Israel flooding to the south to show their solidarity, money flowing in from the United States to buy pizza and ice cream for children living under fire, and simply learning to talk to total strangers and realizing that we are, in fact, brothers and sisters.  That is what resulted from this operation.  We may be a people with deep ideological disagreements but, when it is all said and done, all we have is each other.

Not only that, but sources in our tradition which deal with how to achieve national success focus on our unity.  The Bible says, “And He (God) is King in Yeshurun (Israel) when the leaders of the nation are gathered together, together the tribes of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 33:5)  King David teaches that “The built up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together” (Psalms 122:3) and the Midrash explains that the key to a rebuilt Jerusalem is “all Israel becoming friends.”  The Talmud relates that the Temple was destroyed because of hatred between Jews (Tractate Yoma 9b) and numerous sources comment that we won’t achieve national redemption and peace until we demonstrate love among Jews.

We are now heading into election season.  From what I have seen in the two election cycles since I moved to Israel, this means deep polarization amidst the Jewish people.  Seasoned politicians will sling mud at those who threaten their standing, while new politicians will try to dig up dirt on those who block their path to leadership. Personal insults will be hurled all over the political spectrum, and sectarian parties will once again promise to “take care of their own.”

Perhaps the time has come to recognize that Israel will never succeed in the important arenas – not militarily, not economically, not spiritually, not educationally, and not geographically – if we continue to act this way.  Israelis will always have ideological disagreements and that is not only acceptable but it is also healthy for a society.  But when those disagreements pull us apart as a people and cause us to forget that we are brothers and sisters, we destroy our society.

Operation Pillar of Defense reminded us once again that we are, indeed, brothers and sisters and brought to the fore what is truly important for the survival of Israel and the Jewish people.  As you begin to sort through the numerous parties to choose from when going to the voting booth on January 22, I hope you ask yourselves, “Should I vote for a sectarian party which represents the “looking out for ourselves” policy, which has been the hallmark of Israeli politics for decades or should I vote for a party which brings together people from different backgrounds, all of whom are willing to sacrifice for the good of the nation as a whole?  Should I vote for people who speak in the nastiest, most distasteful terms about other Jews simply because of political disagreements or should I vote for a “new politics” which says that even if we disagree, it is time to treat one another like we do when sharing a bomb shelter or lying side by side flat on the side of a road  as a missile flies overhead, aiming to kill ALL of us TOGETHER.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that we almost always find ourselves in war situations right before elections.  My hope is that this time we will take war time attitudes, experiences, and lessons with us into the voting booth.

It is in our hands to decide – settling for the more comfortable stance which means perpetuating the selfish, destructive approach which has marred our past or embracing the challenge of a new, selfless and difficult path to give us hope for a bright future.

Since taking the easy way out has never led to real progress and change, I choose the latter.

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