“Where is the religious public?” asked a well-meaning Facebook poster as she shared photos of thousands of Jews praying at the Kotel in 1994 for the release of Nachshon Waxman and again in 2014 when the 3 boys were kidnapped. “You were there for the religious boys when they were taken captive. Why don’t I see you in Tel Aviv where the families of the hostages are gathering?”
People responded to her post in horror. Where is the religious community? We are literally on the front lines of battle just like you are. So many from the religious community have lost loved ones. Religious Jews are involved in tremendous chessed, from the overtly heroic first responders to those in the quiet of their homes gathering supplies to donate to those displaced from their homes.
These noble efforts, as incredible as they are, do not answer her question. Where is the religious public? I read her question and wondered – could it be possible that the families of the hostages don’t know that the dati community is thinking of them all the time? That we know their children’s names and faces and cry and pray for them without a second thought about what Judaism looks like to them? Regardless of whether they know, I accepted the rebuke, and decided that if the religious community is not showing up in respectable numbers to the “hostage square” in Tel Aviv, that was something I could do my share to correct.
I took my older teens with me and left as soon as possible after Shabbat, but even the first train after Shabbat couldn’t get us there in time for the large gathering planned for that evening. I wondered if the timing of the event was influenced by the assumption that observant Jews weren’t planning to attend. While we missed the main event, we saw hundreds of people walking back from it, and more importantly, they seemed to have seen us. My son in his kippah, my daughter in her skirt and me with my hair covering, outwardly appearing to stand out from the crowds, while at the same time standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters, crying together with them over the heart-breaking displays in the various tents laid out on the sidewalks. We also stopped at the empty tent where a few books of Tehillim were laid out, and prayed there for the return of the hostages. We felt we served a purpose and my daughter made plans to go back again with a group of her friends.
In our walk down Kaplan Street, we saw very few anti-judicial reform posters. The majority of the signage included the Israeli flag and unifying messages. A much different scene than what was displayed before this war with Hamas was forced upon us. I recently heard Dr. Micah Goodman, on his Mifleget HaMachshavot podcast, asking if this unity between left and right, between religious and secular, was a ceasefire or a truce? Are we holding in the fierce discord that was referred to as a “war between brothers” before October 7th only to release it at even higher levels of intensity once the war is over? Or did October 7th change us fundamentally as we have realized that we can no longer allow our agreements to tear us apart? Could it be possible that this is not even a ceasefire, but maybe just a humanitarian pause, allowing ourselves a short break to deal with immediate life and death threats, but the resumption of fighting between us is imminent? So tangible that a simple miscalculation on either side could cause an eruption which neither side wants right now but neither will be able to contain once it starts to spread.
No one can predict the future, and recent committee meetings at the Knesset do not look like we’re headed in the right direction, but Dr. Goodman presented a potential path forward. When we’re ready to reengage in the essential questions about the future of the Jewish State, we must learn to separate our emotions from the content, and to preface our conflicts with an appreciation of the other side and a recognition that we are brothers rowing the same boat.
Some argue against the messages of unity being promoted now by suggesting that it is an attempt by the right wing camp to silence the opposition. But that is certainly not the goal of so many of us who believe in this message of unity. We want to follow in the path of the soldiers, who don’t have the privilege to ignore the common thread that binds us together and the common enemy who wants to destroy us. Who can engage in heated debates over ideology with each other while simultaneously not undermining their shared goals. Let’s follow in their path and do what we can today to plant the seeds for a long-lasting truce among brothers.