Achdut, Achdus and Unity – The time is NOW

I hope I will be forgiven if I come off like a hypocrite or thief. Several days ago, my friend Aliza Lipkin sent me a blog post she had written for Times of Israel and asked for my thoughts. I responded by telling her that I loved most of it, but that the ending should be changed. Aliza had originally ended her post by pointing out that we as Jews should recognize our connection, and need for unity because of external threats of annihilation and antisemitism. I told her that, rather than focus on the negative things that could be used to unite us, she should focus on the positive ones. She accepted my critique and wrote this thoughtful post. Aliza, I hope you’ll forgive me for what I am going to write.

Allow me to share with you some of the more important things that have come across my Facebook feed in the last 12 hours. Before going to sleep, I saw an article about a potential terror attack involving gas, which had been thwarted. As I woke up, I read about an Iranian ship which was carrying missiles and was headed for Gaza, which had been intercepted by the Israeli Navy. At least 10 of my friends shared a video about the recent tefillah gathering/rally in Jerusalem, sharing their outrage with how the charedim viewed the soldiers and their fellow Israelis. Even if I had the stomach to watch it, I would not post it. I didn’t watch it because I didn’t want to feel the anger that I thought might come with viewing it. Finally, I saw a post from Erika Lange, explaining why she was leaving a Facebook group dedicated to the upcoming elections in her hometown of Bet Shemesh. Erika, who is in the battle of her life against cancer, explained that, especially in the month of Adar, she can’t handle the strife and fighting that is going on in the group. It was Erika’s words, which nearly brought me to tears.

Yesterday, I issued a public invitation to Rabbi Ysoscher Katz and Rabbi Gil Student to engage in a public discussion on ReplyAll. ReplyAll offers the advantage of allowing for slow measured responses, without the necessity of quick responses and clever one-liners that other forms of social media demand. I made clear, and I reiterate, that it would be a discussion and not a debate. While there are those who are debating the theological, halachic and sociological dimensions of the machlokes between Open-Orthodoxy and right-wing Modern-Orthodoxy, my goal is not to cause more strife. I strongly believe that a thoughtful, respectful discussion between Rabbis Katz and Student could model for everyone how to have a machlokes l’sheim shamayim (a disagreement where the true goal, is to increase the honor of Heaven).

As of yet, neither rabbi has accepted my invitation. Each side has good reason to not do so. Hurtful words, intentional or not, have been expressed. Real people have experienced deep pain. Dialogue between the two movements have failed to ease tensions. I do not mean to downplay any of these very real concerns. The thoughtful discussion is needed precisely for those very reasons.

Imagine, God forbid, if the Iranian missiles had reached Gaza. With a longer range than other missiles, the damage might have been greater. Perhaps in this nightmare scenario, Yerushalayim, the city that unifies all of us, might have been hit. I have no doubt that in Israel, Jews from the charedi, dati leumi, traditional and secular camps would have all joined together in praying and doing what they could to help. Rabbis Katz and Student might have found themselves at the same place, praying next to one another, for the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Israel.

If we are not willing to come together without those who seek to harm us generating our common connection, what will we tell ourselves on Purim? How empty will our mishloach manot seem, absent the underlying notion of generating unity? On Tisha B’Av, will our tears, mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, not seem pointless as we mindlessly discuss sinat chinam? Don’t kid yourself. Sinat Chinam does not mean hating a random person. It involves being so unwilling to see common ground that you hate a fellow Jew.

I do not seek to unify institutions. My concern is not for them. It is for us, and for you, and for me, and for Erika. So I again issue an invitation to Rabbis Katz and Student to join me in creating real achdus. In the zechus of coming together despite that which divides us, may Erika, Ahava Emuna bas Chava Ehta have a complete refuah sheleima.

About the Author
Pesach Sommer is an Orthodox Rabbi, fundraiser, educator and runner. He is married and has eight children. He currently works for Just One Life, where he directs special projects including their charity running program Team Just One Life. Pesach is 42 years young.