Chaim Y. Botwinick

‘Achdut’: An Undeniable Challenge in the Face of Existential Reality

Photo from Unsplash

As I write this blog, I feel a deep and profound sense of emptiness, and  helplessness. I am physically at my desk in Florida, but my thoughts, heart, mind, soul and emotions are with the millions of Jewish families and friends living in Israel.

Today is October 24th, eighteen devastating and harrowing days since the savage massacre of our dear brothers and sisters in southern Israel.

As the Israeli Defense Forces prepare for an anticipated and long-awaited ground incursion into Gaza, Israel and diaspora Jewish communities are reeling from the demonic horror and barbaric acts of evil of October 7th. We experience this abyss as our brothers and sisters bury their love ones, sit shiva and console thousands of friends and family in mourning. All of this is taking place while anticipating the opening of a second front in northern Israel…. as we storm the heavens with special tfillot, the sharing of words of chizuk and the recitation of tehillim.

The indiscriminate slaughter of innocent women, children, babies and men in their homes in their beds, and in their fields…… as many of them tried desperately to run in panic and horror to safety, is a scene of incomprehensible reality.

The horrors of October 7th challenges our very fundamental understanding and definition of decency, civility and humanity in ways unimaginable. As we continue to hear and read, it was the most vicious of atrocities against the Jews since the Holocaust; and a stark reminder to all humanity that hatred, and poisonous venom from our true enemies is alive, fomenting and growing.

As we experience today’s events in real time, we are witnessing an impressive array of achdut permeating our Jewish community. This welcomed achdut is evidenced through our unswerving ability and unwavering desire to pull together as achienu bais yisrael in order to support Israel during this existential period of time. It includes the coordination of major tzedaka campaigns, the collection and airlifting of desperately needed (non-military) goods and medical supplies to Israel, the mobilization and coordination of increased joint communal tefillot, and tehillim and non-stop divrei chizuk in real time in our synagogues, batei midrash, yeshivot, schools, community centers and on social media platforms. All of this takes place as groups of  Rabbis, educators, elected officials and volunteers line up at airline ticket counters for flights  to Israel. Many make these flight; others sleep at the airport overnight with the hope of catching the next  flight..

These are just a small slice of  heartwarming solidarity, support and achdut we are now witnessing around the clock.

All of these amazing acts of achdut are indeed welcomed and impressive. They are also a far cry from the daunting lack of achdut we experienced and felt prior to October 7th. If fact, the lack of achdut prior to October 7th preoccupied our communities in Israel and in the diaspora for the better part of a year, prior to the war against Hamas.

As we know, Israel now faces a new day, with existential challenges and realities. Israel’s very existence is now being threatened by an enemy committed to our total destruction and complete annihilation.

It is therefore logical to understand and appreciate the need for us to join together as family and as a community with one heart and with one body.

The great Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, Poland) is quoted as saying that achdut prevents Jewish communal tragedy and disaster; not the other way around. Achdut should not necessarily be perceived as the byproduct or the result of tragedy disaster or distress, but rather a way in which to help prevent it from even happening. In a way, the Kotzker “flipped the script” – achdut first, as a protective shield from tragedy; not the other way around.

It is very natural for amcha bnai yisrael to join together in achdut following or during a major crisis, tragedy or a catastrophe facing our people. It’s a survival instinct, representing a natural extension of our human nature and condition.

But, irrespective of how one feels about causal relationships, the lesson from the Kotzker is clear as day. We must always irrespective of matzav remind ourselves that we are kish echad  b’lev echad. We are like one people with one heart who together represent strength, fortitude, and viability.

Achdut is both a state of mind and a physical human condition and manifestation that should be continuously motivated, encouraged, promoted and celebrated

Achdut is about standing together through good times and through challenging times. It should never be about individuality. Achdut is about the understanding and conviction that we are all created bzelem elochim (in the image of GD) and its about standing together in solidarity, irrespective of our religious, social or philosophical differences. It’s about the iron clad DNA that bonds us together as a unified nation and as a people that possess a common destiny.

We must create a sense of achdut as a normative human condition of our Jewish community, and not restrict its reality to a response or reaction to disaster or tragedy.

As I began writing this blog, I was thinking about how throughout history Hashem sends us reminders about the critical importance of achdut and how achdut occupies a special place in the hearts and soul of our Jewish nation. It may not always be clear, evident, or even visible, but these reminders are present and force us more often than not to appreciate love and respect one another irrespective of our differences.

With HaShem’s continuous oversight, we will turn darkness into light; and we will eradicate evil against our people through bitachon in HaShem’s power and might.

May Hashem watch over and protect our soldiers, heal those who are wounded, console those in mourning, free those in captivity; and guide all of us to a successful outcome.

Am Yisrael Chai

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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