Chaim Y. Botwinick

ACHDUT at 75: A Time for Reflection, Healing and Unity

Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh la-zeh (Shavuot, 39a)

(All of Israel are Responsible for One Another)

Photo By: C Botwinick

Over the past several years, I have posted numerous blogs and articles regarding the need for Israel and diaspora Jewish communities to engage in Achdut Am Yisrael (unity for our Jewish nation/people).

At the time of this posting, little did I know or imagine that the level of toxic divisiveness and acrimony in Israel would virtually explode into levels of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), contempt and hatred.

For those of us in Jewish educational leadership positions, we are particularly saddened by the harsh realities now unfolding in Israel as well as the collateral damage it is creating  in diaspora Jewish communities. As a result, we feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that our communities are so divided during a period in our history which desperately demands harmony, unity and peaceful coexistence.

As adults committed to the support, welfare and stability of Israel, we are all in search for solutions and resolution. But, as educational leaders, we are in a quandary as to how to discuss, interpret and teach about today’s painful events to our students, faculty and parents who are desperately searching for answers.

On the one hand, we are hesitant to take a public position on internal Israeli policies; on the other, we have no control over what our students and their families hear, read or experience via  news outlets or social media…let alone discussions around the Shabbat table.

Thankfully, the Israeli government recently pressed a temporary pause button on its debate and deliberations regarding the country’s proposed judicial reform policies and processes. As a result, we were hopeful that this pause, albeit temporary, would have reduced the harmful rhetoric, violence and demonstrations which to date have gone unabated. But, unfortunately, we are beginning to see cracks in this brief pause as demonstrations and massive rallies continue, jeopardizing any chance of communal shalom bayit, achdut or civility.

It is not within the purview of this writer to advocate for one position versus another; or to present a public position on these judicial policy issues. Having said that, I write this blog with a very heavy heart regarding the profound negative impact this matzav is having in our communities; on our families; our teachers and on our students – the future generation of Jewish leaders.

Let’s face it,….. nobody is naive enough to believe that all will be resolved with a flip of a switch. Nor do we relieve that there will be a permanent or lasting resolution to this judicial reform debate or crisis in the absence of true compromise. To say that the current matzav threatens Israel’s democracy may be a stretch. But, far be it for me to make that call.

Today’s domestic unrest in Israel and in diaspora Jewish communities has been festering just beneath the surface of our Jewish communities for decades. What makes this matzav different, is that the move to change or reform Israel’s judicial policies has struck a very sensitive and dramatic chord as never before in 75 years of Israel’s existence.

This Passover, I had a very sobering and profoundly moving conversation with a holocaust survivor I recently befriended.

After tefilla on the send day of Passover, he approached me and proceeded to talk about his consternation regarding the current unrest in Israel, its impact on diaspora Jewish communities; and, the critical importance of achdut throughout Jewish history.

As he spoke, he made reference to several significant events in Jewish history which he felt exemplified or modeled achdut.

They included….the B’nai Yisrael standing at the base of Har Sinai to receive the Torah (“as one people with one heart”): Kriat Yam-Suf, when we witnessed and experienced the remarkable splitting and crossing of the red sea; Yetziat Mitzrayim, when we left Egypt; during WWII when we cared, held and comforted each other as strangers in the rotten decrepit wooden barracks of Auschwitz; when we took back the Har HaBayit and Kotel followed during the six day war; when thousands gathered and participated together in achdut at the most impressive Siyum HaShas; when we came together during tefilla, during shiurim, during times of mourning and during times of simcha; when we cared for one another during the COVID pandemic; and finally, when our brothers and sisters in the IDF stood shoulder to shoulder defending our precious homeland – Eretz Yisael.

These were just a few of the many examples this amazing 93 year old Holocaust survivor was able to describe with heartfelt passion and a burning conviction.

He stated that he believed emphatically that achdut am yisrael was and is the “the magic glue” (as he referred to it) which holds the Jewish people together – during good times and during times of challenge; and that achdut was and will always be central to our Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood as well as to our deep, unswerving and profound commitment to emunah and b’tachon in HaShem.

As we were walking down the hall, he stopped abruptly; grabbed my arm and rolled up his white shirt sleeve. What I saw revealed it all. I saw faded blue numbers tattooed on his ash pale arm. He then proceeded to lift up his arm, turned to me, and with tears in his eyes said: “Reb Chaim, do you really think thousands of people violently demonstrating in the streets of Tel Aviv will ever truly understand or even appreciate the sacrifices I and millions of my brothers and sister have made so that our yidden can enjoy celebrating Israel 75 today as a unified people?”

At that point, he said it all. I was speechless. I was searching for an appropriate response, but, I was frozen in thought. I looked at him, shook his hand, gave him a light hug and thanked him profusely for his invaluable time and meaningful thoughts. It was getting late, so I proceeded to wish him and his family a Chag Kasher v’sameach, and invited him to meet with me again after the chag. It was an intense yet very sensitive and emotional exchange which I will never forget.

Friends, I write this Times of Israel blog on April 26th – Yom HaAzmaut …on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Regardless of whether one celebrates this day or the manner in which it is observed, to me it is truly immaterial. And, it’s likewise immaterial (to me) as to whether one does or does not recognize our homeland as the State of Israel as Medinat Yisrael or as Eretz Yisrael. These are prerogatives and choices which I refuse to challenge, debate or confront – at least within the public arena or in the pages of this blog.

Having said that, what does concern me tremendously is the unabashed and unbridled need for thousands of Israeli citizens to take to the streets of Israel, and to demonstrate publicly and violently against the current government of Israel. Peaceful protests, demonstrations and rallies in a democracy are welcomed, acceptable and in select cases, even healthy. But, violent and public expressions of sinat chinam and public denigration, defamation and vilification of the current Israeli government is a true Chilul HaShem.

Does our Jewish community truly feel that it is so secure that it is willing and able to embarrass, trash and denigrate the government of the very country we support, live and die for? The very homeland of our ancestors? Don’t we have enough protagonists, enemies and people bent on our annihilation? Why must we embark upon this self-destructive behavior which we know a priori, may result in a civil war, GD forbid?

As we celebrate Israel 75,  it is inconceivable that we must contend with levels of internal sinat chinam of such magnitude scope and scale.

Just stop and think for a moment…..

  • When a terrorist bomb explodes (GD forbid) in the busy streets of Tel Aviv, does it really make a difference who treated the injured or wounded? Or for that matter who transferred the injured or deceased to the hospital?
  • When an innocent young child goes missing from a neighborhood or community, does it truly make a difference who was on the search team and how religious they are?
  • When undernourished families in Israel are unable to afford basic food staples for their children, does it truly make a difference who delivers special complimentary kosher food packages to their family?
  • When a blind person proceeds to walk across a busy Jerusalem traffic intersection, how often do we witness tens of people rushing frantically to help escort that person across the intersection safely?
  • When a family member living in an apartment complex loses a family member, residents from throughout the building and neighborhood visit the mourners during the shiva period, irrespective of whether they know the family;
  • When complete strangers are willing and able to “make a minyan” by participating in tefilla requiring 10 people, do they think twice before graciously volunteering for the minyan?
  • And finally on Friday evenings following Kabbalat Shabbat  at the Kotel, how many of us were approached by complete strangers inquiring as to whether we have a place to eat Shabbat dinner; and if we did not, are graciously invited to a beautiful spread of Shabbat home hospitality several blocks from the Kotel, in the Rova.

The above examples are just brief snippets of ways in which “magic achdut moments”  in Israel have and can  play a central role in unifying our Jewish community.

At the end of the day, kol yisrael areivim zeh ba’zeh  – all of Israel serves as pledges/guarantors for one another (Shavuot, Bavli). We are all responsible for one another. This means acting accordingly, speaking according and respecting each other.

These brief examples are also proof positive that we as a people indeed have the character, ability and capacity to join together in achdut. It is in our DNA; and if there is a will, there is a way.

Let us collectively write a new chapter in Jewish history and pray to HaShem that one day soon, we will all come to our senses and embark upon a campaign of am echad,  b’lev echad – one people and with one heart

Let’s do it for our children; for our grandchildren; and for future generations – and, lets create a future as we remember and celebrate our past with  great pride, bracha, yirat shamayim, shalom and true unwavering achdut.

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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