Am Yisrael Chai

I must admit that I have not yet mastered the art and practice of Ahavat Yisrael (love of all Jews).

As I walk down the street or sit on the train on my way to work, I silently categorize the people I see into neat compartments in my head that ignore their natural complexity and depth. I use shallow and stereotypical labels, like “Ashkenazi” or “Sephardi”, “Dati Leumi” or “Secular” or “Haredi”, “Russian” or “Moroccan” or “Good ‘Ol American”, that trick my mind into thinking that I now sufficiently understand who these people are, thereby freeing me from any need to connect to or build relationship with them.

Yes, I believe, at our core, the Jewish people are one, but as humans it is much easier to focus on that which separates us, that which makes me me and you you. To create a comfortable distance that doesn’t require me to take the time to search for ways that I am like you and you are like me.

But something has changed over the past couple of weeks. Suddenly, these same people have shaken off those labels that I have artificially placed on them and their true essence is emanating forth. Everyone I pass and everyone I see is, simply and deeply, a Jew. Not this kind of Jew or that kind. Not secular or religious. Not lefty or right-wing. “Just” a Jew. Fully and completely.

With each day’s own difficult and sad news of terror attacks, I have watched and witnessed the strength and unity of the Jewish people rapidly rise to the surface once again. Reading stories and watching video clips of people running towards a terror attack to help protect people’s lives instead of running far away in order to protect their own lives, I am overwhelmed and humbled by a very powerful feeling of awe of my people.

The knives of the terrorists have been pointed at Jews from a diversity of religious, political and social groups and, as a result, I am reminded, once again, that we are one people with one heart and one soul. As I contemplate the fact that we are all potential targets of future terror attacks, simply because we are Jews, the superficial differences between us melt away and I see more clearly, more vividly that we are all Jews all bound together on the deepest level. And that when you try to hurt one of us, it’s as if you’re trying to cut off a limb from our own bodies. As a result, our inherent sense of unity and connectivity is immediately activated and we feel personally the pain of our brothers and sisters. And act in kind.

Therein lies our greatest strength and our greatest hope together with the knowing that we can and will overcome any threat that comes our way.

Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh is the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (, a compilation of blogs and essays that speak of the inspiring and the sometimes wacky and crazy experience of making aliyah. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. He teaches Jewish history at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon. He is also a musician and in 2010 formed Holy Land Spirit, an uplifting and spiritual musical experience for Christian groups visiting Israel.