My wife and I have just completed an extended summer visit to Israel and I was reminded about what non-judgmental Jewish unity can look like. As a mourner striving to recite Kaddish thrice daily, I was at our daughter’s neighborhood synagogue in Efrat multiple times a day. On the front wall to the right of the Holy Ark is a large sign designating the parsha of the week along with other timely worship reminders. The bottom reminder alternated between “Ashkenaz” and “Sefard” based upon which tradition was to be followed at that specific service.
There was only one problem, no one followed the sign. The “nusach” of any specific davening was governed exclusively by the individual chosen to be the prayer leader. Even more, if the leader of Minchah followed “Ashkenaz” tradition and the leader of “Maariv” followed “Sefard” tradition, or visa versa, all of the worshippers simply followed the lead. No objections. No criticism. No dissent. I was definitely confused; but beyond bewilderment, I was impressed by the consent and willingness of the assemblage to abide the nusach preferences of the leader.
I was reminded of my first visit ever, close to thirty years ago, to The Western Wall on a Friday night. Thousands of Jews rotating onto the promenade and out as hundreds of distinct Kabbalat Shabbat services were sung and offered. From a distance, the sound was that of a blunted cacophony; but as I got closer, the sound was more accurately tens of separate prayer groups each praying at its own pace, each swaying to its own tunes, each welcoming Shabbat in its own way with the tacit consent of all the others. And as soon as one group was finished, another coalesced organically, and the process started all over again. Chasidim and tourists. Young and old. Yeshiva students and independent thinkers. Long beards and no beards. Short pants and fur striemels. In the sacred shadow of history, Jews of all walks were welcoming Shabbat as a truly united people.
Is it a messianic dream to think that we Jews could actually set aside our differences for the sake of unity and continuity? Do we need a Moshiach to see beyond ourselves in order to experience the blessing of solidarity? Clearly, the answer is ‘no’; but what is needed is for everyone to say ‘yes’ to everyone else. Only when each one of us is altruistically concerned about every other one of us are we able to envision a glimpse of what the prophets of antiquity saw as the best of all possible futures.