The current level of unrest in Israel makes me wonder if people can agree upon a path forward without tearing the country apart. How I wish my older brother and I could provide a hopeful example.
Though we live both live in Israel, about an hour from each other, traffic permitting, he might as well be on Mercury, and I on Neptune.
Born in New Jersey to the same Jewish parents, we had the same rabbi preside over our Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. My brother now wears a knitted kippah and tzitzit, and I do not. He prays three times a day, and I do not. He became an Israeli citizen four decades ago and changed his last name to a modern Israeli one. I became an Israeli citizen four years ago and kept the old-world Ashkenazi name on my birth certificate. My brother lives in a small, fenced-in religious community on the West Bank. I live in Tel Aviv, the country’s bastion of liberal, modern lifestyles.
My brother is a died-in-the-wool Republican, and I am a moderate Democrat. He loves Donald Trump; I hate him. He believes the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a government conspiracy; I do not. The last time we discussed Israeli politics, my brother said that he liked Shas, the right-wing religious party. I have voted for Meretz on the left and the centrist Kahol v’Lavon.
Over the years, the two of us have sparred over religion and politics, grown distant, estranged, have reconciled, and become estranged again. During the Trump presidency, we suffered our greatest break.
Before that falling out, I had appealed to my brother to not debate me on social media, as I feared it would lead to trouble. He ignored my request and challenged me on a relative’s Facebook page and then on our family’s WhatsApp group. I unfriended him on Facebook and pulled out of the the WhatsApp group. He followed that with a post on a family friend’s FB page in which he misrepresented my political positions, while claiming that I had unfriended him because I wanted to prevent him from expressing his opinion. I demanded that he set the record straight. He brushed me off.
Recently, in anticipation of two family weddings, one for his son, the other for mine, I reached out to clear the air. We exchanged a few emails, followed by a phone conversation in which my brother claimed that his untruthful Facebook post was not about me. Rather, he had described a hypothetical person composed of different liberal types he knew or imagined. His post was a midrash. The fact that he didn’t mention me by name was his proof.
Based on his previous social media posts, and his private responses to me, I was unconvinced. I know the difference between fact, opinion, misinformation, and lie. We learned that in school.
If my brother’s explanation was the real deal, why didn’t he tell me that three years ago when he first wrote the post? Our phone call ended without a clear answer to my question. When I emailed my brother to express dissatisfaction with his explanation, he did not respond. I wrote two more messages. More silence.
During our most recent period of estrangement, I have contemplated one issue upon which we might find common ground, we ever manage to speak to each other again.
A devout orthodox Jew who studies the Talmud religiously, my brother followed Israeli secular law by serving in the military. His five sons, including his ultra-orthodox one, have all been active-duty soldiers. The current right-wing government running Israel has recently agreed to pay billions of dollars to haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews, the majority of whom refuse to serve in the military.
If we were talking, I believe the two of us might go ballistic over the haredis’ free lunch, standing on the same side of the fence, for once. Imagine.
Meanwhile, my bro’s wall of silence has held strong. As I write this, we are less than two weeks away from the first of our two simchas. At his son’s wedding, I expect we will shake hands and drink a L’chaim. Whether we hug and dance together joyfully as loving siblings remains to be seen.
The current state of our relationship brings to mind Biblical archetypes. Cain and Abel. Esau and Jacob. Reuben and Joseph.
What Israel desperately needs are more examples of Moses and Aaron.