Can Achdus Exist Without Tragedy?

One year ago today, I6 Sivan 5774 on the Hebrew Calendar, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar, HY’D were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. The entirety of world Jewry had united in solidarity with the parents of those three teenagers. It didn’t matter what Hashkafa one had.

There was a feeling of pure Achdus. Unity. We were not Charedi, Modern Orthodox (MO), Dati, Religious Zionist or secular. We were not Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. We were the Jewish people – feeling the pain of our brothers and sisters in Israel. It was a moment in time of pure magic. A time where our differences were forgotten or ignored as irrelevant.

There were gatherings of solidarity and prayer all over the world attended by Jews from all walks of life. No where was this better demonstrated than a rally that took place at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin on June 29th before it had become known that the 3 boys were killed. Rabbi Dovid Landesman described the event:

Some eighty thousand people, religious and secular, mesorati and chiloni, gathered to listen – not to protest or to demonstrate – but to stand together as a unified nation sharing a common prayer – bring the boys back home.

That rally was sponsored by Los Angeles philanthropist Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, a Charedi Jew. There was no Tehilim. And only one speaker, Israeli President Ruby Rivlin, a non Orthodox Jew.

Few people suffering a tragedy like this were as eloquent as Rachel Fraenkel the mother of Naftali. She spoke at another rally held earlier at the Kotel. Rabbi Landesman’s description:

Did you hear her words at a rally at the kotel where she told thousands of women that even if God forbid the end of this case is not to our liking, we will believe no less for the Ribbono shel Olam is not in our pocket? Last night she expressed her thanks not only to the government and to Tzahal, but also to Abu Mazen – the head of the Palestinian authority – and to the mayor of Chevron for their courage in condemning the kidnappings.

It did not take long for that sense of unity to dissipate. Once the funeral of those boys was over, we all went ‘home’ to our own Hashkafic worlds. Hashkafos that tend to create divisions, not unity.

Now no one promotes their Hashkafos more than I do. I am a firm believer that my Hashkafos more closely approach God’s will for us than other Hashkafos do.  But that should not be a dividing factor between us. It should not only be at tragedies that we unite. As was the case here.We ought to be able to unite even when things are tranquil and good for us.

It is for this reason that the 3 families that lost those boys have called for an international day of Jewish unity on this day, the anniversary of their sons’ death (Yahrzeit).  The message seems to have caught on. From the Times of Israel:

A million individuals throughout Israel and in Jewish communities in 20 different countries are expected to participate in unity-themed gatherings and educational programs. A conference on issues that emerged from the events of the summer of 2014 will take place in Jerusalem, and the first annual Jerusalem Unity Prize will be awarded to individuals and organizations identified as leaders in promoting Jewish unity in Israel or in strengthening Israel-Diaspora ties.

I attended one here in Chicago last night sponsored by the YU Kollel Torah MiTzion. The featured speaker, International Director of NCSY, Rabbi Micah Greenland* spoke about the reasons that we are so unified during tragedies and why they are so short lived. And what we can perhaps do to change that into a permanent unity.

My own inclination as to why we are so unified during times of tragedy is that we are indeed a united people. We Jews are brothers. When one of our own suffers tragedies like this, we suffer with them. We genuinely feel their pain as much as anyone possibly could without actually being them. There is an empathy we have for  a fellow Jew that suffers no matter what kind of Jew he or she is… or what kind of Jew we are. He or she is family! We pray for their salvation as though we were praying for our own. Everything else is forgotten when pain is uppermost in our minds.

Once that tragedy passes, however, we tend to go back into our own little worlds and concerns. We go from being a community of Jews to being individuals with own perspectives. Which differ significantly (we think) from those of others to our right or left. And differences bring criticisms, divisiveness , and a lack of empathy for ‘the other’.

This is human nature. We tend to want to ‘give of ourselves to others’ times of tragedy. And tend to not do that when things are good.  When things are good we tend to look at our own concerns and ignore the concerns of those with whom we disagree.

Rabbi Greenland made the following suggestion on how to overcome that. We need to literally force ourselves to go against our nature to support and give to those we do not necessarily agree with. For example it is easy to support a YU Kollel if you are MO and it is easy to support a Lakewood Kollel if you are Charedi. What we all need to do is support both. Those that are Charedi should support a YU Kollel too. Those who are MO should also support a Lakewood Kollel. If we force ourselves to do things like that, unity will come. The feeling of Achdus present during times of tragedy will eventually emerge during good times.

The pain and angst about the fate of the 3 Jewish sons felt by Jewish people last year was palpable. That generated a feeling of Achdus. Isn’t it time to do something about keeping those feeling going?

This doesn’t mean we have to give up our Hashkafos. It doesn’t even mean we can’t be critical if we see something that we feel deserves it. But it should always be done out of a sense of love and acceptance of the other. Brother to brother. Never out of a sense of hatred and rejection. If we all did that the Jewish world would be a far better place.

*Full disclosure: Rabbi Greenland is my son in law.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.
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