Discovering Ourselves

“We went out searching for our boys……and we discovered ourselves”

This week is a very emotional one in the Jewish calendar – especially here in Israel.  Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, 3 days of memorials and celebrations, that are all condensed into the short period of a few days.  And although there is so much to share with you regarding the impact of these days for us in Israel, I have chosen to focus on a seemingly less important event, but an event that can grant us a different perspective regarding the significance of these days and these observances for us this year.

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the kidnappings of the three boys, Naftali, Eyal and Gilad, a terrorist act that galvanized an entire people.  The 18 nightmarish days between the kidnapping and the discovery of the bodies, days that were filled with desperate searches, passionate prayers and boisterous demonstrations, ended in dashed hopes and national mourning.  But from the tragedy emerged the realization that we are truly one.

During these weeks we displayed a unity, a oneness, that we had not shown in many years.  Nor was this limited to the State of Israel.  Jews around the world gathered to protest and to pray.  They sent letters to the families and to government officials.  They gathered in Times Square and in Rabin Square; they demonstrated in South Africa and South America; they prayed in the Mall and at the Wall.  For almost three weeks, our usually fractious and contentious nation stopped arguing.  Religious and Secular, Left and Right, Old and Young united for one purpose alone.  All hearts beat as one as the personal tragedy of three families put a face (or three) upon the national struggle of our people. The period of mourning and horror, therefore, became the time of self-discovery as well.

During the shiva mourning period Rav Chayim Druckman spoke to Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali, and comforted her with the deepest truth and with moving words.  He told her: “We went out searching for our boys……and we discovered ourselves.”

 Rachelle described this phenomenon with the following parable:

“The experience of our people during these days was much like a man who was lost in the forest on a stormy night.  There was no light to guide him onto the proper path nor could he see if there was anyone who would help. And so, as he tripped over roots and collided into unseen trees, he began to lose hope and imagined that he would never be capable of getting out of the forest.  As he pondered this frightening possibility, a flash of lightning lit up the skies and the forest so that, for a few seconds, the man was able to see where he truly was, which road he need take and all the others who were there ready to help.

Too often, we walk in a dark forest, not sure where we are or where we are going.  We are lost, believing that there is no one to help us and tripping our way through life-never really sure of whether we are capable of negotiating the obstacles and difficult times successfully-and never realizing our potential. But then come the moments, like those eighteen days, when a flash of lightning, an inspiring event, allows us see where we really are and that, indeed, there are others around us who will help.  It is that rare moment when we discover ourselves and recognize what we are capable of with the support of those who stand ready to help us.  Such moments may not come often, but if we can remember what we saw in that flash of lightning, that moment of inspiration, if we can realize that there are those around us who can and will help, we can understand our potential and work to accomplish much more than we ever imagined.

As a result of the remarkable response of Jews around the world, it was decided by the three bereaved families, the Gesher Foundation and the Mayor of Jerusalem that the date of the kidnappings would become an annual Yom Achdut, Day of Unity, when a “Jerusalem Unity Prize” would be awarded to those who have furthered harmony and accord within the people and the State of Israel.  And that day is celebrated this week, as well.

Yet, today, I truly worry.

Anti-Semitism is once more in vogue. The guilt of the Holocaust, the active or tacit support by “civilized” countries of the murder of six million no longer haunts the consciences of these states.  Openly anti-Semitic statements expressed by members of the British Labor Party must worry us; university students who invite representatives of terror organizations to speak but deny that right to the elected leaders of the only democracy in the Middle East should trouble us and the decisions of UN committees to deny any historical connection of the Jewish nation to its holiest site needs to anger us.  Vile threats are hurled at us, historical facts are denied, truth is perverted and reality warped-all in service of the ultimate goal of delegitimizing the Jewish State and the Jewish people by erasing our past.

And yet, in my mind, none of these threaten us as much as the clear disconnect of more and more Jews from their religion, their nation and their state.  We have learned over the years to expect the hatred spewed by anti-Semites.  But must we now adjust to hearing the same vicious lies escape from the lips of our co-religionists?

Must we accept that so many Jews are members and leaders of the BDS movement?

Must we become acclimated to hearing a (former) “Jewish Outreach Coordinator” of a current presidential candidate publicly curse the Prime Minister of Israel and hold him guilty of the “murder” of 2,000 people?

Will we have to expect that the Jewish dean of a most prestigious law school would defend a student who insults a former Prime Minister and current member of the Knesset by publicly asking her why she smelled so much?

And must we understand that, though condemned by Muslim students, this perpetrator was subsequently defended by eleven Jewish students?

This past week, Daniel Gordis, well-known author and historian, wrote a powerful article in which he stated:

“To survive, Jews need instinctive loyalty to Jews…..when Jews are under attack, a long-standing instinct that has kept us going has been the instinct of loyalty.  That so many prominent Jews do not understand that is a sad indication of to where we have come.  More ominously, it may indicate where we are headed.”

And so, I worry because a mere two years after seeing the truth when lightning struck for those eighteen days, many have already lost their way and no longer search for, or care for, the others in that forest with them.

To these lost souls I recommend that they go search for their brothers.

Perhaps they would then discover themselves.

About the Author
Rabbi Neil Winkler, founding rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, is a musmach of R.I.E.T.S. and a graduate of Yeshiva College and Bernard Revel Graduate School. He served the Fort Lee, N.J. community for 36 years and taught Jewish Studies in the Moriah School of Englewood as Coordinator of Tanach studies. Rabbi Winkler is the author of “Bringing the Prophets to Life,” an overview of the Early Prophets.