Yoni Zierler

Et L’Ehov – A Time to Love

This morning, only a few hours ago, I began my new tradition of reciting the Ari’s tikkun, the acceptance of “loving our neighbor as you love yourself,” before beginning my morning prayers. Out of everything that the Israeli and international Jewish community has experienced over the past  18 days, after everything said yesterday at the funerals of the three boys whose names have not left our lips and prayers, this is what I came away with.

There are no words that can cure the sorrow of the bereaved, no speech that can fix our collective broken heart. But the charge given by both Finance Minister Yair Lapid and the head of the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Zinger, is the single stitch of silver lining that I can find within the pitch black storm clouds.

After weeks of united effort, prayers, and songs, Israelis and Jews across the world have begun asking “what now?”

For me, like many others, the words of Ecclesiastes strike home:

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

 A time to love…

Two simple words in Hebrew – “Et L’ehov”- yet so complicated to achieve.

I cannot speak for a community other than mine, but I believe that what I write is non-denominational. A product of an Orthodox education, both formal and informal, I was raised on the concept of “Ahavat Israel,” a love for my fellow Jewish brothers, as well as the important need for “achdut”, unity.

But do we really mean it or is it just something we say?

How many times have I cursed an Ultra-Orthodox Jew under my breath for no reason other than the fact that his clothing conjured up negative associations and stereotypes?

How many times have I belittled non-observant Jews in my mind because they choose to live a life different than mine?

How many times have I made assumptions about “the other” because it made me feel better?

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a Shabbat up north, where the group of 24 Reform Jewish teenagers that I am currently guiding was hosted by Orthodox families- an incredible opportunity to strengthen our connection to each other as Jews and to share our different understandings of Judaism. Families we had never met graciously opened up their homes for the sake of hosting and sharing their experience.

Yet on Saturday night, I overheard the conversation of two of the local girls, debating if the majority of our group was “actually Jewish”.

Instead of cherishing the moment to be with other Jewish girls their age, instead of trying to learn something new, to understand a different view point, these girls decided to measure the “Jewishness” of others.

To be clear, it is unfair and wrong to judge an entire town by the words of two silly girls – especially after that town answered a last minute call to host us. Nor is this my intention.

But this conversation is not an isolated incident. I will shamefully admit to having been a witness- and probably even a participant- to similar conversations as a teenager and an adult in an Orthodox community.

And such comments during a time in in Israel when everyone is touting the word “unity” beg many a question:

When we talk about our mission to unite the Jewish people, do we truly mean standing together despite our differences, or do we mean trying to expose “the other” to our brand of Judaism and convincing them that this is the right way to live life?

How many friends do we have who are different than we are? Could we be guilty of talking about a unified Jewish people without anybody leaving their respective bubbles?

Ever since we received the tragic news on Monday night, the blogosphere has been ablaze with posts and comments calling for revenge, restraint, peace, and war.

We will never have peace until we learn to love each other, until we are ready to understand and accept each other. If we cannot accept the differences within our own Jewish world how do we expect to do so with “the other” behind enemy lines?

Nor will we have a lasting victory in war if we only know how to bond together during the hard times, but cannot remain a united front on a daily basis. The cracks are too easily spotted; an Achilles’ heel visible to all enemies.

We stood together, we mourned together, and now it is time to heal together. Our challenge and holy mission is not to remember to mutter some words that the holy Ari claimed to have importance, rather to give flesh and blood to these famous words of the Bible.

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Words like “unity” and “love” have peppered our conversations for the past few weeks. The time has come to understand what it is that we have been saying, and for all of us to live by these words.


About the Author
Yoni Zierler is the chief tour guide and Director of “Discover," the tourism department of StandWithUs – an international, non-profit and non-partisan Israel education organization that works to inspire and educate people of all ages about Israel, as well as challenge misinformation and fight against antisemitism. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Yoni immigrated to Israel for his last year of high-school, and subsequently served (with excellence) in the IDF. A lover of history, books, and music, Yoni is happily married to Yochi and the proud father of Golan Noam and Klil Eden.