Samuel Stern
Rabbi in the heartland of the USA

In 5784, May Our Unity Increase Our Joy

Jews of all kinds shop at Machane Yehuda on a Friday afternoon

All Jews are responsible for one another, the Talmud teaches us. After all, we are one people. It has never been true that every Jew practiced Judaism the same way or lived in the same country or spoke the same language. Yet we are one, whether we are Ashkenazim who fled Judea for Europe, Sephardim who fled Judea for north Africa and Spain, Mizrachim who never left the middle east, or Jews who for millenia have lived as far as Ethiopia or India. Regardless of how we look, or anything, we are inseparably one.

On one shabbat, the one immediately preceding Purim, we call it Shabbat Zachor, as we are commanded to remember Amalek (an ancestor of Haman) and the effort of the Amalekites to kill the Israelites during our desert wanderings. It is a reminder that though we celebrate our survival, and in fact our victory on Purim the following week, we remember that we are not always successful or victorious.

To advocate for ourselves and support our communities throughout the diaspora, we establish organizations, among these are federations. Whatever congregation Jews belong to, we join federations and support other broad institutions because of Jewish values. Because we are supposed to love one another (Ahavat Yisrael), and we are commanded to be responsible for each other (Kol Yisrael Aravim zeh la’zeh).

These concepts may appear to be more relevant to Jews like us who live in the diaspora and where Jews are a small minority. Surveys of American adults often yield results suggesting we are some 20-30% of the US population, where we make up 1-3% of America.

I spent quite a bit of time this year in Israel, joining rabbis from around North America for a convention of Reform Rabbis. While in Israel, we did not experience Ahavat Yisrael from our Charedi brothers and sisters. We went to join Women of the Wall to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar. As you’ve heard before, “Mi Shenichnas Adar Marbim b’Simcha,” or when we enter Adar, we are meant to increase in joy leading up to Purim. There was little joy at the Kotel that morning, as bruises and bumps and the shock of being spit on by other Jews made it difficult for me personally to get into the joyous spirit of the morning. We say there is a Yerushalayim shel mala and also our Yerushalayim shel mata, a heavenly perfect Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem we encounter in the real world today. Perhaps this idea applies to Jewish peoplehood for some as well. There may be a Jewish peoplehood where we all greet each other in love, but we have some work to do before that ideal is represented here on planet Earth.

We are meant to be marbim b’sincha in Adar, to increase in joy, but I entered Adar in the year that was, faced with an existential threat to Jewish peoplehood. I hoped the “peoplehood sermon” this year would allow me to tell you this morning that I am more certain than ever that the state of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people) is strong after spending so much time in the Jewish state. Instead, I am focusing on the idea of Amalek and threats to the cohesion of the Jewish people.

In the Torah, Amalek doesn’t win. Of course not, you might say, or else none of us would be here. Instead of skipping to who wins, let’s look at how the Israelites fight. Moses has his arms lifted in the air, and while he does the Israelites prevail. And when his own strength fails him, his brother and student help keep his arms aloft.

We must be that for each other. In today’s world, with rising antisemitism, Jews who practice Judaism differently must accept each other and work together. We Reform Jews must accept that Orthodox and Haredi Jews practice a valid form of Judaism. And even if they won’t be singing Debbie Friedman with guitar on Friday night along with us, they must accept that we also practice an authentic form of Judaism. We must join together like this to keep each other’s arms aloft and protect us from the Amaleks of the world.

What happens if some Jews decide they are no longer responsible for others? What happens if we don’t have each other’s support and recognition? I pray we never find out. May we celebrate the sacred nature of our bond, and may our unity increase our joy in the year 5784.

About the Author
Samuel Stern is the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom of Topeka, Kansas. Ordained by HUC-JIR in Los Angeles in 2021, Rabbi Stern has participated in numerous fellowships, including with AIPAC, the One America Movement, and the Shalom Hartman Institute, and has been published in the quarterly journal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Related Topics
Related Posts