Andy Blumenthal
Leadership With Heart

Jewish Unity Is Strength

(Credit Painting: Dossy Blumenthal)

Walking home from synagogue today, I look up ahead and on the corner, I see a crowd gathering and on the ground in the crosswalk is a lady sprawled out on her side in the street. A car is pulled to the side, and a very nervous driver is standing there. I hear people saying, “Yes, the ambulance is on the way.” I say to my wife, “Look someone was hit by that car!”

We see her flip-flop shoes laying far from her body in the street. My dear wife picks them up and brings them over to her. Another person, a bike rider has pulled over and is using his bike to stop and divert the oncoming traffic. My wife and I watch with some dread the ambulance arrives and examine the victim to see if she can feel her arms and legs, and they put her in a neck brace and get her unto the stretcher to take her quickly to the hospital. It seemed like truly everyone was mobilizing to help her.

It seems a timely reminder of what is really important in life and that is each other and our faith in G-d. It didn’t matter what race or nationality the person who had been hit by the car was, she was a human being in pain and who needed the help of others. We Jews need to remember that this is life in a nutshell. Life can change in split instance for better or G-d forbid, for worse. We need one another. No man is an island. We can’t afford to play holier than thou with anyone else. Only G-d can judge who is really “religious” and who is wanting.

It brought to my mind the irony that with the Jewish people, we are a small minority in the world, and yet we often disagree, fight, and can be intolerant and neglectful of one another despite facing anti-Semitism and other crises. This is far from the ideal of demonstrating love and acceptance, unifying ourselves together, and becoming as strong and effective as a “light unto nations” that we could and should be.

In synagogue there were a number of things that really underscored this concept. First, there is an election coming up in the synagogue. And oh my G-d, this has the potential to bring out the best or in other cases, the not so best in people—it’s politics! Everyone has good ideas, and everyone wants it their way. Yes, this is very reminiscent of our national elections too. It’s the same in choosing a Rabbi. This one wants an Ashkenazi, and this one wants Sephardic. This one wants from America and that one wants an Israeli, or of Moroccan, Syrian, or Iranian descent. This one wants a more strict observance for the Rabbi as well as for him to demand of the congregation, and others want more tolerance for all types and kinds of Jews with all levels of observance. One gentleman said astutely about the latter need for tolerance:

For a rabbi to make it these days, he’ll need one blind eye and one deaf ear.

On one hand, this type of rabbinical leader can be viewed as having no standards or compromising on those and for another, it represents the open-mindedness, tolerance, and love of all Jews that is needed to be successful as a pulpit rabbi and communal leader.

Another thing that I heard today from someone who was part of an orthodox community years ago, but felt extremely alienated by the people and religious institutions there is as follows:

No one would talk to me. One time a family invited me for Shabbat lunch, but then that was it. After a while, I just completely stopped going to Shul.

What a shame to alienate and lose our young Jewish people like this. Whether because they are single and not yet married, don’t have children yet, aren’t as observant or just don’t fit the OMA mold (orthodox, married, and affluent). Every single Jew is important. Everyone has things to add to the conversation. Every person has something to contribute to the community. If only, we can make everyone feel genuinely comfortable, welcome, and even loved as our brother and sister, and not excluded by the many put-offish Jewish cliques!

In my own experience, we can learn a lot from Chabad who has generally got it right in terms of serving as both an excellent example of Orthodoxy, while at the same time very effectively welcoming with “open brotherly arms” Jews from all walks of life. This combination is one of the best ways to “walk the walk,” educate and inspire and be mekarev others (“bring close”) and thereby reduce assimilation and keep our Jews as Jews!

In short, it shouldn’t take a blind eye or a deaf ear to be tolerant and loving of our fellow Jews or non-Jews. Observance of Torah doesn’t mean being loftier or arrogant or “pigheaded,” but it means that we recognize we all have faults and failings, and everyone can do better in some things or in others. We can have our personal and communal ideals and standards, but at the same time have empathy for the journey that people are on. Therefore, we should strive to treat each other with kindness and tolerance and put aside the lofty and phony airs of personal judgement and exclusivity. Because in the end, no one knows who is laying next on the street waiting for that ambulance to come. Together as Jews, we can be strong and thrive.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is a dynamic, award-winning leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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