Ben Lazarus

Judaism – My hopes at this critical crossroads

Only a fool would write about religion, war and politics especially when he is not a Rabbi, General or Politician. It is exactly because I am not those things, nor have the aspiration or skills to be one of them, that I write this.

When it comes to the type of values and society we want to live in and our kids to grow up with, I see this point in time as a real crossroads – we can either embrace the opportunity to reinforce the core values I see as the beauty of our Jewish identity or this could be a pivot towards a world I am deeply scared about. I feel it is important – at least to myself – to put my thoughts out there despite and perhaps because of my lack of qualifications.

To give some brief context I am someone fully committed to religious values and halacha and became religious of my own accord when I was 11/12 years old, I made Aliyah from the UK a long time ago (although my Hebrew level may indicate otherwise), I have a beautiful family and have a great community and place of work and am generally blessed, but this war has had an impact on us like all families. We have a son who serving in an elite unit was fighting in the kibbutzim on 7th October, clearing the victims with Zaka on the days after, and then in Gaza for much of the time since, have friends/neighbors with a captured son, I have lost clients and people from our office, and have had health issues due to the stress…thankfully we have suffered less than most, but it has been and still is terror.

Whilst I LOVE being a Jew and an Israeli, in the period before the war, I was growing ever more concerned with a number of aspects of our values and society – most especially the lack of unity, the disrespect across all groups for others, the lurch to extremism and ultra nationalism and the numerous cases of let’s just say ‘less than expected’ behavior of a few in positions in religious leadership. I am sure I am not alone.

I have also seen in the broader world the face of religious fanaticism when taken to its extreme – in the faces of those who committed the terror on the 7th October and in the chants of their supporters in the streets and universities of the world. How they have distorted a religious set of ideals is everything religion shouldn’t be. I am not suggesting for a second that this is our trajectory but it is a useful reminder of what extremism unchecked looks like.

I have, however, seen some truly beautiful flickers of hope through this crisis – a greater sense of unity between and amongst people; tremendous acts of kindness, giving as a society and putting others first; a reawakening of Jewish identity across the Jewish world; a stronger connection from soldiers and others to spiritual matters. Our younger generation has really stepped up to the plate and I see in them true hope for the future.

Judaism at its core is a beautiful religion of hope, love of life, compassion, equality of all, where we are called upon to live up to these ideals.

Most of all, we need to avoid the mistakes we have made many times before – Baseless Hatred. We need to see and respect others as also G-d’s creations.

As the very wise Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (ever more an inspiration to me zt’l) said” “If we were all the same, we would have nothing unique to contribute, nor anything to learn from others. The more diverse we are, the richer our culture becomes, and the more expansive our horizons of possibility. But that depends on our willingness to bring our differences as gifts to the common good. It requires integration rather than segregation, and that in turn means that we must have a rich and compelling sense of the common good. Without it, we will find that difference spells discord and creates, not music, but noise”.

He went on to say: “When you learn to listen to views different from your own, realizing that they are not threatening but enlarging, then you have discovered the life-changing idea of argument for the sake of Heaven”

Life is not simple…we have to stay strong stand up to terror and return our captured and right now we are in war mode but please G-D soon we will return to a steady state and our differences will again test us – will we give respect to those who have differing views, will we see the good in people, will each wing of Judaism from Orthodox and Secular and will we be able to avoid the lurch to extremism?

I think we have before us an opportunity from a point of darkness to rebuild as a more unified family, without compromising on the core halachic tenets of authentic Judaism. We can inspire the next generation. I am hopeful – but it will take a lot of work. I pray we are up to it.


About the Author
I live in Yad Binyamin having made Aliyah 17 years ago from London. I have an amazing wife and kids including a son in Special Forces and two daughters, one soon to start uni and one in high school. A partner of a global consulting firm and a Parkinson's patient and advocate.
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