Let’s Stop the Anger, Hatred and Acrimony – Its Time for Civility !


Last week, we celebrated chag  Shavuot – a time when we come together as a community to celebrate  Kabbalat Hatorah (the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai). and Matan Torah (the receiving of the Torah).

This beautiful chag, commemorates a period of time when the B’nai Yisrael (children of Israel) stood together shoulder to shoulder, at the base of  Har Sinai. We stood together K’ish Ehad and B’lev Echadas one person and with one heart.

Is it almost impossible  to imagine what it truly must have felt like to join together with the entire nation of Israel as one person with a single heart?

According to many commentaries, this is a beautiful description for  “Achdut Yisrael” (unity of Israel ). It did not matter whether an individual belonged to one tribe or to another; whether one was wealthy or poor; young or older – the reality was that we all came together at the base of  Har Sinai with an unswerving and unwavering dedication, desire and commitment to declare together –  Naasei V’nishma, – we will do, then we will hear. We will accept the laws of the Torah then we will listen (or understand).

As I mentioned in my D’var Torah on the second day of  Shavout, in today’s world, this thought is almost counter intuitive. To actually do (or act) then to understand or  to hear is beyond our human comprehension. To be sure, this concept  challenges 21st century reality, norms, standards . If anything, today, we are all so used to living in a world in search for relevance, rational and purposeful meaning.  If a compelling case cannot be made in our favor or interest, than we either impatiently dismiss the idea or reject it totally.

So what was it about the human condition of the Bnai Yisroel  at Har Sinai that blessed and enabled them to cease the opportunity and stand unified together in order to act ….then, to hear?

Our commentaries suggest a host of reasons for this amazing condition – ranging from the fact that the Bnai Yisrael were on a higher spiritual plane than we are today, to the more simple interpretation that, following their sojourn in the midbar (desert),  they witnessed the numerous  miracles and  greatness of GD through Moshe’s leadership, or were absolutely conditioned and ready (as one people, with one heart ) to stand together in order  to receive and to accept our Torah.

Why and how has our  disposition changed so dramatically and drastically over the centuries. What is it about our human  condition which allows us  to be so divided on so many levels. What is it about our behaviors and attitudes  which more often than not result in jealousy, disdain and baseless hatred towards one another. Do we not remember that at one time, this hatred lead  directly to  the  destruction of our holy temple in Jerusalem? An event which dramatically changed the course of Jewish history,

For many, the simple  and convenient answer or response  is obvious  and simple – namely,  “times have changed”. For others, self included, there may be many more profound and underlying causes which must be addressed in a very careful, meaningful and civil manner.

History dictates that as an Am Kadosh, Ohr Lagoyim, and as a mamlechet kohanim, achdult yisrael was embedded in our DNA. So why is this reality not currently demonstrated in the streets of  Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or New York? in the halls of the Knesset? in our batei midrashim, or in the foyers  and classrooms of our schools and yeshivot?  Is our  divide so deep and so insurmountable that it makes it impossible  for us to live in achdut? .

One possible hypothesis suggests that we just  may no longer care enough to even try? to seek compromise?  We don’t even attempt to  make the effort? We often see and feel the reality that  if its not about me, to my benefit or advantage  or my position, then its not as important or a top priority 

When looking back at recent events in Israel  and their impact on diaspora Jewish communities, it is obvious  that we are far from  unified. These differences are tearing out the very heart and soul of our Jewish community, and our Jewish psyche.  We do not respect one another, or each others perspective and we express complete disdain towards those whose philosophy, ideology or political views differ from yours.

To think that an Israeli Government’s exploration  of  a  variety of legislative reforms would ignite a societal tidal wave ,a tinder box or create such a firestorm in Israel and in diaspora Jewish communities of such magnitude, is beyond daunting..

When I listen very carefully to the words, sentiments and chants of politicians and protesters at these rallies and demonstrations  in Israel, and witness the level of  hatred being spewed by fellow Jews towards fellow Jews, I am chilled to the core and cry out in anguish,  hurt and disbelief. When I hear words that incite violence and destruction, I ask myself the question – how have we as a community  devolved to such depths and levels of disdain?

Granted, there are those who will report that these demonstrators and protesters represent a minority of the Israeli populace. But, we all know from history, that  the minority who spoke the loudest  had the greatest influence and negative impact on our society.

It is not within the purview of this writer to take a public position on the value or efficacy of these proposed Judicial reforms in Israel. I  sincerely feel that if  I do not live in Israel I do not have the moral  right or authority to express my opinion in a public forum. Moreover, it is not the purpose of this post. Rather, I implore our brothers and sisters to please lower the rhetoric, public displays of hatred and the lack of civility. It is not only affecting Israeli society and feeding journalists with their insatiable thirst for journalistic drama, hysterics and sensationalism but it is unfortunately rocking the very foundation of Israeli society as we know it today.

Although the Israeli Government’s Judicial reform, agenda, and its deliberations  are now on temporary hold or pause, I cringe at the thought that it will once again reappear front and center in the very near future. These events not only impact negatively on the  internal stability and viability of  Israel, but they have a  profoundly negative impact on the moral value and material support  for Israel from diaspora philanthropic leaders and their families and well as  from Jewish communal organizations and institutions.

Our communities have come way to far in helping to create a proud Israel of historic proportion. With the current wave of  internal acrimony, our enemies are waiting  patiently for us to self destruct. This sad reality weakens our credibility and stability. It creates a level of mistrust on the international stage as well as  a level of misguided thinking on the part of the world body politic.

Finally, we should be particularly concerned about the impact these harsh realities have on our students. . Today more then ever, we must redouble our efforts to educate and inform our students on all grade levels in all schools and especially on college compasses that Israel, is still that beautiful undeniable oasis of  Torah values, peace and respect and a country  whose birthright dates back to Abraham.

This reality can only take place through our continued commitment and support for Israel in our classrooms, Board rooms and communities. Education must be our first priority and line of defense and it must include a sense of urgency regarding the critical  importance of Eretz Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael, and Am Yisrael.  We can no longer afford to let our differences negatively  influence our future. We must disagree with one another through respectful dialogue, derech eretz, and compromise, as is customary in any democracy.

Let us enter into this summer season with the hope and promise that Israel will continue to inform, and  inspire our Jewish  future and destiny; and may HaShem enable our community to grow and  flourish as a bright unifying shining light for generations to come.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011