Chaim Y. Botwinick

Mi K’amcha Yisrael…..’Keeping It Together’

Photo from Unsplashed

Last week, while grocery shopping at one of our local supermarkets, a middle aged gentleman approached me and inquired if I was Jewish.

Although I was a bit suspicious by the question, especially in light of today’s charged political climate, he did appear to be sincere.

I was wearing a kippah at that time, which made the question seem more out of place. Nevertheless, I gave him the courtesy of a response and I responded that I was indeed Jewish.

I then asked him why he felt compelled to ask me the question?

He looked at me with an expression of inquisitive curiosity and immature naivety and said:

Following what happened to your people on October 7th, the current Israel war and the spread of worldwide anti-antisemitism, how do your people always seem to keep it together?

Truth be told, I was taken aback by his question, not really knowing where it was coming from or where it would lead. But, then he added: I ask the question because the Jewish people always seem to be cheerful, happy and positive, even during the worst crisis.

I responded by telling him that “we keep it together” as you put it by praying to GD for protection, security and safety; by reciting special  prayers for the welfare of our bothers and sisters; and we try, with all of our hearts and conviction to support one another throughout our individual and collective pain and suffering….through thick and thin.

After I responded with those few words, he looked at me with an expression of disbelief and astonishment. He looked as if he was in a trance. He then reached out to shake my hand and said: GD bless you and the Jewish nation; it is no wonder that your people have survived for so many centuries. I admire your people for their deep faith and belief in GD, and for your spiritual strength as a united  resilient people.

His response was respectful, fitting and appropriate. But, truthfully, I was very surprised by his sincerity, and how candid and straightforward he was.

While still shaking my right hand with his left, I thanked him for his kind words and proceeded to walk towards the checkout counter then to my car.

As I was walking to my car, I could not help but think about my exchange with the gentleman.

It was quite easy for me to respond to him in the manner I did, namely because it was the truth and it presented an opportunity for me to demonstrate how proud I was to be a Jewish….especially during these times of antisemitic threat, danger and uncertainty. To be sure, my response actually motivated and inspired me to think more introspectively about his question and my response.

I replayed the conversation in my mind. I found myself reflecting even deeper upon his question and my response. I began to wonder whether I could have been any clearer or more detailed in my response. I also began to think about how his question may have reflected a more common perception among many non-Jews about our Jewish community’s resilience, our faith in HaShem and our capacity and will to survive and thrive as a united people  throughout history.

On the one hand, it should not require a non-Jew or a stranger to inspire or motivate us to think about the strength and resilience of Am Yisrael, let alone our deep unwavering bitachon and emunah in HaShem. On the other hand, sometimes we need to be reminded by an outside person, source, event or even a particular circumstance in order to motivate, encourage or inspire us to think about our community’s strength, resilience and vulnerability… well as our ultimate common destiny as a Jewish people.

Acheinu Bnai Yisrael have survived for centuries due in large measure to our close and intimate relationship to HaShem and to our unswerving understanding and belief that HaShem runs the world. It is also the result of achdut which we as a nation display publicly and proudly.

Today’s level of achdut in Israel and throughout diaspora Jewish communities has been the most visible, evident and extensive in recent memory.

Since the unprecedented barbaric and vicious Hamas attack of October 7th, which precipitated Israel’s war with Hamas, the level of internal Jewish communal achdut has been unparalleled.

The achdut now being witnessed includes but is not limited to: providing shelter, temporary housing and special food packages, gifts and supplies to families of IDF soldiers on the front lines, providing shelter, comfort and loving care to the orphans and displaced families living on border towns; the provision of food and brand new toys and games for recently orphaned children resulting from the war; the provision of temporary educational programs and schools for displaced children; and the  impressive number of volunteers from the diaspora now booking flights to Israel in order to help Israel in an way possible.

These amazing acts of chesed and achdut are punctuated by the increased number of people putting on Tefillin on a daily basis, wearing Tzizit for the first time; and  engaged in increased Torah study, prayer and the sharing of meaningful Divrei Torah and Chizuk.

All of these recent transformational phenomena are a reflection of a people with deep faith and conviction, as well as a profound will to live, grow, flourish and thrive as a unified people.

As we witness this impressive proliferation of unity in Israel, and throughout the Jewish world, we are also now sadly beginning to once again see the beginnings of significant division among our people in Israel and Jewish communities around the globe.

Although Israelis and Jewish communities unconditionally support the current war against Hamas, not all are in absolute agreement regarding the conditions under which Israel should engage in either a temporary pause in the fighting or cease-fire let ,alone an agreed upon formula or approach for the immediate safe release and return of our precious family members now being held hostage by Hamas

As I write this blog, thousands of Israelis are demonstrating in the streets of Israel , while many are now calling for a change in government leadership via new Israeli elections.

This writer sincerely believes that today is not the appropriate or proper time for these demonstrations, protesters or debates to be taking place – especially as our precious brothers and sisters are sacrificing their lives and spilling their blood in an existential battle on the front lines.

It is important to note that the protests and demonstrations prior to the war regarding Israel’s legislative reform movement, can never ever be compared to the unimaginable horror and disgusting barbarism of October 7th. The only point being made here is that Israel’s current level of achdut becomes tenuous at best during times of deep and profound crisis.

Today, we are beginning to see the potential unraveling of Israel’s five-month old Unity War Cabinet. This unraveling takes place while Israel is experiencing unimaginable political pressure from its strongest ally and supporter…the United States.

Internally, with each passing day of the war, there are more and more internal blame-game undercurrents surfacing. The blame-game runs the gamut from finger-pointing at the senior IDF military establishment for its colossal intelligence failure leading up to the October 7th massacre to the manner in which the Israeli government failed to adhere to its mandate – namely to always  keep the citizens of the State of Israel safe and secure.

Indeed a failure of enormous magnitude!

Way too many of our precious young neshamot have lost their lives on the wasteland of what is Gaza while trying to defend our country and ridding the land from vicious evil. But, as we know well, this war comes at a very high  price and cost to our nation……one life lost is tragically one life too many.

I sincerely believe that it is now time to reunite all of acheinu bnai yisrael, regardless of our differences, hashkafa, our political affiliation, ambitions or ideology.

We must never ever again fall prey to the enemies of Israel who enjoyed and relished our divisiveness prior to October 7th. …as they hoped and prayed that we would eventually self-destruct due to our lack of unity. We are better than that; were are stronger than that; and, we are wiser than that.

As we know, maintaining communal achdut is a very difficult, arduous and sensitive balancing act – especially as it relates to the current and future welfare and well-being of our precious hostages. To be sure, Israel as a sovereign democratic nation, an Am Kadosh and an Ohr LaGoyim can never afford to slip back into the depths of disagreement, hatred and animosity towards one another which we experience prior to October 7th. The thought of it makes one shutter.

Although there is no magical formula which guarantees our continued achdut in perpetuity, we must do everything in our control and power to ensure a level of continued communal shalom bayit and achdut at all cost.

At the end of the day, we should be reminded of the gentlemen I met in the supermarket who asked me how do your people keep it together?

Friends, we have “kept it together’ for centuries through thick and thin because we are a Mamlechet Kohanim. We are like an Ish Echad b’Lev Echad and because we are all created B’tzelem Elokim. 

It is for these profound reasons and maybe others that we have been able to “keep it together.

Are we perfect? Not at all. Do we make mistakes? Yes, very often. But, we must always remember that irrespective of our disagreements, we are one people and one nation with one heart and with a common destiny.

These characteristics can never ever be taken away from us, nor will we ever depart from our responsibility and obligation to remain a true Am Kadosh.

Today is Taanit Esther.

As we are about to celebrate Chag Purim this coming Saturday night, we are struggling to balance our emotions of joy with those our emotions fraught with anxiety due to war in Gaza.

It is a daunting challenge to compartmentalize these thoughts and emotions. But according to our Rabbis and Sages, we must try hard. …..not unlike this past Simchat Torah when we danced with the Torah in our public display of joy and simcha, accompanied by tears and a heavy heart.

May Hashem watch over and protect achienu bnai yisrael as we pray for the release of the  hostages in good health and for the safety of our brave chayalim and chayalot now fighting Hamas in the south and Hezbollah the north.

May they all return home safely and soon, iyH.; and, may we all merit to be victorious over our enemies and to live in achdut.

Chag Purim Sameach and B’sorot Tovot. 

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
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