She held my hands, looked at me directly, and said, “Lori, I was raised to hate you.”
Two days later, I was standing at her chuppah near a kibbutz in the Negev Desert. The presiding rabbi was not from the kibbutz. He wore a black kippah and was accompanied by his wife — who happened to be me.
Although we lived in the US, through my work, I had met and become very close with this Israeli bride. She herself was not particularly observant, and she was not marrying an observant man, but she wanted a traditional chuppah and was thrilled that my husband had agreed to marry them.
In the months leading up to the wedding, my husband and the young couple discussed Jewish perspectives on marriage over Skype. Two days before the ceremony, I accompanied the bride to a beautiful mikveh.
After she immersed herself in the pool of water, she met me in the reception area. In my hand were two glasses and a bottle of wine.
“L’chaim,” I toasted the happy bride.
That is when she grabbed my hands in hers and uttered those fateful words: “Lori, I was raised to hate you.”
When I tell people outside of Israel that in Israel there are Jews who hate one another, they are shocked. In the Diaspora, Jews don’t hate one another. We often don’t like each other, we disagree, argue, judge and resent — but hate? No. We can’t afford to hate each other. We are the minority and we must try to keep some semblance of togetherness.
Outside of Israel, we are taught that there are two things friends should not discuss: politics and religion. But, in Israel, that’s all you talk about. Politics and religion are intertwined, and that makes for a very complex and explosive society.
During the month in which we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, we reflect on Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and our mission to become an Or L’Goyim, a Light Unto the Nations. What did we do to deserve this gift and responsibility? We were united. We were one.
When the Torah says the Jewish people encamped by Mount Sinai, it uses the word “vayichan” (encamped) in the singular, as opposed to “vayachanu”, the plural. Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah says the reason is because at Mount Sinai we were like “one people with one heart.” That unity merited us the Land of Israel and Divine protection from our enemies.
Today, we are 70 years post the founding of the State of Israel, which my family’s rabbi always described as “a miracle in our times.” Once the State of Israel was established, Jews began to fulfill the prophecy of returning, “from the four corners of the earth.” As Prime Minister David Ben Gurion said, “A Jew who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”
Ask an Israeli today about times when the Jews of Israel experienced achdut, unity, and they will remember times of war. I was in Israel when three boys were kidnapped and then found murdered. It was a horrifying time, but also a time of unparalleled unity.
Can the Jewish people only come together during tragic times? I refuse to accept that.
Now back to the chuppah in the Negev.
Standing beside me at the ceremony was a very important man in the Israeli government. We began to speak about these ideas — war, the three boys, and the concept of achdut v’lo achidut, unity without uniformity. We also spoke about the fact that the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, happened because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred. Our rabbi taught us that senseless hatred is “when you hate someone because their mistakes are different than yours.” The opposite is not ahavat chinam, senseless love, but ahava b’kavana, “love with a purpose” — which means the ability to see what we can love about each person, despite our differences.
I shared that the Torah teaches us that it was in the merit of the Jewish women that we were redeemed from Egypt, and that the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people will also be in the merit of the women.
Women need to be the catalysts to drive ahava b’kavana in order to create achdut v’lo achidut. Only then will we once again merit Divine protection and truly be a Light Unto the Nations.
I told him that I dreamed of creating a Public Council of Israeli women — composed of leaders in different sectors who were from the full spectrum of Israeli life, politically and religiously. Through this Council, they would take on the challenge of creating unity without uniformity in Israel.
He turned to me and said, “Why don’t you just split the sea? That would be simpler.”
At that moment, I knew we’d make it happen.
Last month in Tel Aviv, we launched the JWRP Israel Public Council with 15 women who agreed to come together to be part of the solution and not the problem. When meeting with them individually over the past months, I shared these ideas with them and asked them to join. More than one woman said to me, “I am very busy. I say no to everything. But, I’ll say yes to this.”
That same government official who was at that chuppah came to the launch and listened to the first facilitated meeting. He spoke to the women, thanked them, and encouraged them to work and to succeed. Afterwards, he told me that the meeting was deeply and historically unique — that never in modern Israel had such a diverse group of women come together for such a meaningful purpose.
Also in the room was the bride, who is now expecting her first child, and whose words propelled the next stage in a movement that is changing the world through Jewish women.
Lori Palatnik is the Founding Director of The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. In partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, the JWRP has created Momentum, a one year program of empowerment for over 15,000 Jewish mothers from 26 countries that includes an eight day transformational experience in Israel.