Tearing Us Apart

Last night, I was trying to post a recording I heard of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaking at the Jewish Unity Conference in 2014, but I couldn’t find it online. (It’s on his podcast list and is worth a listen.) The speech emphasizes that for Jews, even amidst the darkest of times, there is always some silver lining.

I think we’ve had a small ounce of hope over the last few weeks, just as we did in the summer of 2014 when Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal were kidnapped. That is the overwhelming sense of unity in reaction to what’s being done to us. People from all types of backgrounds are posting videos about what’s happening in Israel.

When things are dire, we’ve been able to unite in our fear, shock, and frustration, as we grapple with how horrifying the terrorism against Jews in Israel is right now. The politics that divide us often melt away, because we start to get that terrorists sure as hell don’t really care how often you go to shul or if you say Hallel or Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

But it looks like we’re losing some of that togetherness.

Rabbi Sacks quotes the historian Josephus who notes that at the end of the Second Temple, “within the besieged Jerusalem, Jews were more busy fighting one another than they were fighting the Romans outside.” We argue internally better than anyone.

There’s a famous Twilight Zone episode called, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” where an ordinary suburban neighborhood loses power, and their initial curiosity over it slowly turns to fear, paranoia, and inevitably violence. The episode ends with two aliens looking down at the street, saying that the easiest way to conquer the planet is to just let people become their own worst enemies.

When some Jews act as if they represent an entire sect of Judaism by releasing a statement saying, “Our sect doesn’t have any intention of going on the Temple Mount, so please don’t murder us,” an obvious reaction is likely to seethe with anger.

For those who stress that they don’t belong to the current group that is being terrorized surely need to reread Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the Holocaust, “First They Came,” advocating that if you don’t stand up for injustice and cruelty, eventually it’ll land on you. Or perhaps they need to reread this week’s parsha, how our ancestor, Avraham asked an entire wicked city to be spared, even if their values of cruelty and greed were the polar opposite of his.

It’s hard not to let something so potentially divisive, rip us apart. Because our natural inclination is to see our differences, which are much lesser than our similarities.

I read a joke from comedian Emo Phillips this week:

“I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!” Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.””

We have a great challenge to ignore this letter and the likely hatred that’s bubbling inside, as hard as that may be to do. More importantly though, we want to assume that this letter speaks for everyone Charedi. But it doesn’t, as much as the letter pretends it does. And that’s something I probably wouldn’t have said a month ago, but then again, a month ago, my newsfeed looked different, very different.

There are people out there that passionately hate Jews and groups of people who are different. Let’s try like hell to not emulate them.

About the Author
Originally from Chicago, Eli Lebowicz is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He performs stand-up comedy for primarily Jewish audiences. He is also a Cubs fan, unfortunately.
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