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The 43-mile divide

I believe that Red State and Blue State citizens all love America; on that basis, we can root out meanness and disrespect and make room for multiple opinions and thoughtful debate
The potential for a united United States. (iStock)
The potential for a united United States. (iStock)

When spending the summers in Israel, our kids relished Fridays! We usually would wake early, pick up challah and sweet desserts from the local bakery for Shabbat dinner and then make the 60-minute trek from the hills of Jerusalem to the beaches of Tel Aviv.

Once there, our kids would build sandcastles, ride the waves of the Mediterranean and sip on frozen fruit drinks to spell the blazing sun. At the end of a long day we would towel off and ascend the hills of the City of David in time to clean up and hear the siren blasted throughout the sacred town of Jerusalem, alerting everyone that Shabbat is beginning.

We never spent much time consciously considering the divide the 41 miles that separate the two biggest cities in the land of Israel represents. If we were to think about it, it is far more than the miles that split these two places. The one-hour ride between the two cities is tantamount to taking a time machine.

The streets of Jerusalem are packed with men dressed in long black coats and women with their hair covered in silk kerchiefs. Many of the Orthodox men don long beards and sidelocks swinging from their faces and white shirts with tzitzis hanging out. The air is filled with the imminence of Shabbat at the grocery store and even at the gas station. Jerusalem is the ancient City of King David where each stone is a part of our shared history that connects us from what was, to what is.

Arrive in Tel Aviv and you will be greeted by women in bikinis, bare headed and tattoo adorned men looking for a place to grab brunch and mapping out their evening plans that will surely NOT include Friday night prayers. In Tel Aviv, the salty-sea air smacks your lips and the memory of Jabotinsky and Dizengoff will remind you of dreams that transformed sand dunes into skyscrapers.

Two cities divided by about the distance of Closter, New Jersey to JFK airport. All within the same country yet, worlds apart.

Both residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serve in the IDF. Both Jerusalemites and Tel Avivans eat shawarma and falafel and rejoice on Israel’s Independence Day. Residents of both cities shed salty tears when terrorism strikes in their land. They are not totally disconnected but, enough so that it can feel like different countries within the same place.

I love Tel Aviv.
I love Jerusalem.

I share this less charged example of what has become exceedingly obvious to Americans over the past decades: Our country has devolved into a place of difference, disparity and divide.

I believe that Red State and Blue State citizens all love America, as do the candidates that represent the parties of those said colors. How they express that love is where we begin to split and where work can be done to build bridges.

The results of the election will satisfy some and frustrate others, as other elections in the past have done since democracy was founded. We will not bridge that divide this week or even within the next four years. However, we as a society have to work extra hard at finding and celebrating more of our common denominators and building the support systems for the passage our country desperately needs to the “other side.” We can begin that with acts of civility, patience in listening to someone with a different view and letting them know they are heard – even if it does not mean you are persuaded and more kindness. Collectively, we need to maximize this moment to root out meanness and disrespect and make room for thoughtful debate and multiple opinions.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that human beings are the only life form capable of using the future tense. Only beings who can imagine the world other than what it is, are capable of freedom. And, if we are free, the future is open, dependent on us. We can know the beginning of our story but not the end. That is why, as God is about to take the Israelites from slavery to freedom, God tells Moses that His name is “I will be what I will be.” Judaism, the religion of freedom, is faith in the future tense.

Regardless of how the results of this election shake out, our nation has much to repair and much to learn about those who think and vote differently. We need to orient our eyes toward tomorrow and the many ways we can outstretch our arms, open our ears and collectively lay the groundwork for building bridges that we all can cross to and from.

May God bless our congregation and this beautiful experiment called, The United States of America.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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