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Chaim Y. Botwinick

The Establishment of a Israel/Diaspora Achdut (Unity) Commission: A Proposal

K’Ish Echad B’Lev Echad (One Man with One Heart)

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As we approach the holiday of Pesach, we are reminded of our people’s exodus from mitzrayim (Egypt) as well as the remarkable trials, tribulations, tests and miracles we experienced as we sojourned from mitzrayim to Canaan (land of Israel).

This amazing journey of epic proportion witnessed our people’s most difficult and trying experiences in the midbar  (desert), culminated with the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai and eventually our entry into the Land of Israel.

During that period of time, we congregated and stood united together in achdut (unity) at the base of Har Sinai as a single unified Jewish nation, about to receive our Torah  – we were considered to be an ish echad (one person) b’lev echad (with one heart). What better description of a people unified for a single purpose, single mission and purpose.

According to many Rabbinic commentaries, this expression of achdut is not a metaphor, but rather a true state of being and mind; and  a true and accurate depiction of the manner in which our Jewish people approached this challenge and opportunity.

This was a pivotal time in Jewish history, where were all stood together as one people and as one nation. We experienced avdut l’chayrut – from a state of slavery to one of  redemption and freedom; and we became an am kadosh (a holy nation) and an ohr lagoyim (a light unto the nations).

Were there religious, social and cultural differences? I am certain, there were. But, many of those differences were circumvented through eventual respect, tolerance, civility and levels of communal shalom bayit – all critically important characteristics which are sorely missing from today’s social fabric of our Jewish community.

Throughout history, our Jewish people have experienced the good, bad and the ugly. We were slaughtered at the hands of the crusaders, indiscriminately murdered in the pogroms of Europe and perished like innocent sheep in the showers and crematoria of concentration camps. But, our Jewish people as a community, were steadfast, strong and resilient. Many of us survived these horrors and flourished; and grew as a people and as a nation to levels physically and spiritually unimaginable.

This resilience was not only a physical manifestation but a deeply spiritual one which was anchored solidly in our DNA, our character and our faith.

These past several months have been a most trying and challenging period of time for Israel and for diaspora Jewish communities. To be sure, the recent events in Israel have been tearing apart the very core of what makes Israel the incredibly amazing civilized democratic country it is today from a historical, religious, economic and social perspective. As if the rise of antisemitism around the world is not unnerving and frightening enough, we are now confronted with a new enemy from within our own camp  – that enemy is relentless sinat chinam (baseless internal hatred and acrimony).

This past year’s Israeli elections which took place against a backdrop of bold new proposals calling for legal and Judicial reform, is now giving rise to a level of turmoil, chaos and confusion unsurpassed in recent memory.

Although it is not within the purview of this writer to opine or advocate for a particular political position regarding Israeli Judicial reform, as an American Jew, deeply committed to the growth, health and prosperity of Israel, I am deeply saddened and profoundly troubled by the deep divide between our Jewish populace in Israel and in diaspora Jewish communities. These feelings of despair as well as the extraordinary levels of sinat chinam, are beyond demoralizing.

The harsh demonic rhetoric now appearing in print and social media platforms continue to incite violent demonstrations in the streets of Israel, This threat of physical violence; as well as the fear of a total collapse of Israeli society, are  exacerbated by public threats of government overthrow.

So, as we approach this horrifying abyss, we pray to HaShem that there is an end in sight to this continued madness, to this hatred and to this self-destructing behavior of catastrophic magnitude.

We cry out for leadership, for calm, for peaceful reflection, dialogue and for civility; and above all, we yearn for immediate and long-term solutions and resolution to this out-of-control crisis.

The Establishment of a Israel/Diaspora Achdut (Unity) Commission

I am confident that there are numerous bold, innovative and creative suggestions and proposals being offered to help stem these catastrophic events.

What follows is an added thought and proposal for consideration.

In an effort to establish a peaceful, respectful and forward-thinking international forum or venue for serious reflection, dialogue and compromise it is recommended that the government of Israel establish an Israel/Diaspora Achdut (Unity) Commission.

As envisioned, the Commission will be comprised of various Israeli Governmental ministries, the Jewish Agency for Israel,  Federations of North America, Rabbinic and synagogue leadership groups, the Conference of Presidents and select academic and philanthropic leadership.

This Commission should be created and convened immediately with the following two major mandates:

  • to help triage the current crisis and stop the political, social and religious hemorrhaging in Israel and in diaspora communities;
  • to develop short, mid and long range strategic action plans in order to establish a series of working guideline and assumptions for serious intensive and extensive deliberation, dialogue and eventual compromise.

As proposed, the Commission will have a sunset provision. It’s first order of business will be to stabilize the current matzav (situation) by encouraging and even incentivizing a significant reduction in the level of harmful and hateful rhetoric, demonstrations, incitement, speech and public displays of defiance and civil disobedience.

Once there is a level of relative calm in the streets of Israel; and the safety of the Israeli populace is in place, the Commission will create several working task forces, each mandated or tasked with a specific challenge.

Each task force will be structured in a manner which helps guarantee cross pollination/deliberation so that the debates and deliberations of one task force informs the other.

Several of the broad categories which require immediate discussion and eventual resolution through compromise, may include, but not be limited to:

  • religious respect, reverence and tolerance;
  • judicial integrity, equity and policy;
  • government limits, boundaries and parameters of responsibility and authority;
  • social, cultural and economic growth and viability;
  • security
  • diaspora relations

Each of the task forces will need to be professionally coordinated and staffed by outstanding professionals who possess integrity, experience and knowledge about these specific fields of interest as well as the process and mechanics for staffing high level deliberations. Members of the task forces will be comprised of diverse and forward thinking leaders whose sole agenda would be to help guide and advance their specific mandate or charge.

Getting Started:

Not unlike any rigorous and serious communal initiative of such significant scope and magnitude, establishing and launching this historic Commission will require a tremendous amount of skill, leadership, energy, and  political leverage; and, above all, a true sense of urgency.

Which body politic should be empowered to serve as the actual convener of the Commission is a challenge which requires serious thought and circumspect. But one thing is clear – the convener must have the reputation, credibility, trust and professionalism required in order to be viewed as an honest, unbiased broker with no other competing agendas (if that is possible), except to ensure a fair, credible and transparent process.

As indicated, identifying desired outcomes based upon compromise will in all probability be the only way to resolve this burning crisis. The creation of an effective and meaningful Israel/Diaspora Commission which being all constituents and stakeholders to the table will require a consensus and an unwavering and unparalleled  level of support.

I conclude this blog in the same manner in which I began.

Our Jewish communities, in both Israel and in the diaspora are truly blessed with tremendous potential to create amazing opportunities for achdut, communal strength, growth and vitality. Our rich, and vibrant Jewish history is witness  to this reality and it is just begging to be embraced and celebrated through Kiddush HaShem (the sanctification of GD).

We must envision our community’s current existence, trajectory and destiny as an Ish Echad b’Lev Echad. We have very little choice or alternative, lest we fall prey to the very darkness which enveloped our community leading to  the destruction of our Beit HaMikdash – holy temple in Jerusalem.

Sinat chinam and the inability to compromise must never win over or eclipse our people’s ability, capacity or willingness to live in respectful harmony and  peace.

It is my hope and prayer that our communities in Israel and throughout the diaspora will observe and celebrate this coming Pesach with true and lasting shalom bayit, nachat, civility and bracha.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach

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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