The latest round in the battle for permission to pray at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) reflects the sad state of our people. Theoretically, “Reform rabbis have made small gains in Israel, and in January the movement was jubilant over … Israel’s announcement that it would create a special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.” In truth, the above sentence from the ABC News story epitomizes our current condition.
The story reflects very strongly the widening rift between Israel and the Diaspora. To the Orthodox establishment in Israel, Reform Jews are “not really Jewish,” according to Rabbi Steven Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). In that same story, another leader of the CCAR, Rabbi Denise Eger, said that Reform Jews ask themselves: “Is Israel really that backward of a nation?”
Undeniably, the battle over the right to pray at the Kotel is not over. However, this is not what should concern us. This battle is a symptom, a canary in the mine of Jewish life. Our separation is, or at least should be, our biggest concern. From faction to faction and from continent to continent we are separated and alienated.
The Iran deal, which was promulgated as a “rare instance of 13 million Jews, one opinion,” in fact accelerated the division within the Jewish community in the U.S. Instead of using it as a catalyst for unity, Jews for and against the deal fought so hard against each other that the community is still reeling from its noxious effects. But going into the elections, which are always divisive due to the candidates’ need to promote themselves and denigrate their contenders, it’s hard to see from where a unifying element might surface among U.S. Jews.
The Orthodox Jews in Israel have plenty on their plate, as well. The Kotel war is just one of many divisive issues among them. Even more important than the Kotel issue, religious Jews in Israel are divided over one of the most fundamental aspects of Judaism — conversion — and have set up an alternative conversion system.
At the same time, secular Jews watch idly by. Indifferent and alienated from each other and from most religious practices, they barely notice what is happening.
In his Jewish Journal story concerning the Iran deal, Rob Eshman noted, “First, we are divided.” This is indeed our biggest problem. If I think that because your kippah (Jewish skullcap) is not the same shape and color as my kippah, or because you say your prayers one way and I say them another way, or because you live in the Diaspora and I live in Israel, or because you are secular and I’m religious, or because you are simply not me, then you are not really Jewish, then I have a big problem. And since today some version of this situation exists in a substantial number of our tribe’s members, we the Jewish people have a big problem.
Without unity, we cannot expect anything good to happen to us. Without unity, we are not only morally, spiritually, and socially incapacitated, but our very identity as Jews becomes untenable. Judaism is first and foremost about community, love of others, and solidarity with the afflicted and poor. All these are achieved through a deeply rooted sense of unity. Without it, we have nothing to offer the world except more hi-tech, which is hardly what the world needs today.
Without unity, we are not only weak, but we become immediate suspects wherever misfortune happens. Unity, reflected in solidarity and a sense of community and brotherhood, is the foundation of the future and even for the survival of humanity. Without it there can be no trade, hence, no economics, since people cannot trust each other. Without unity, all we can do is teach our children to try to win at all costs, just as we see happening in education systems throughout the world, and first and foremost in America. Without unity, there cannot be a livable Earth, since our destructive competitiveness prevents us from agreeing on a deal that will allow us to foster a sustainable future for our children.
The Jewish people coined the term, “love your neighbor as yourself,” whose preliminary phase we know as “that which you hate do not do unto another.” We are the designated agents of unity, but the message we are sending is the opposite. The anti-Semitic accusation that we are causing all the wars reflects the sense that we are not projecting what we should — namely brotherhood.
At the end of the day, it makes no difference how we are different. Instead of segregation, we should celebrate our differences as opportunities to unite above them! The more unique-yet-united we are, the stronger we are and the more positive message we project to the world. Instead of fighting over the Wailing Wall, let us remember that Judaism means unity and brotherhood, and that the Temple was ruined precisely because of the lack thereof. Let’s not give each other more reasons to wail; let’s rebuild the Temple, in our hearts, through unity above all differences.