Ever since hostilities with Gaza began, pundits throughout Israeli media have been making reference to the silver lining that has emerged from the Simchat Torah Reign of Terror (more accurate and historically memorable than the October 7 War). The reference is to the cohesive national unity that has, understandably, become the national priority in an effort to ensure the destruction of Hamas and the release of the hostages that are languishing in Gazan captivity. “Together we will achieve victory” is the slogan that has embraced the imagination and energy of our nation. But while I enthusiastically endorse the military objectives being undertaken by our defense forces and urge our leaders to ignore the growing international demands for a cease fire, I’m more than a little troubled by the thought that the only time the Jewish community – both within and outside of Israel – experiences any sense of unity is when our very survival is being threatened. To be candid, if that’s what it takes to disperse the divisions that create political turmoil and social dissension, the silver lining being referred to is more than a little tarnished, I would think. Forgive me, but depriving two-hundred some men, women and children the safety and comfort of their families and viewing the tortuous scene of burying over fourteen-hundred victims of inhuman terrorism is not worth the temporary illusion of unity.
Are the pundits right, though? Is the Jewish world, as we approach the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, incapable of finding a way to accept the fact that we are not a homogenous people and that the variety of cultures and political opinions among us can not only be tolerated but can be treasured as a characteristic of our strength and resiliency? That thought is more than a bit sobering since it infers that Hamas – vicious, cruel, barbaric – was able to achieve what our enlightened political, community and religious leaders have been unable to. Surely, that cannot be. The concept of “Together” must mean something more than a firewall protected by tanks, missile launchers and bazookas. Unless that concept endures in peace as well as in war, the future of the Jewish nation will be anything but smooth.
But oh, what a silver lining it could prove to be. It’s not unlikely that we’ll see, throughout the duration of war, the type of society that best defines a Jewish nation. This glimpse, hopefully, will not be forgotten and will, rather, provide the model for what we can indeed be, under the umbrella of “Together.”
I suspect, for example, that should this war last several more weeks, the Women of the Wall will face no resistance if they hold their monthly Rosh Chodesh prayer service at their designate spot at the Kotel. Even more surprising is that there has been no ugly accusation that this war is the consequence of progressiveness, pluralism and egalitarianism, a most welcome omission from the usual diatribe that follows catastrophic events.
And aren’t the Haredim full of surprises? In addition to having taken on a different point of view regarding the Israel Defense Forces and the responsibility of contributing to the protection of this country, they have ceased, for the time being anyway, making demands on how women dress or where they sit on buses. They have put on hold their policy of isolationism and have joined in the effort to eradicate the threat of Hamas. And while it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they are insisting to put up mechitzot (gender separation barriers) in public air raid shelters, my guess is that they’re more readily accepting integration rather than segregation during these trying days.
The silver lining most certainly, in addition, extends into both cultural and political matters. S’fardi charges of class snobbery and racism leveled at Ashkenazim have surely been suspended, and the competing ideologies represented by the varied membership of the Knesset have, wondrously, merged into a unified voice promising all the support and resources needed to ensure victory. And, of course, the debates and demonstrations over judicial reform that have all but paralyzed this country for the last half year have been set aside. For now, the judiciary’s role in the paradigm of democracy has been pushed way back onto the back burner.
We dare not, however, become overly complacent by the joining of hands. At some point during the hostilities, this togetherness will be tested and faced with some serious challenges. In particular, how our government chooses to deal with the fate of the hostages will be anything but unanimously endorsed. Already, families of the captives are asking that every step be taken to ensure the safe return of the captives that are being held as bargaining pawns. Similarly, demands that another Gilad Shalit fiasco be avoided, and that there be absolutely no prisoner exchanges. And, of course, how Hamas will react to the tanks and boots that have invaded Gaza is anybody’s guess. It won’t be long before our prime minister and his coalition partners will have to confront this reality and ready the nation for both impending rewards and consequences. We can only hope for the best but, unfortunately, must be prepared for the worst.
If there is, then, a silver lining to the Simchat Torah Reign of Terror it is that we’ve learned that we do indeed have the capability of overcoming our differences, and finding mutually acceptable solutions to the problems and complications that have caused ongoing difficulties is by means impossible. All we need to do is identify and extract the dynamics that bring us together in situations where our safety and well-being are at stake and apply them to less dramatic but no less significant aspects of our future. An impossible dream? Maybe, but one most certainly worth pursuing.