United In Difference

Living in England and not having served in the army, being critical of Israel can often feel like walking a tightrope.

“But you haven’t made aliya. What right do you – as an Anglo – have to criticize?” comes the riposte.

Whilst I personally don’t see a direct correlation between the two, I do agree that the argument holds some weight when questioning the opinions and actions of individuals.

It is with this in mind that I began analysing of the recommendations of the Plesner committee this week, with regard to their demands of the Haredi population, who make up some 10% of Israel’s population. The resignation of Kadima from the coalition, accompanied by Party Chaiman Mofaz’s statement that “the Prime Minister has not left us a choice”, reignited the acrimonious debate over a subject that many felt was facing it’s best chance in a generation to be solved.

It is no secret that deferring – or, in many cases, simply absolving oneself of the draft, is a cause of great resentment in Israel. Kadima’s statement that Prime Minister Netanyahu had to go beyond “petty politics” was shot down in flames by Shas, who accused the centrist party of having no desire to reach an agreement from the beginning.

The story threatened to engulf the country, as news cycle after news cycle reported the bitter split between the Prime Minister and his Deputy. The various secular and orthodox responses began to filter through, and little agreement could be found in the various opinions regarding the replacement for the Tal Law which is due shortly.

Mid-morning yesterday, reports began to appear across the internet announcing the passing of the posek hador , HaRav Yosef Elyashiv zt”l. The orthodox world was plunged into mourning upon hearing the news of the death of the leading figure in Ashkenazi Jewry, with the Prime Minister himself expressing great sorrow at the loss of of one of the generations leading Torah scholars.

Even for the less religious, the passing of this great Torah sage represents an immense loss, with HaRav Elyashiv being one of the few g’dolei hador to take an active role in Israeli politcs, becoming the spiritual leader of the Degel Hatorah party.

Jews across the world were united in their grief as more concrete details were released concerning his passing.

Whilst the death of a leading figure in Orthodox Jewry was of great importance, it did not remove the political crisis from being the main news story for many outlets.

A great man amongst his people…a Torah genius…who contributed to bridging the different streams of Judaism.           President Shimon Peres

Suddenly, and with no warning, the country was in mourning. Five Israeli tourists – along with at least two further people – had been killed in a deliberate and cold-blooded attack in Bulgaria, on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a large Jewish organization in Argentina. In one catastrophic swoop, the country’s media attention became focussed on one of the worst attacks on Israeli nationals abroad in recent memory. The political goings-on from the previous day took an immediate back seat, as the Kadima-less government began drafting a response to the atrocities elsewhere.

Now, 24 hours later, we are able to look back on a period of 48 hours that quite literally shook every sphere of Israeli society to its core.

What began with what some perceived to be partisan politics ended with the deaths of Israelis abroad and the loss of one of the leading figureheads of orthodox Jewry. As Israel woke up this morning, not one of her citizens would have been unaffected in some way by the actions of the previous few days.

A country more complex than any other, more derided than any other and yet more resolutely defiant than any other must once again stand tall, determined to meet the threat of terror head on. From being divided seemingly beyond reconciliation just two days ago, Israeli society has once again been bound by the one name-tag that can never be shaken off – we are all Jews.

As the talmud says in Shavuot, “All Jews are responsible for one another.”

The commentators explain that all Jews, Israeli or otherwise, religious or otherwise, are considered one unit. When the tiniest muscle in the body is in pain, the suffering is felt indiscriminately by the entire person. The Left and Right of Israeli society – and indeed world Jewry – feel the wanton attack on our brothers in Bulgaria, with no political or religious opinions being of any consequence.

The late President John F. Kennedy remarked in his 1961 address to Canada that “Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.” The Israeli government – and electorate as a whole – would do well to remember that.

Less than 24 hours after losing a key player from the coalition, Netanyahu was forced into responding to a terror attack claiming the lives of his civilians abroad.

Less than 24 hours after an opening chasm between the orthodox and secular sectors of society threatened to throw masses of new legislation off-course, all of Israel is in mourning for losses which have been described by both camps as ‘unimaginable.’ The Right and Left are united in their grief.

Surely, the greatest step forward would be to view today as a stark – if entirely tragic – reminder that we laugh, cry and bleed as one nation. As we approach the Olympic games in London and are reminded of the massacre of ’72, there has never been a more important time for national unity in the face of an uncertain future.

There will be time for debate on the draft. There will no doubt be many opportunities to fall out and disavow respective opponents. In the near future, there may even be times of great domestic strife, as both sides are less and less inclined to give up ground.

For now though, what unites us is far greater than what divides us. With the operation to retrieve the bodies of the victims in Bulgaria and to attend to the wounded still ongoing, and with the Ashkenazi world still waiting for the grief of the loss of the gadol hador to subside, we must remain resolute in our sincere belief that we are am echad, b’lev echad – one nation with one heart.

Everything else, as troublesome and as resentful as it can be, is just extra.

Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Robert Marks is the Director of Leeds Jewish Orthodox Youth, and a part-time Chazan in England, having returned from learning in Yeshivat Hakotel. In any spare time, he enjoys playing cricket and recording music.