Ziona Greenwald

Unity on the skids?

They’re back.

The protestors who block my mother’s street every Saturday night (her building sits opposite the President’s residence), chanting and hollering, have returned. Bring down Bibi; end the war; free the hostages – the messages are more diffuse than the anti-judicial reform declamations, but the gatherings equally disruptive and, with the war still ongoing, exceedingly disheartening.

We knew the iron solidarity couldn’t last. When the collective fear, shock, horror, hope, and unshakeable sense of purpose blanketed us all on October 7 like fresh snowfall, erasing differences and discord, we saw what was possible: the people of Israel caring for each other without labels or litmus tests. The need for unity was so strong that it forged a kind of Iron Dome of civility, something beyond civility even – a genuine sense of shared destiny. How beautiful to behold haredim serving sandwiches to soldiers, secular Jews taking on mitzvot, piles of donated toys and clothes and boots and blankets, the tears and the prayers and the cakes and the cards and the awe-inspiring mobilization of every stream of Israeli society in support of the IDF, of grieving families, of reservists’ wives and children.

The fever pitch of those early weeks could not be sustained indefinitely. Financial and human resources drained, people turned back to their regular responsibilities.  The war relief needs are still great and must not go unanswered, but so is the need for a different type of relief – for routine, for some kind of normalcy, for the heart to beat less than a thousand times per minute. Yet we continue to pitch in where we can as requests for help, initially a deluge, trickle in.

When you’re running into shelters or just trying to get through the day without a panic attack, differences between this group and that – the shadows and gradations of ideology, politics, religious orientation – don’t seem to matter. But paradoxically, with more calm comes greater focus on those differences. And as “regular” life has resumed in many parts of the country, the blanket of unity has begun to fray.  Instead of solemn flag marches and choruses of rousing song, angry demonstrations are again engulfing the streets and highways of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Caesarea – blocking roads, burning tires, attacking police officers, calling our leaders criminals, making impossible demands.

Their sometimes incongruous agendas share a common myopia. How would stopping the war accomplish bringing the hostages home? How can one side decide to end a war while the enemy is still going? How could new elections, mud-slinging and all, not grievously damage our troops’ morale and strategic focus while exposing divisions that at this critical time are better patched over?

These protests threaten to tear open the still delicate wounds that the judicial reform meltdowns of the past two years inflicted on Israeli society and which the events of October 7 sent into shock healing.

The unity that shone out to the world and inspired our Diaspora brethren would never have endured long term without showing some cracks – but please, it’s too soon. For the 134 hostages still in Hamas’ captivity, for our boys fighting on the frontlines, for the perceptible signs of cooperation between religious and secular, right and left…  Leave the viciousness behind. Remember where it led.

Grotesque displays of antisemitism and demonization of Israel are taking over streets all over the world. Yet we should be more concerned with what is happening here on ours. A small group – our captives – brought us together; a small minority shouting up a storm threatens to drive us apart.

Our enemies are united. Are we?

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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