Jason Harris
Creator & Host, Jew Oughta Know

We’re One But Not the Same

“We’re one but we’re not the same,
We get to carry each other, carry each other…” 
from the song “One”, by U2

The Israeli commentators I listen to — many of whom publish in this paper — are begging Diaspora Jews to speak out about the current crisis. So here I am, on the extreme edge of the coast of California, about as far from Israel as you can get, and my heart is heavy because what can I possibly say from this far away?

As it happens I was reading Bono’s memoir, “Surrender,” last night. The lead singer of U2 writes about the making of their album Achtung Baby in the early 1990s, an immensely difficult period for the band in which their internal divisions almost broke them up. It reads not dissimilarly to the midrashic explanation of the destruction of the Second Temple, in which the Jews’ own “baseless hatred” wrought their demise at the hands of the Romans. No one can ruin us quite like we can do to ourselves.

Bono writes, “I don’t think we’re all one. We can be one, but I don’t think we have to see things the same way for that to be so. An anarchic thought: We’re one but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, not that we’ve got to, just that we get to.”

I am watching from afar as Israel tears itself apart. I know where my sympathies lie — with the broad pluralistic spread of Israelis opposed to the extremism of the current coalition, the fecklessness of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the majoritarian bullying that seeks to dismantle the nation’s democratic system — and yet I also feel for those on the religious right who have come to believe the State of Israel does not, and will not, include them.

I have no sympathy for the extremists, the corrupt criminals, the religious supremacists, the politicians who are wrecking the country to advance their own ambitions. But I also know they are a small, albeit powerful, constituency. Instead I look to the religious Jews in Bnei Brak handing out food and water to the protestors, an image of practical empathy, human compassion, and solidarity that ought to be the totemic images of Israeli society — and on most days, I know, is.

This isn’t a plea for naïveté, in which Israel’s immensely difficult challenges can be glossed over with an appeal to rock-star idealism. Israel’s social, political, and economic problems run deep and have real implications in people’s daily lives. The country is desperate for a constitution — even better, a constituent constitutional assembly that can come together to write such a document with the Declaration of Independence as its foundation. It will be a new way forward for a people that has consistently produced new ways forward for thousands of years: from monarchy to dispersion, persecution to power, Temple to Talmud. The ever-reinventing people need a reinvention, and it can only be done together.

A few years ago I was on a bus from the airport to Jerusalem to stay with a friend. I was sitting next to a secular French-Israeli Jew and we struck up a conversation. By the end of the ride he had called a friend of his, a kippah-wearing Mizrahi cab driver, who came to pick us up at the central station, drove me to my friend’s house, and then refused any form of payment, while the French-Israeli invited me to his home for Shabbat dinner.

One but not the same. We carry each other. It’s a starting point.

About the Author
Jason Harris is the creator and host of Jew Oughta Know, a popular podcast on Jewish and Israeli history. He has led hundreds of young adults on trips to Israel, and holds master's degrees in Jewish studies from Brandeis University. Prior to his work in the Jewish community he served as a senior staffer to a U.S. Member of Congress. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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