Why all Jews can participate in the “Day of Jewish Unity”

All Jews, irrespective of their stance on the Iran Deal, can participate in the “Day of Jewish Unity“.

As Congress prepares to hold a monumental vote on the Iran nuclear deal, the outreach organization Acheinu has organized today, Sept 8, as a “Day of Jewish Unity” calling for “Jews around the world [to join] together to recite 2 chapters of Psalms in an attempt to deflect the acute danger that would result from allowing Iran a path to obtain nuclear warheads.” MJE (Manhattan Jewish Experience) and I will be joining a projected 500,000 Jews in answering this call to prayer.

If you look a bit closer at the group organizing this day of unity, you will see that the objective is to use prayer to guide Congress to reject the Iran Deal. So how can this be a day of Jewish unity when there are many Jews who believe the deal should pass in its current form?

Anyone who knows me or follows my writing knows that I align politically with the group organizing this event. I am vehemently opposed to the deal, for reasons that I have detailed elsewhere, but won’t go into here. Quite simply, after reading through multiple expert opinions on both sides, to me it is clear that the deal on the table is bad for Israel, America, and the world at large. It is strikingly obvious that the alternative to this deal is not war, but rather increased sanctions and staying strong for a better deal.

But to many Jews this is not so clear and as a result the deal has become somewhat of a divisive matter in the Jewish community in recent months. I ask myself why? How could such smart, menschy people who I respect in so many ways look at the same deal and come to such different conclusions?!?

I thought about this a lot. At first, I assumed that anyone supporting this deal must not know the facts. That has proven true in many cases, but I have encountered some Jews and non Jews alike who do know a good amount about the deal and still support it. So if they know the risks — if they know about the billions of dollars that will be injected into a terrorist network, if they know about self inspections, if they know about the timelines to nuclear breakout capabilities… then HOW could they still support this?

My next answer was that they must be afraid — afraid of being strong, of being in control. That they have internalized the identity of Jewish victimhood, and have yet to embrace the identity of Jewish power and self determination that the State of Israel allows.

I do think this is the case for some, but not all, as I have met some very proud and strong Jews who support the deal. So again, WHY? How?!

I have concluded that there are simply some Jews, who though proud and relatively informed, can look at the same data as other informed proud Jews, and come to a different conclusion. They have a different world view — differently shaped lenses through which they filter information; layers of experiences and personal tendencies which take the same rays of light and bend them into different recorded images. This happens in the world of science all the time. A scientific study comes out, two scientists look at the same data, and draw two different conclusions. We may disagree with those Jews who support the Iran deal wholeheartedly, but they are our brothers and sisters, and they deserve our respect.

I don’t mean to legitimize the arguments for supporters of the deal. The experts that I trust, and from my own vantage point, this deal is so obviously dangerous and must be fervently opposed. I only bring up the opposition to my view so we can have a discussion about Jewish unity.

Back to the first statement: All Jews can participate in this Day of Jewish Unity. Acheinu is calling for unity across the religious spectrum. I hear that call and raise it to unity across the political spectrum. How? How can we all come together when we are so divided? How can we all recite the same psalms, at the same time, when some of us want Congress to vote one way, and some of us want Congress to vote the other?

The answer lies in the delicate balance Judaism finds between action and faith.

There is a famous Jewish parable you’ve probably heard about a man and a flood. A flood comes and a man sits and waits. As the water levels continue to rise, a car, then a boat, and then a helicopter come by and he is asked to hop in. Each time he refuses and says “God will save me.” Well… he dies, and when he meets God, he asks “Why didn’t you save me? I had so much faith in you!”, and God answers “What do you mean? I sent you a car, I sent you a boat, I even sent you a helicopter…”

We tell this story to illustrate the unique relationship between humanity and God. We are the Almighty’s partners in making the world a better place. We must have faith, but we must also ACT. We must take matters into our own hands and figure out how to take what Hashem has given us and proactively use it for good. “To Jew is to do.” This is why Judaism revolves around mitzvot which are actions to be done.

And yet at the same time, we put our ultimate trust in God and recognize that all things, good and bad, come from the Creator. I just wrote a post about the month of Elul and the secret to happiness which involves learning to interpret all blessings and challenges in this way.

So how does one be active and fight the fight as God’s partner and simultaneously take a step back and “let go and let God” as they say?

A great example of this is how as Jews we deal with illness and death. When a loved one is sick, we don’t just say “okay, God wants him/her to pass.” No way! We treat him/her with the best medication we have, we find the best doctor, and we pray for his/her recovery. If the loved one does not recover, and does pass on, we say “Baruch Dayan ha-emet” – blessed is the true judge. We take comfort in knowing that we DID everything we could, but that at the end of the day, only God can see the bigger picture, and only God has the true plan.

Many of us have spent the last many months DOING. We’ve been actively campaigning, rallying, lobbying, calling our senators left and right compelling them to oppose this terrible deal. Others have been doing the same thing but calling for congress to do just the opposite. This is part of being Jewish – doing. Taking action in accordance with what we believe is right.

But the other key part of being Jewish is coming together and having faith. We learn on Tisha B’av that the second temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam — senseless hatred and divisiveness amongst the Jewish community. Rosh Hashanah is coming to remind us that God wants us to put away our divisive “lenses” for a minute, and come together as one family. We may differ in approach, but most of us ultimately want the same thing: a safer, better world for Israel and all people.. 


Tomorrow I will continue to DO. I am going to Washington D.C. with rabbis from all over the world to lobby our congress one last time and demand the deal be opposed. But today, and this Rosh Hashanah, I will take a step back, have faith, and pray.

I will acknowledge that neither I, nor Congress, nor any of us have the answer. Instead of praying for Congress to vote one way or the other, for the outcome that we are attached to as THE solution, we can instead come together and pray that Iran will not be given the opportunity to become a nuclear power. We can pray for Congress to do the right thing, whatever that may be. We can pray that God will protect the Jewish people and the world at large. And we can pray that no matter what happens, we fill each find the strength and clarity to DO our part in accordance with God’s will.

About the Author
Rabbi Mark Wildes, known as The Urban Millennials' Rabbi, founded Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE) in 1998. Since then, he has become one of America’s most inspirational and dynamic Jewish educators. Rabbi Wildes holds a BA in Psychology from Yeshiva University, a JD from the Cardozo School of Law, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and was ordained from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Mark & his wife Jill and their children Yosef, Ezra, Judah and Avigayil live on the Upper West Side where they maintain a warm and welcoming home for all.
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