Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peace Sells... ...But Who's Buying?

Hindsight is always 20/20, and you don’t need to be a George Benson fan to understand this. Well, OK, that “always” was an exaggeration, I admit. In fact, I may be the only one to see things this way, but nevertheless I come from the unfair advantage of hindsight. In any event, we should be very careful when saying things that can be construed as criticism of great Talmidey Chachomim, especially about those of prior generations, who were undoubtly very honest, righteous and true leaders.

Tumultuous as Jewish life in Europe already was by the end of the 19th century, nothing compares to the upheavals of post-WWII Jewry. After the spiritual devastation and physical extermination, the Jewish Phoenix slowly started to rise from the ashes, in the USA and Israel. New places, new situations and new challenges faced the old people. Dedicated and determined, Rabbis, communal leaders and laymen worked day and night tirelessly on resurrecting Clal Yisroel. Sadly, what de-facto happened was the establishment of different communities based on leaders’ ideologies and religious tendencies rather than the whole people’s needs. The old factions were resurrected, and the old feuds were replanted.

But following the true teachings and traits of great leaders is not easy; the core ideas gave way to monkeying the external characteristics, which then galvanized into cultish group adherence. Although the protests of many leaders against this trend is well documented, they failed nonetheless, not least because many worked on resurrecting their own community instead of Clal Yisroel as a whole.

As time passed, prosperity rose, and the deep understanding of a Jew’s purpose in this world started to fade, giving way to his identity as part of group X before his identity as a Jew. It is unfair to blame this solely on selfish and childish motives, as great turmoils were still challenging the Jewish people. However, at this point “survival” had a totally different meaning than what it meant a mere decade or two prior. As I mentioned before, I’m coming with the power of hindsight, and by no means claim to be anywhere near the great wisdom and yiras shomayim or the great Gdolim of the previous generation. But I do feel that a great opportunity at reconciliation was lost. Of course, it is nearly inconceivable that Hassidim, Litvaks, Religious Zionists could have been completely synthesized. But far more could have been done to bring the sides closer.

Could the leaders have sat together and try to agree on certain things? On fixing problems common to us all? On some semblance of consensus despite the deep rifts? On mending the cultural gaps? I believe so. So why wasn’t it done? I don’t know. But I do know that Yanky Eisenbach from Meah Shearim will never attend a Jethro Tull concert, Rechavam Shefer from Kibbutz Sa’ad won’t back up on his Zionism, Jim Glickstein from YU will never renege evolution, and Berel Rabinowitz from Ponevezh will never agree to learn less than 18 hours a day. These approaches and ideologies are here, whether we want it or not, whether we agree or not. Ditto for many societal norms. Is there really no end in sight?

Two weeks ago, Ido Zoldan was murdered by Arab terrorists, enabled by Jewish politicians who sell their souls for less than a bowl of lentil stew. We all cried and bled for him. We all felt the pain of his wife and children. But until two weeks ago, he was nothing. Until two weeks ago he was jus another nameless “tsiyoini” whose wife doesn’t cover her hair properly, who relies on heter mechirah and wears jeans. Until Zaka volunteers had to put him in plastic bags, he wasn’t our brother. Until the Cheva Kadisha had to prepare him for burial, he wasn’t really one of us. Is there anything but tragedy that can unite us?

I got a fundraising letter from my local Hatzoloh-EMS chapter. One of the things I read just raised my hair on top of my head. “Our volunteers help everyone, regardless of their communal or religious affiliation” Really? How kind of you! Until now I though the right thing to do was leaving someone bleeding to death if he isn’t in your Chassidus. “Hallo! My son was electrocuted!” screams the frantic mother, “Ummm, is you husband yeshivish? What kind of hat does he wear? Oh, sorry we can’t help you. Call the other ambulance”. How sick and insane does a people have to be to even feel the need to put such a disclaimer in their pamphlet?

As I said before, in times when leaders refuse to carry their duty, there’s much more responsibility laid on each individual’s shoulders. And there is a lot we can do. Silent waters run deep, and sudden, drastic changes usually bear no good outcomes.

Maybe we can really include all Clal Yisroel in our silent prayers. Just insert a short individual plea, ask Him to assist us in getting united? To care for one another even without tragedy? To help out, to attend a simcha instead of a levayah? To ease a little of our meshigassen – not the core principles, of course, - just what we agree are meshigassen. Or to take in consideration the effect of our poisonous words – will they help or just add oil to the flames?

© Joseph Izrael 2007

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