A few years ago, an Israeli TV documentary told the story of a small village in Israel that had a population of 120 families, and six(!) shuls. Why six shuls if there are only 120 families? Because the families—all of whom from the same cultural background and daven the same way—can’t stand each other. When the interviewer asked a resident if, having so few people, it occasionally happens that there aren’t even ten people at the shul (the minimum number for service) to conduct a proper service, the man admitted that it happens. And what do you do then? asked the interviewer, “I drive to the nearby settlement and daven there,” said the man. Why go to another settlement to daven, who use different prayer books and songs than the ones you’re used to, if you have five shuls right here in your own village to pick from, and that daven exactly like you do? asked the interviewer. “I won’t go in any of them,” said the man resolutely.
A few days ago, a famous Arab-Israeli woman was interviewed on Israel TV and told an interesting story. She was invited to partake in a panel of several people at a Jewish town to discuss hatred and political tensions. The timing for the discussion was perfect since it was the 9th of Av, the date when the Temple was ruined 2,000 years ago because Jews hatred their own brethren. At the height of the debate, she finally said to her hosts, “You hate each other! Jews are hating Jews! You are discussing the ruin of the Temple on the 9th of Av, and still a Jew hates a Jew and wishes him death (reference to online death threats and death wishes to Israeli politicians)! If you hate each other, how will you love me?”
We’ve always been a nation of many views. And if you look at our history, you’ll find that when we succeeded in maintaining unity above differences, we thrived, and when we let the differences become unbridled hatred, we suffered.
Today’s Israel is at a crossroads. The differences among the various factions of the nation are gaining traction, and voices of unity are hardly heard. As always, divergence is our springboard for growth, but only if we unite above it. It is always a thin line to walk, and if we’re unaware of it, we’ll trip, and the very existence of Israel will be at risk.
Our motto has always been that hate stirs strife, and love will cover all the hatred (Proverbs 10:12). It is not an easy model to follow, but today we have no choice. Our international status will continue to deteriorate and our internal strength will continue to decline until we realize we have no other choice but to choose unity above all differences.
If we stall, the world will decide that the League of Nations’ declaration of a Jewish state in 1947 was a mistake. If we hurry and unite, the world will understand why Israel attracts so much attention—since it was meant to show how opposites can unite and cover their hate with love.
What we need right now is to shift from political bickering to a policy of unity among all factions. This is our most urgent need, especially today when hatred scares us even more than Covid, and is certainly more dangerous.