By David Cohen
Though I began crafting this article before the horrific events in Israel, the larger themes, incredibly, have remained almost entirely intact. I sensed a real need in our community to begin gathering more in person – as a community. I also sensed a need to re-engage with Israel - since political turmoil had made it unclear what Americans could do to support her.
Since the events of October 7th, a day that will likely go down in infamy, the depth of our need for community and re-engaging with Israel has increased significantly.
Initially, I was reflecting on how during the festival holidays, we often put aside differences, focus more on the holy, and only after Sukkot and Simchat Torah do we re-emerge into the earthly and mundane. Communal and personal differences are often put aside during our fall holidays and then, like a wave, rush back in after the holidays are over.
This does make a great deal of sense. After all, during the holidays, we are told to reflect on our own imperfections, apologize for transgressions, and work on self-improvement. My challenge to the community was going to be to see if we could find a way to fend-off these things that divide us just a little longer and maintain this special harmony.
Alas, I had already seen some of this pettiness rear its ugly head. And so, I was going to use the example of Israel engagement as a way into this conversation.
Over the past 10-12 months, the inner conflicts in Israel have so divided our community that it had paralyzed us on the Israel engagement front like at no time before. So much was becoming unclear about the future of Israel that many of us didn’t even know how to process it. And so – we disengaged. We looked away.
Israel’s internal inability to reconcile dueling visions for the country has deeply impacted diaspora communities in North America and Europe. Israel has always had somewhat of a loose handle on defining its own present and future (a country without a constitution and with a multi-party parliamentary system will do that on occasion).
In many ways, that was its charm. It is young and old. It is religious and secular. It is the homeland of the Jewish people – yet the home to so many more other peoples and faiths. It is a place where women have challenges to certain rights – and yet a place where women have taken roles almost unimaginable in other countries around the world. It is a place where peace is desired with so much fervor, and yet, it is also a place where peace seems completely unattainable. My challenge was going to be to have us look beyond the current political paralysis in Israel and have us see the confusing elements of Israeli identity as invitations to engage with one of the most complicated places on the planet. My feeling was that to better understand the divisions in Israel was to better understand divisions in our own community and our own country.
And then. October 7th. Shabbat. Simchat Torah. Tragedy. Terror. Horror. The unspeakable. The indefensible.
We have found it not so hard to put aside differences. We have found it almost natural to come together and use the word - unity. We have found it now not so hard to look beyond the current government’s predicament to the very essence of what Israel is and what it was always meant to be - a homeland and refuge for the Jewish people. All the Jewish people. Everywhere. Anywhere. Period. Full stop.
When we lose sight of that we lose sight of ourselves, and why our communities exist in the first place.
As I read Ecclesiastes in this moment – so much speaks to me. We will mourn our dead and now, every Jewish baby born will mean that much more. We will try to heal and sadly, we will seek to kill. We will break down the infrastructure of evil that perpetrated this horror and we will try to build up our own broken lives. We will weep over so much loss and a future peace pushed even further away. Some of us are ready to embrace others - and need it. Many will push others away because they are just not ready to be human again. We have lost so much and so many will tear our garments to reflect our torn souls and broken hearts. Some of us will cry and wail, and some will remain silent – because there are no words. Hate will consume us. And yet, we will love – with all our might. We will dance again - soon – but not right now. We will laugh again - soon – just not right now. We will wage war. And we will continue to pursue peace with whomever is willing to turn their swords into plowshares. And then together, those likeminded lovers of life will plant the seeds for a new future. And of course, we will continue to mourn - like many of us have never mourned before.
We will recommit in so many ways to what it means to sustain a vibrant Jewish community. And from this moment forward, we will re-engage with Israel in ways that will enrich our own community, re-build a shattered nation, and re-connect Israel to her diaspora community.
From strength to strength.
Am Yisrael Chai!