The number 18, “chai,” has taken on new meaning for all of us. This number, which always represents life in Judaism, now brings us a feeling of sadness. It reminds us of the 18 days from the kidnapping of Naftali, Eyal, and Gil-Ad until the discovery of their bodies. It reminds us of the 18 days during which we prayed and hoped, only to be let down in the worst of ways. The pain is horrific, the sadness is deep, and the tragedy can lead to despair.
However, as we grieve as a nation with the families, and mourn as individuals, I believe that these 18 days reinforce the eternal strength of our nation and remind us that “am yisrael chai” – we are alive and well.
There was one moment on Sunday night at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv which captured this feeling for me on the deepest of levels. Two singers – Yonatan Razel, who is religious, and Tal Segev, who is secular – took the stage together. They sang a duet expressing their hope for the fate of boys and their faith in the eternal destiny of the Jewish people.
Sitting next to me were two of my colleagues – Health Minister Yael German and MK Penina Tamanu-Shata. There we were, a sabra from a very secular background, an Ethiopian immigrant who leads a traditional lifestyle, and a religious immigrant from the United States.
Near us sat the chairman of the Labor party, MK Isaac Herzog, alongside president-elect Reuven Rivlin; leaders with very different ideologies.
All of us put aside ideological and political disagreements without hesitation and sang together, prayed together, and together embraced the Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrah families.
The tens of thousands of people in the crowd exhibited this in the most vivid and inspirational ways. This unity of purpose and destiny was on display, as well, when the MKs and ministers prayed together at the Knesset, when the female MKs from all parties hosted the mothers of these wonderful boys just a few days ago, and even in the spontaneous gatherings of mourning throughout the country as we heard the unfortunate news.
There have been many loud voices asking why it takes a tragic circumstance to bring us together.
They call for us to find ways to maintain this unity after we mourn together for the boys.
I think these voices are making a big mistake. I believe that this unity is alive and well at all times.
In the political world, on a daily basis I see the camaraderie between MKs from different parties and ideologies. The public assumes that politicians from different parties must despise one another, but don’t see the frequent occurrence of political rivals sitting together over coffee, laughing at each other’s jokes and sharing in each other’s personal joys. The public sees and hears the extremism from citizens on all sides of the political and religious spectrum who make lots of noise and participate in assorted verbal attacks while forgetting that, throughout the country, religious and non-religious, left-wing and right-wing Israelis live in harmony with one another, work together and serve together.
I view these past 18 days as a gust of wind. The air is always there but it takes a gust of wind to remind us that air surrounds us at all times. The unity, love and caring among Jews is always there. These past 18 days simply reminded us of this phenomenon.
And that is why these 18 days continue the theme of “chai.”
The three boys, our three boys, are no longer alive but Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, is alive and well. We have a unity of purpose and destiny which exists at all times – during the good as well as the bad. We may have our disagreements.
We certainly have our share of difficulties with one another. However, despite all this, we share a common denominator which cannot be broken by any of our enemies.
We will mourn together while soldiers from diverse backgrounds will continue to search for the murderers, punish our enemies, and defend us together.
We will return to work together and we will strive to make the country a better place together.
We will rejoice in each other’s happy occasions together and continue to celebrate our successes and lick the wounds of our failures together, and, yes – we will continue debating and arguing – together.
Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad are no longer with us physically. But we, as a nation, are alive and well – physically and spiritually – with unity and love for one another. The “wind” of the past 18 days reminded us of this reality but it is always there and always will be there.
Am Yisrael Chai!
The author is a rabbi and a member of Knesset for the Yesh Atid party.