Netanyahu speaking at a recent election campaign event.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On a cold, gray afternoon, our extended motorcade of luxury vehicles was surrounded by the flashing lights and roaring sirens of the local police escort. Scores of cars and motorcycles and a helicopter above accompanied our delegation as we made our way through the streets of Berlin and out to the pastoral countryside. The beautiful trees, lush greenery and the serene waters – while only a short drive from our hotel – could not have been further away. It was unfathomable that Wannsee was right here.
The caravan came to a stop on the gravel road leading into the tremendous estate. We exited our cars and slowly walked up the path to the main house. As our guide led us through the rooms, the gravity of what took place here shook us all. We entered the dining hall and heard the detailed account of the “conference.” It was in this very room that Heydrich, Himmler, Eichmann and the other monsters ate caviar, drank champagne and toasted to the Final Solution of the Jewish question.
Following protocol, upon leaving the dining hall, I pulled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aside to sign the guest book. As he leaned over to start writing, I looked at the person standing on his other side: Likud Minister Yossi Peled, the former IDF general and head of Northern Command – and most importantly for this visit, a Holocaust survivor.
Peled is a great hero of Israel: his story is that of true legend. As a young child at the outset of the war, his parents left him in the care of a Christian family, and as such, he was the family’s sole survivor. Years later, he was found, brought to Israel and went on to become a decorated fighter and leader. As Netanyahu stood up, Yossi and I were able to read the three words that the prime minister had written in the visitors book at Wansee – “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live)!
With tears in our eyes, the prime minister of Israel and a minister of the Israeli government and a holocaust survivor recited kaddish. In the very room where the Nazi’s plotted the death and destruction of the Jewish people, I stood that day with the leaders of the vibrant Jewish state.
That trip to Wansee in 2009 was one of triumph, emotion and sorrow – but most of all of for me, it was a moment of unity. Standing in the most treacherous of places, it was abundantly clear to all present that we are one people with one destiny.
While the majority of Israelis consider Jewish unity essential to our strength and survival, in the decade since that trip to Germany, national unity has made but a few public appearances. There have been moments of national tragedy like the kidnapping of the three high school boys in Gush Etzion, national concern like the wars in Gaza, and national triumph like Netta Barzilai winning the Eurovision. These moments bring to light the eternal bond we all know is right beneath the surface, just waiting to appear.
Events and affairs can bring unity, but so can leaders – and it is here that we are truly lacking. We look to our leaders for clear policies on security, economy, health care and education, but we also look to our elected representatives to work to unite us as a people. While ideology and worldviews dictate party lines, we should not lose sight of our commonality and that which unites us.
One example of such a leader was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He did not see a rightist or a leftist, religious or secular, Sephardi or Ashkenazi: He saw a Jew. There is a story told about a new follower of Chabad who was enamored with the great respect all sections of the Jewish community had for the Rebbe. Upon meeting him, the student asked how it was possible that so many felt such a deep love? The Rebbe simply responded that the love the community has for him is but a reflection of the love he has for every single one them. Jewish unity was not just an ideal for the Rebbe but rather a way of life.
As we enter the final sprint of this ugly election cycle, it is imperative upon those vying for our votes to remember where we come from and where we are going. We may not all agree on the future of Judea and Samaria or how to respond to threats from the North and South. We may not agree on capitalism vs. socialism, or who, how, and where one can pray at the Western Wall. But we should always be reminded that both sides of these ideological debates share a common goal and a common destiny.
Clear opinions and strong ideology are central to true and effective leadership, but the ability to unite and bring people together is no less essential.
Let us, the people, impress upon our contending leaders during these final days before elections, to embrace that which unites us. Battle the democratic battle to the very end, but never lose sight of the big picture. We are one people with one destiny. As Winston Churchill said: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”The writer served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is now an international political and business consultant.
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