The week’s lessons

We still have time to find all the ways we are similar to each other and to become united once again.

April 23, 2015 21:24
Mount Herzl

Mount Herzl military cemetery. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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I believe there is no other time that better expresses the fate of the Jewish people in Israel than the week between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars.

Many of us have lost a loved one either in the Holocaust or during one of Israel’s wars. We all feel the burden of the heavy load the Jewish people have been carrying since the time of our ancestors.

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In the Passover story, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt for more than 200 years until God took us out with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

When the First Temple was destroyed, we were exiled to Babylonia, but we came back home and rebuilt the temple – only to have it destroyed again and be exiled again, this time for two millennia. We can all feel the pain of being thrown out of Spain and the horrors of the Holocaust carried out by the Nazis.

But we came together and moved back to our homeland, created a state and declared our independence. We dried up the swamps and built up a prosperous industry, strong economy and powerful military. 

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When we left Egypt for the Promised Land, nobody asked if we were Jewish. When we came back from our exile in Babylonia and rebuilt the temple, nobody checked to see if our skin was black or white.


And when we were exiled by the Romans, no one argued over who were better – Ashkenazim or Sephardim.

When we were expelled by Queen Isabella during the Inquisition, and when Hitler sent us to the gas chambers, nobody cared if we were haredi or secular, right-wing or left-wing.

But when we finally returned to our homeland, declared our independence and fought for the right to live here as Jews, suddenly we stopped being just plain Jews. No longer were we one nation with a shared destiny. We split into a bunch of factions: workers, revisionists, secular Zionists, anti-Zionists.

The Ashkenazim began behaving arrogantly toward their Yemenite neighbors, who looked down on the Bukharans, who looked down on the Moroccans, who looked down on other newcomers who arrived in the State of Israel after them.

The only issue that has managed to unite all the various Jewish communities in Israel is their common hatred of terrorists.

We formed a government and built cities. We founded factories, ports and airports. We created one of the most sophisticated and powerful militaries in the world. We designed missiles and equipped ourselves with anti-missile systems.

We invented economic and physics models that have won Nobel Prizes.

We built roads and laid down railroad tracks (although admittedly we’ve had a hard time getting the light-rail up and running in Tel Aviv). And, finally, we became the Start-Up nation.

This week, we celebrated 67 years of our beautiful and unified nation.

And as we do every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week we stood still in silence for two minutes as we remembered our loved ones who perished, like my paternal grandparents who were murdered at Auschwitz. Once again, my father sat with my son and told him the story of how he had immigrated to Israel as a survivor and how he had joined the Palmah and then the IDF. He spoke about how he was seriously wounded in the War of Independence, and what happened in each subsequent war.

Every year we hand out flags at intersections and gather at local cemeteries to conduct ceremonies commemorating our loved ones who’ve fallen in Israel’s wars and terrorist attacks. We gathered this year for the 67th time in city centers to light the torches on Independence Day and to watch the fireworks together.

And we feel happy and united. At least for a couple of days. We forget about the divisiveness, the hatred, the polarization and the arrogance.

For a moment it feels like we are one unified nation again.

But then the festivities end and we return to our daily routine and reality. Human nature takes over, political interests multiply, and power seekers renew their activity.

Writers, artists, poets and professors go back to promoting their ideas on every street corner and in every morning TV talk show, and overnight, politicians go back to emphasizing how different we were from one another.

An entire nation woke up the morning after the elections without any leadership to look up to.

Our country is rife with rifts and conflict and without a leader who could bring about stability and put an end to political blackmail. Once again, instead of coming together as a whole, we have a society that is split up into Ashkenazim and Sephardim, blacks and whites, women and men, secular and religious, Arabs and Jews. Instead of focusing on all of the ways we are similar to each other and working together to improve our community, we’re always emphasizing our differences and sowing hatred and divisiveness.

Instead, we should be focusing on love and mutual acceptance.

But it’s not too late. We still have time to find all the ways we are similar to each other and to become united once again.

If we would just be a little more understanding of each other, encourage each other, love our neighbors and be accepting and tolerant of people who are different than ourselves, we could once again be a nation with a vision and be a light unto the nations.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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