(By Tova Lebovits)The Hebrew month of Av, in which we mourn the destruction of both our holy Temples in Jerusalem, is here. We are taught that this calamity was due to hate and division amongst our people. While reading a recent article by David Hazony titled “The Death of Peoplehood: Divisions of Politics & Religion is tearing American Jews apart,” I was drawn back in time to a ‘passionate’ encounter.
I was sitting in my friend’s dorm room chatting when two students joined us. Our lively conversation soon turned to politics. Both young men were articulate and passionate about their opposing views and before we knew it, the discussion became a loud argument. We found ourselves physically trying to pull these two students apart.
So what were they fighting about? One belonged to the ‘Left’ side of the political spectrum, while the other to the ‘Right,’ need I say more? They were both newly arrived, Jewish, Zionist students from abroad studying in Israel, one from Argentina, the other from the Soviet Union.
Their convictions were unshakable. While listening to their heated arguments, I felt that they were both caring, idealistic people, with strong Jewish identities, who felt personally threatened by the others’ views. When they looked at each other, they saw an enemy. Yet if it hadn’t been for politics they could have been good friends; they were quite alike.
As their stories unfolded, I began to have an inkling of what was taking place, but it was only many years later that I began to grasp what had really gone on.
The student from Argentina was a staunch Leftist. He originally joined a Leftist group in Argentina to fight the wrongs and dangerous anti-Semitism of the Right fueled by escaped Nazis, and a notoriously corrupt government who was making many of its citizens disappear. Once he joined this group, their ideologies as a whole were incorporated into his worldview and were synonymous with fighting the great evil that threatened not only himself as a Jew but the dangers to humans everywhere.
The student from the Soviet Union, who felt threatened as a human and a Jew by the Soviet Government who suppressed freedoms and religion, joined a group on the Right to combat the Leftist Communist entity. To him his anti-Communist stance meant survival and not some abstract idea, as many innocents were inhumanly incarcerated. Here too, he assimilated his groups’ ideals, and his fight against the Left now included acceptance of a complete ideology that became a fight for human rights and basic freedoms everywhere.
Were they aware of the mutual bonds they shared? Did they know that their basic instinct for Jewish survival was the catalyst for their present orientations and they were both ‘fighting’ for the same personal, universal and religious freedoms? Could they understand that any ideology taken to an extreme, on the Right or the Left is bound to cause injustice? Could they possibly understand that every situation has its own inequities and that you cannot blindly transport an ideology in its entirety to another situation, time, and place without creating new injustices?
This little encounter took place in the early seventies. Over the years these very same, arguments keep repeating themselves in a variety of versions. Are we aware of how and why our convictions originate and do we have the knowledge or wisdom to know what part of a particular ideology we espoused as youths, is no longer valid or relevant?
These labels are not stagnant. They live in different environments within a variety of contexts and cultures and are continually undergoing changes. Yet we often relate to them from within outdated frameworks. How long did it take until some were able to distinguish between the old anti-Fascist Left who supported the down trodden-- and the present day Anti-colonial-universalist Left who supports terrorists and tyrannical dictators at the expense of their victims…Many still don’t have a clue.
We all have friends or family who are on the opposite side of the political or religious spectrum; yet despite misgivings we basically accept them because we know they are good, though to us, somewhat ‘misguided’ folks. We cut them some slack. Yet when it comes to strangers of our persuasion, especially when the issues are Israel or Jewish survival, it''s difficult to withhold anger, fear, pain & resentment towards them for betraying and endangering us. We put up a wall and can’t relate. Sometimes a mere hint, phrase or slogan alarms us, shuts us off and they are our worst enemies.
It’s time to put a face on the other side and start a dialogue; otherwise our peoplehood is truly in DANGER. We are not abandoning or compromising our convictions and truths nor are we promoting rampant relativism, when we speak to the other side. We are giving hope and change a chance. We need to educate ourselves with facts and allow the process to begin. We can channel positive energies toward imparting knowledge and our views and learn to focus on things we share as well. Despite drawbacks, we must emphatically repeat truth and facts rather than let personal attacks prevail. Some of it is bound to reach them eventually.
It took decades of misinformation, innocence and ignorance to create this negative climate and it will take persistence and insistence, persuasion and perspiration to change it. There will always be those we can’t touch but we may also find ourselves acquiring new insights that may elevate the communicative quality and clarity of our discourse.
The lesson of Tisha Be’Av is very important today as ever. We must reach out to our co-religionists. We are told that one day Tisha Be’Av, the day of mourning will become a day of rejoicing. May Hashem hasten that day as we reach out to one another.