Coronavirus isn’t the only threat dividing Jews, here's how we can unite

The whole Jewish people demonstrates a marvelous ability to mobilize in order to help the weak among us and achieve spiritual unity in times where physical unity is no longer possible.

'Limited' priestly blessing at the Western Wall (photo credit: WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION - HAIM ZACH / GPO)
'Limited' priestly blessing at the Western Wall
Borders closed; public places shuttered; friendliest of nations separated; friends and neighbors forced into seclusion; the elderly denied contact with the young for their own safety; even hugs and handshakes forbidden...
“Worldwide” doesn’t seem so wide anymore as we have entered a global state of siege.
Yet even now we feel the desire to save others from the feelings of loneliness and isolation. The understanding that we must be there for others grows stronger. Mutual responsibility has become a constant reality as we seek to protect and care for each other. Though we are forced into physical isolation, in the Jewish world not even one of us should ever feel alone.
The whole Jewish people demonstrates a marvelous ability to mobilize in order to help the weak among us and achieve spiritual unity in times where physical unity is no longer possible. Community is the soul of our people, even as it is adapting to this crisis.
At this difficult hour, I would like to offer all of us an opportunity to take pause and reflect.
We are in a moment of tribulation and peril for all humanity, and yet the global Jewish community will endure and continue to thrive in new ways because we know that these tribulations, too, shall pass. The combined efforts of governments, doctors and scientists will defeat the current plague, and ultimately things will return to normal. Yet, even when the borders reopen and planes fly again and our public spaces spring back to life, it is important that we remember the lessons of this period of time.
We have been given an opportunity to take a new look at the foundations of our personal and national existence – in the language of Zoom videoconferencing, which is so popular today, to “zoom in” and “zoom out.” It is a movement that combines both a narrow focus and proximity with a wider, distanced view of a big picture. One invites the other.
For years now, we Jews have been drifting apart, carried away by the currents of political bickering, short-sightedness, growing unwillingness to listen to different opinions and a general dilution of the very concept of Jewish identity from a rich fabric we once agreed on, to its current state. Yet “thanks” to the coronavirus, we’ve already learned that we can be far away, and yet very near.
Nowadays our relationships with our loved ones are not valued by physical proximity. We are able to foster relationships with those who matter to us even if they are far away.
In The Ethics of the Fathers (5:5), the Mishnah counts 10 miracles of the Second Temple period. One of them is unique: “They stood crowded but had ample space in which to prostrate.” When the Jews ascended the Holy Temple Mount during the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, the Temple was so crowded that one could lift his legs without falling to the ground and remain squeezed between his friends. Yet, when the time came to give praise to the Lord, miraculously everyone was provided with enough empty space to bow – and a gap was created of four cubits, or about two meters by today’s standards (!). Each one was given the personal space each individual needs to pour his heart out to the Sovereign of the World in a singular moment of grace.
And now – right before our eyes, we are presented with a unique opportunity, an enormous miracle, standing separated by the same two meters, yet joining together in hope, prayer and mutual support – crowded in spirit, joined in heart.
That Jewish heart that connects us now must beat ever stronger, even when these days of fear pass. This is the necessary “zoom in” that we must practice in order to connect to one another and refresh our sense of unity.
If we “zoom out” and take a broader view of ourselves as a nation, we must recognize that the mission of our people was and remains to bring light to this world – to strengthen the spirit of optimism, faith and brotherhood for all humanity. The virus has united us around a common purpose. As a people, we have been given the Divine biblical mandate: “and the families of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
With humility and respect, we must be the “rainbow in the cloud” which is an expression of God’s covenant of peace with the world. Recently we witnessed a joint prayer by all religious leaders on the roof of Jerusalem City Hall – a prayer for the peace of the world, for the peace of the universe. All of us are envoys, messengers to the whole world, working for the benefit of all.
Last September in Jerusalem, when we presented the Declaration of Our Common Destiny to President Reuven Rivlin of Israel, we endeavored to make a first step of our own toward this new hope. Our Declaration proclaims that we share common, deeply held Jewish values and principles that are timeless and unifying.
In our current circumstances, it is highly appropriate that the next stage of this groundbreaking initiative attempts to connect every Jew to one another through a crowd-sourced online movement to complete the Declaration. What was initially an innovative effort to engage with collective Jewish wisdom has become a symbol of our collective resilience and determination to work together toward a brighter future for Jews and all humanity, with even greater intensity and determination during such uncertain and unprecedented times.
Our goal now is to have as many Jews as possible worldwide contribute their own vision for the Jewish future by participating in the Our Common Destiny crowdsourcing initiative, which will then help inform the content of the Declaration.
In our diversity lies our strength as a people. We do not fear it – we embrace it, and we further declare that so much more unites us than divides us. We must defy the forces that pull us apart. We will find our common ground. We will renew and rekindle the eternal light of our common ideals. We will build, together, as a people, our common destiny.
This time of forced isolation will show us what is really important in our lives and what is required to make right the web of our connections. May we succeed in this necessary work!
The writer is the CEO of Sonshine Organization and the author of Expecting My Child. She is a member of the Our Common Destiny Scholar Forum.