We can work together to accomplish great things

Jews have much to learn from the late Senator John McCain

JOHN MCCAIN’S casket rests in front of mourners (photo credit: REUTERS)
JOHN MCCAIN’S casket rests in front of mourners
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We are a world divided. In Israel, there is huge chasm separating the ultra-Orthodox and the secular Jews. In America, there is a vast gulf between liberals and conservatives. Rather than trying to bridge these gaps, each day there seem to be more harsh words driving the wedge deeper and spurring more distrust.
If our two countries are to survive, the disparate groups within them need to unite and work together. This does not mean we ignore our differences; this means we choose to rise above them to actually get things done for the greater good.
That is what Acheinu, the outreach arm of Dirshu, a Jewish educational organization, is preaching. Each year, Acheinu holds a Day of Jewish Unity – this year on Friday, Sept. 7. On this day, Acheinu asks Jews everywhere to put aside the bickering and the snide comments to unite in prayer for peace. It is fitting that this day is observed in memory of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim wrote extensively on the importance of refraining from gossip and not slandering one another.
I’m the first to admit that being kind to everyone and holding your tongue can be very hard. When you staunchly disagree with someone, your first impulse is to fling a cutting retort, but if we follow the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim, we know that we should ignore that first impulse. If we pause and restrain ourselves, we can craft a response that, while dissenting, does not insult or impugn the other person.
Which brings me to US Senator John McCain.
McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, died on August 25 at age 81. He was a stalwart of the Republican Party and was famous for his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. Constantly expressing his frustration with how slowly the American government worked, McCain partnered with Democrats like Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy on campaign-finance reform, cap-and-trade bills and immigration reform, respectively.
Admittedly, as a conservative, I often strongly disagree with this approach, but I believe that all of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, can learn a lot from how McCain operated. Perhaps the greatest lesson he gave us is that it is worth putting aside our differences on certain issues.
Early in his political career, McCain was known for having a flash temper and saying unwise words, but he learned to control that in order to be the best senator he could. The man who graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at Annapolis became one of the most respected US legislators, known for his bipartisan approach, dedication to truth and allegiance to his country. Having suffered torture as a POW during the Vietnam War, one would be hard-pressed to discount McCain’s allegiance to his country, even if they disapproved of his political career.
McCain also taught us that taking the high road does not force you to compromise your beliefs. Throughout his years as senator, and especially in the last few years, McCain would disagree with his political party, but rarely did he turn his back on them personally. He stated his beliefs and refuted theirs without growing cruel or using personal attacks. He was able to express his opinions clearly and without reserve, no matter who it irritated. Even when he was the target of personal attacks for his approach to politics, he did not fight fire with fire. In his long life, McCain had learned that it was better to express your opinion clearly than stoop down to the level of lowly opponents.
Like McCain, we must all learn to reach across the aisle for the greater good. For Americans, that means finding the parallels between Democrat and Republican and using them to forge a stronger nation.
For Jews, emulating McCain means recognizing that all Jews – regardless of their level of observance or denomination – are Jews. We are one people, united in a common faith and, sadly, united by the many threats that still face us. Jews have been a constant target to be scapegoats and victims throughout the generations. Now, with antisemitism on the rise, and we need to stay strong and united.
On the Day of Jewish Unity this year, we all need to follow the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim and the example set by John McCain. We can be better people and we can work together to accomplish great things. We just need to remember what is important and set aside the things that separate us.
The writer is a frequent contributor to NOQ Report, the Resurgent, and has had pieces published in The Jerusalem Post, The Daily Wire and The American Spectator.