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Diversity, Democracy, and Family: Happy Re-Birth Day, Israel

April 26, 2012 3:02 pm 0 comments

Haifa, Israel. Photo: wiki commons.

Jews the world over rejoice today as the modern miracle of Israel celebrates 64 years. There are those among us who would boycott her. There are those among us who would sanction her. There are those among us that would sing her praises all the while acting against her best interests. The question is – why?

On the right, there are those who are unhappy with the decisions of Israel’s leaders. Firing mid-level officers for doing their job after months and months and months of “showing restraint” and sending the police to drag Jews out of their homes while allowing massive illegal Arab building to continue unabated in the Galil and elsewhere does not help this cause.

On the left, there are those who are unhappy with the decisions of Israel’s leaders. Passing laws that legalize Jewish settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel, protecting Israel’s civilians with roadblocks and military might while holding hard-core murderers and terrorists in jail does not help this cause.

So who is the “true” supporter of Israel? Who has her best interest at heart? Which side is the right one and which is wrong?

In Israel, there are at least 24 hours a year where this question, for the most part, is put aside. These 24 hours are followed, with nary a second to breathe in between, with 24 more where again, for the most part, these questions are put aside.

Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut – the Day of Remembrance and the Day of Independence – find the vast plurality of Israel standing in unity. We unite as a people at the worst of times – and we also unite as a people at the best of times. We may argue the merits of this decision or that until our faces are blue – but if G-d forbid something horrible happens – or by the grace of G-d something great happens, suddenly, left and right unite.

Why? How is it that we can put aside our disagreements, be they petty or of major consequence, at our moments of greatest emotion? Would it not be logical that when emotions are highest and the adrenaline is pumping hardest – we would become more ornery? More upset with each other? More divisive?

No. This is not the Jewish way and it never has been.

We are a people of extremes. We have always been a people of extremes. We have extreme intellectual faculties, extreme opinions, extreme rules, extreme ideas, extreme dreams and extreme ideas. (Please don’t get me started on the extreme levels of pressure we put on ourselves and our children and the infamously extreme levels of Jewish guilt we all live with.)

We are also a people of extreme successes and failures. Just look at the world news – for every Jew winning a Nobel Prize in this discipline or that – a Jew is failing us all and going to jail for his/her crimes. For every victory in the field, there is a failure of command, leadership or political courage that causes us to beat ourselves up from the right, the left, and more often than not – from both. Yet, when faced with the news of each extreme success and each extreme failure – we put aside our differences and look at that person as a brother, a sister, a member of the tribe, for better or for worse – as a fellow Jew.

In his seminal 1956 address Kol Dodi Dofek (The Voice of My Beloved is Knocking) the great Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik zt”l (The Rav) analyzed the miracles of Israel’s re-birth and found at least six knocks of HaShem at the doors of humanity. Each of these knocks, (military, political, educational, religious, sociological, communal) was unique but dependent. They may have been independent knocks but they were all very dependent on one another to be heard and acted upon. The changes that each knock of HaShem represented were in and of themselves extreme – and called for major changes in the global society and the Jewish one if they were to be heard and acted upon. The knocks of HaShem called for an unprecedented and extreme level of unity. The knocks called for an extreme level of hand holding and cooperation between diverse groups who traditionally did not get along.

A people of extremes, the survivors of extreme hate in Europe, Asia, Africa and in fact in America of that era too, were called by HaShem to hear Him knocking for extreme change, to come together in extreme unity and to help Him build an rejoice in an extreme miracle.

We Jews are an extremely tight knit family. Families fight and argue, yell and scream, rant and rave – especially when things are stable. But push a family into the corner, or provide it with reason for celebration – and, usually, family members they will come together in profound and extreme ways.

This is the simple answer to such a profound question. This is the reason why we can sing and dance together, cry together, mourn together, fight together, defend together, celebrate together and build together. We are a family, a family re-born in our home after 2,000 years of dealing on our own with our neighbors cruelty and brutality and our own despair at separation from each other.

We are a family of extremes, of diverse opinions and a multiplicity of priorities. Yet we are a family. We fight each other within like a family and we protect each other from outsiders like a family.

Let’s recognize the extreme miracle of Israel’s re-birth after 2,000 years.

Happy Re-Birth Day Israel! Welcome Home to the Family of HaShem!

IDF LTC (Res.) Mike Cohen, PhD is the first traveling scholar appointed by Rabbis Shlomo Riskin’s Center for Jewish & Christian Understanding & Cooperation, a member of the Ohr Torah Stone Educational System in Efrat, Israel. He is the editor of the recently published book Zionism, Post-Zionism & The Arab Problem (Hebrew: 2011 Gefen Publishers, Jerusalem; English: 2012 Professors Press & Westbow Press). His website is:

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