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March 6, 2016 8:14 am

Unity = Survival

avatar by Harry Zeitlin

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A Jewish Ethiopian child holds an Israeli flag. Photo: Ethiopian Diaspora Forum.

A Jewish Ethiopian child holds an Israeli flag. Photo: Ethiopian Diaspora Forum.

One of the miracles of the Jewish people is that, at least as a core group, we’ve remained united as one. Taking into consideration our vast differences in thought and customs, the miracle is that much greater. Our contemporary state of Israel is comprised of Jew and Arab, Christian, Druse and others, and in the Jewish sector we have religious and secular, ultra-orthodox and anti-religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and North African, along with Jews from Yemen, Ethiopia, India and China; we have Sabras, native-born Israelis, and recent immigrants.

Many advocate a much more vigorous opposition to terrorist attacks, while there are those who, just as passionately, advocate conciliatory relations with our Arab neighbors. The cliché of “two Jews, three opinions” is reality, but in the face of all of that, with a tiny number of exceptions, truly statistically insignificant, Israelis identify as “Israeli” and, increasingly, most participate in sharing the responsibilities to maintain the nation in security and prosperity. Although people are more than aware of the faction(s) they identify with, you don’t have many hyphenated Israelis.

The Jewish people are rooted in this miraculous bonding of many into one. While the original 12 brothers could look to their father, Jacob, as a uniter, as the generations passed, he, as well as the original brothers, became more and more distant memories, largely recalled in the collective experience of Torah, which itself became the great unifier of the Jewish people over the millennia. While we’re taught that each of the 12 tribes had its own gate through which to enter Jerusalem – in fact, each had its own nusach (liturgy), or style of approaching God in prayer – we have always primarily identified as bnei yisrael, the children of Israel, rather than a Dan-Jew or a Naftali-Jew or any other hyphenated designation.

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Emphasizing this primal connection, most of our years in exile have been spent not even knowing our individual tribal affiliations. Just as, kaballistically, movement towards God requires uniting the opposites of love and fear, we’ve always realized that even passionately held ideologies and affiliations must be transcended (not repudiated) for our mutual survival. Our entire intellectual tradition is based on understanding and accepting these differences. We are, indeed, the original e pluribus unum, “from many….one.”

Contrast the spectacular decline we’ve witnessed over the past almost-decade in the United States. With official nurturing of “identity-politics,” the nation whose (de facto) motto has long been e pluribus unum is on the verge of disintegrating into a society where the hyphenated portion — be it “African,” “Asian,” “Latino,” “Arab,” as well as “lesbian,” “gay,” “trans,” “straight,” etc. — takes more precedence than “American.”

A society that divides itself into the mythical “1-percenters” and “the other 99-percenters” into men and women is a nation whose economy and innovation have lost all vigor; whose military strength, an unavoidable necessity in a much-less-than-perfect world, is a mere shadow of what it was only a decade ago; and whose international status has fallen from undisputed world-leader to a sad joke.

Although there are some in Israel, dwelling in the extreme fringes, who have lost their sense of common purpose, the state of Israel, less 70 years old and, from before its inception, always confronted by formidable armies and bands of sworn enemies, is in no danger of disappearing. Nor, thanks to its vigorous internal disagreements about virtually everything except loyalty to Israel, of stagnating. Just as the Mishkan (Dwelling) enlisted the donations and handiwork of all, as their individual hearts (souls) inclined, we all have a hand in crafting the future of the Jewish people. Kol yisrael yesh lahem chelek l’olam habah — all of Israel has a hand in the world of the future.

  1. Although we commonly distinguish between Kohen, Levi and Yisrael today, we recognize that these categories, tribal affiliations, are tentative and, at this time, far from certain.
  2. The United States was founded as a republic of the 13 original colonies. Curiously, taking into account Yosef’s tribal identity split between his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, there were actually 13, not 12 tribes of Israel. In the desert, the Mishkan, which was also the camp of the tribe of Levi, was surrounded by the other 12.

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