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September 17, 2018 9:47 am

Kol Nidre: A Call for Jewish Unity

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Joshua Goldstein

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A Torah scroll. Photo: RabbiSacks.org.

It can be claimed that no single day in the Jewish liturgical calendar is as clearly meant to showcase the unity of the Jewish people as Yom Kippur. And during Yom Kippur, no single service symbolizes that unity more than the famous Kol Nidre.

A short declaration is made with a call that we all stand together near the start of the service: “By the authority of the Court on High and by authority of the court down here, by the permission of One Who Is Everywhere and by the permission of this congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with sinners.”

So all Jews, regardless of their religiosity and regardless of their mistakes, are to stand together in prayer as one united congregation.

If that is not clearly a goal of the day, then why are so many of the pronouns used in the liturgy in the plural? We are each praying for ourselves and for each other — for all Jews, everywhere in the world.

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Also at Kol Nidre, we plead: “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst.”

We in Herut North America, as part of the Herut World Movement, conduct a “Jewish Unity Challenge” that comes to mind again as we celebrate the High Holidays. This “Challenge” is a personal call to all Jews, including you, to start reaching out across the aisle — to create one united Jewish people. Just because Jews come from many different backgrounds and hold different beliefs doesn’t mean that we cannot show love and respect for one another.

Our diverse types, colors, and traditions should be seen as a strength for all of us, rather than foster exclusivity, elitism, selectiveness, and even superiority.

Ahavat Yisrael — the unconditional love of our fellow Jews — should not be seen as some unattainable dream. Rather, in our time, we can make it a reality. We should not have to rely on the threat of antisemitism and impending dangers affecting Israel as the only things that unite us.

The lack of love and unity was considered by the ancient Jewish sages in the era of the Mishnah to be the root cause of the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. If we can reintroduce ourselves and start the process of accepting one another, in the spirit of Ahavat Yisrael, we can again grow as individuals — and as a collective nation.

The Jewish Unity Challenge is designed to spark a conversation between the diverse types of Jews, so that we can achieve greater things for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It is time to put aside our differences, and focus on the wonderful time-honored things that unite us as Jews.

What we are talking about is simple, yet we call it a challenge because it is not so easy. When it comes down to it, many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to leaving our comfort zone. But it is time to look at the bigger picture, to let go a little, and to reach out to one another.

Let us discuss what we believe may be best for Israel and the Jewish people. Let us argue, but as we discuss these opinions, we must remember that all Jews are responsible for each other.

On October 6, 1943, three days before Yom Kippur, 400 rabbis marched in Washington, DC to call for Allied action to save European Jews. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, an annual “Simchat Torah Rally for Soviet Jewry” was organized throughout the US. For example, in 1968 and 1971, rallies were held at the Washington Monument. In 1973 a memorable rally was held in Philadelphia. Natan Sharansky’s Philadelphia speech at a rally in 1986, just half a year or so after his release from the USSR, was a remarkable highlight of these rallies.

Late last year we marked the 30th anniversary Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews. That December 6, 1987 rally saw more than a quarter million American Jews unite on the National Mall in Washington to stand up for Soviet Jews at what was the single largest gathering of Jews in US history.

Let us show that we can all love each other in Jewish unity during this High Holiday season and always. The Talmud Bavli introduces the Aramaic phrase kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, meaning that all of the people of Israel are responsible for each other. Let each of us meditate on that idea, grow from it, and take action.

Joshua Goldstein is the chairman of Herut North America and a board member of the American Zionist Movement on behalf of Herut. Joshua was a delegate at the 36th and 37th World Zionist Congress. Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US section. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education. More about Herut can be found here: http://herutna.org/.

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