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July 7, 2021 11:18 am
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Tisha B’Av: Accepting Jews Where They Are

avatar by Joshua Goldstein

Opinion

A Torah scroll. Photo: RabbiSacks.org.

During the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, an opportunity presents itself to us to engage in introspection and healing. Tisha B’Av solemnly remembers the horrific destruction of the Temples and the ensuring degradation of our people in exile.

Although this time is marked by mourning, it also presents us with a golden opportunity for healing the rifts we have between the streams that prevent Jewish unity.

The Sages stated that the Second Temple’s destruction was due to the baseless hatred of its time. Today, this hatred has reached epic proportions.

We have perfected, institutionalized, sanctioned, and largely ignored our unparalleled hatred for one another. We might have even surpassed what our ancestors were guilty of. Jewish in-fighting between our different streams, continues to divide and weaken us.

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What kind of power could we reclaim, if we were to start acting the way our tradition teaches? When do we start the grass roots efforts of connecting the disparate parts of our dysfunctional people?

Please stop judging Jews for how they dress. Stop judging Jews based upon the shul or temple they go to or don’t go to. Accept Jews “where they are.”

Too many religious people like to think that they can lead “stray Jews” back. Progressive Jews like to show how insignificant “traditional” Jews are, by showing how great their worldly causes are.

Truth be told, there is merit in both approaches — but it must be a more balanced one. Jews connecting where they can, and helping one another “where they are,” is the greatest improvement we can make collectively, as a nation, right now.

Balaam the prophet, hired to curse the ancient Israelites in the desert, summed up unity of the Jewish people as a blessing, when he said, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob.” This reference lauded the fact that the encamped Jews faced their tents in one direction, respecting the privacy of one another’s homes. Notice how the prophet could have referenced other aspects of the ancient Israelites, but simple respect ranked highest in this blessing.

Balaam’s message of unity highlights this simple goal. Despite the “tribal” differences then and now, accepting Jews “where they are” is the key to restoring Jewish strength.

Moses was definitely not the perfect person for the job of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses was raised in the aristocracy as an Egyptian prince, and at the same time, he lived as an “outcast” — separate from his people who were in slavery. Perhaps he was chosen because he could not claim to be fixed in the aristocracy of the oppressors, nor stuck in the slave mentality of the downtrodden slave.

He may have been chosen because he was a man from both worlds. The people whom he was charged with leading, were not the type you would assume, would be able to live in and establish a home in the Land of Israel. And yet, they did just that.

We, as Jews, are so good at hating one another, isolating ourselves from one another, and separating ourselves from one another, that Tisha B’Av provides a remedy for uniting.

Tragedy and collective mourning, however, is not enough to revitalize a nation. Whether it be Poway or the Tree of Life attack, it is time to start connecting with other Jews by meeting them “where they are.”

Antisemitism is a painful reminder that others will not accept Jews. Only when we can develop the mindset of inclusion can we ever hope to become a stronger people, and command the respect of others. Because if we desire the respect of others, we need to start by giving it first — to one another. As Tisha B’Av arrives, take on the practice of meeting Jews “where they are.” It would be our greatest achievement and a turning point for our people.

Joshua Goldstein is chairman of Herut North America. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education. In 2020, Goldstien was a delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress for Herut. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/ 

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