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EDITOR'S COMMENT.10 September 2009
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The Jewish people have a well known reputation for being strongly united. Our shared beliefs, common value system, and sense of fair play, are just some of the reasons we have survived the centuries of scorn, slavery, intolerance, and even the ultimate threat; extinction. I sincerely believe that without these strong and positive attributes, we would be history, rather than the important, and vital community we are today.

We Jews have a reputation for being people of strong opinions. As the old joke goes; if you put three Jews in a room together, you will wind up with four different opinions. We are not known for our reticence to express our ideas, nor do we ever cower from a friendly debate. Generally, in the end, we all shake hands, and at worst, agree to disagree. Sadly, a recent growing intolerance has delivered a dramatic departure from that general rule.

As a gentleman of a certain age, I was brought up in the very early days of Israel's independence as a Jewish state. In Hebrew school, which I attended every day after regular public school classes, I had instilled in me a deep pride and allegiance to our new country, so far away, and yet so close in our hearts. I remember how on Israel Independence Day, and on Simchas Torah, we would march around our synagogue, and the surrounding neighbourhood, waving our Israeli flags with great pride and fervour. Each week, at Shabbat services, the rabbi would lead us in a special prayer of thanks for the creation of the State of Israel, and for its success and safety in an area surrounded by nations who were, to put it mildly, not particularly friendly to its existence.

Back in those innocent days of my youth, and well into my adulthood, Israel was the one subject that always brought Jews together with a sense of pride and purpose. Many of my generation picked-up their roots and made Aliyah by leaving the U.S., or Canada, and moving to Eretz Yisroel. This was considered, by most, an admirable and courageous thing to do. I personally remained in the U.S. until moving to Canada in 1985. I now live in Montreal, a city with a very rich Jewish history, and a thriving and diverse Jewish community.

Recent engagements between Israel and the Palestinians has caused a disturbing rift among Jews. It appears the heat of the disagreement is far greater in North America than it is in Israel itself. That is not to say that everyone in Israel is holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah by a roaring campfire. Make no mistake, there is controversy, discussion, and hostility between these two groups, but they continue to search for common ground to find a workable solution. Sadly, here in North America, there appears to be a growing dismissal, and disregard for differing opinions.

The purpose of my comments is not to take sides, or to profess a particular point-of-view, regarding these matters. There are many grounds on which intelligent people can disagree. What disturbs me however, is the intolerance born of these discussions. People on the right hurl insults at those on the left, and vice versa. Those showing any sympathy for the Palestinians are often referred to as being anti-Israel, or even worse; anti-Semitic. On the other hand, people who take a strong stand in defense of Israel are often referred to as hate-mongers, and defenders of apartheid. I can think of no worse insult than for one Jew to refer to another Jew as an anti-Semite.

I believe it is possible for Jewish people to hold differing opinions on the subject of the Palestinian/Israeli situation, and still, in their hearts, love Israel deeply. There is a big difference between criticizing the actions of a particular government, and wishing harm on an entire population. It is also just as true that people who feel Israel must take strong actions against their perceived enemies, do not support engaging in war crimes, or believe in apartheid. When we reduce ourselves to labelling each other in such a hostile manner, especially when we have thousands of years of a shared common belief, and a humane set of precepts, we risk damaging deeply the fabric that has held us together through thick and thicker.

I do not pretend to have the answer to the problems Israel is facing with its Palestinian neighbours. I wish I did possess such wisdom. What I can do is try to facilitate a peace between two factions that should never be fighting in the first place. We already have actual enemies who would like to see us tear ourselves apart, and just disappear into the ether. For thousands of years that has been the goal, and desire, of so many of our oppressors. Hitler, during World War II, drew up plans for what he considered “The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.” What more proof or motivation do we need to stick together as a people?

Of course we can disagree. As I said earlier in this commentary, debating ideas is very much in our DNA, but the handshake at the end of the debate must be the goal.

Trying to sway opinion is fair play, but listening to what the other side has to say is important. Very often, in my life, when I felt I had all the answers to a problem, I would sit down and listen to someone I respected who had a different point of view.

I would actually learn something.

What I learned did not necessarily change my mind, but I gained insight and knowledge into the rationale and reasoning of the opposing argument. This alone enriched me, and added to my growth as a human being, and a Jew.

Please; discuss, argue, debate to your heart’s content, but always do so with respect, and fairness. For no matter how much we may disagree on any particular subject, we must remember that we are all Jews. We are all part of the same people who struggled through hell on earth to become the productive, respected, and fair-minded people the world has come to know and respect.

We must never be guilty of tearing ourselves apart, and diminishing each other and our place in history.

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers and their loved ones a very happy, prosperous and healthy New Year. May you be inscribed in the book of life, and may you continue to earn that inscription for many years to come.


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