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
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
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
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.