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Night Light

Yom Revi'i, 29th of Cheshvan, 5776
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's now the twilight of the Jewish year, when the glorious sunset of the high holidays fades away and we head into the dark time of year. It's many months to Passover, when day breaks again on the Jewish calendar. We go through the same cycle each year, enduring the oppressive dark of winter until the dawn of freedom in spring. "Vayehi erev, vayehi voker," "And it was evening, and it was morning" - each day begins with darkness and fear, but eventually light and love win out.

Watching the news over the last few months, it feels like the Jewish world, and all the world, is struggling through the dark of a night. The Jewish family around the globe suffers from a lack of achdus. In Jerusalem, we saw Orthodox Jews fighting with secular Jews over the culture of the Holy City.1 In the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, the Jewish community in America became deeply divided,2 and the deal strained the community's relationship with Israel.3

We also saw a lack of achdus within the family of nations. In Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs fought over the right to go up to the Temple Mount, the place destined to be a "house of prayer for all peoples."4 We saw Muslims stabbing Jews on the street, and Jews shooting many more Muslims. For some time, the Netanyahu government divided Jerusalem, "Jerusalem, built like a city joined tightly together."5 Some Jews, Muslims, and other peoples came together to march for peace, while others built concrete walls to separate. Vayehi erev - it's night - and the darkness is like exile, separating us from each other.

Yet as Jews, we know, vayehi voker, the morning will come. From the Exodus from ancient Egypt to the founding of the modern State of Israel, we've come through many dark nights of exile and into the daylight of freedom. It's evening, and then it's morning, and each "day" is different. Right now the darkness that we're struggling through is a lack of achdus. We can't see each other, we feel separate from each other, we need a little light to show us that we're not alone. The powers that be try to divide, but a new generation strives to connect, bringing together the different parts of our people.

The Jewish nation has a special ability to break free of the dark and into the light, but it's not only for our sake. HaShem charged the Jews with a special mission, "to be a light unto the nations,"6 leading all peoples in fulfilling G-d's plan for the world. On this day of creation, our task is to achieve achdus, healing the breaches in the Jewish family, and within the family of nations. If the Jewish people can succeed at coming together in peace, despite our differences, then we can inspire the others nations of the world to join together as one.

Each week on Shabbat we look forward to this great dawn, saying "... And it was evening, and it was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth were completed, and all their legion. And on the seventh day G-d finished His work that He made ..."7 In Jewish tradition, the number 7 represents completion. We wish each other a Shabbat Shalom on the seventh day of each week hoping for that seventh and final period of this world, when all peoples will live together in peace with each other and with HaShem.

Yet while Shabbat is about completion, it's not the end. Each week after Shabbat, night comes again and we journey into the dark of a new week. Each year after the sunset of the high holidays, we go through another dark period at the start of the new year. Though the sun sets behind us, on the other horizon a new light begins to glow. It starts with only a pinpoint in the black, but then another, and another, as the stars come out. In another month we'll celebrate Chanukah, the eight day festival of lights.

On Chanukah we remember the miracle of a light that was supposed to last only one day, but went on day after day after day - for eight days - and even to this day, when we kindle our own lights. "Eight is the number of infinity," sings Jewish reggae star Matisyahu in his Chanukah pop song Miracle, "one more than what you know how to be." On Shabbat we look to the seventh "day," the final era of peace in this world. On Chanukah we look beyond, to what comes next. It's the Jewish belief, and the belief of many of the world's religions, that there is more to life than this world - there's a much bigger world to come that is our ultimate destiny.8

As Jews, we have a special role to play in HaShem's plan for the world. G-d gave us the job of leading all of the nations to recognize HaShem and live together in an ethical and peaceful society. And to achieve that goal, the different parts of our family must unite. But while we are special in one sense, G-d gave all of the peoples of the world unique abilities, spiritual and physical, each nation with its own special role in HaShem's plan. I wonder if perhaps all of the nations of the human family might need to join up to fulfill our ultimate purpose. I think that could be the larger promise of our efforts for peace, though it may be far away.

For now, we still struggle through the dark of separation, vayehi erev. It's night in Jerusalem, in America, and in all of our communities. The different parts of the Jewish family, and the various peoples of the world, remain divided. We feel so small, and alone, and it's scary in the dark. But all it takes is a little light to see that we're not alone. Each connection we make matters, each step toward achdus with another Jew kindles more light. And as that light grows, it inspires all peoples to connect with each other, and with HaShem.

Sometimes the night is so dark that we wonder if we'll ever make it to the light of day. But the Jewish people, perhaps more than any other, know that's not true. Each week at the Shabbat table, each year at Passover, in every generation, even after thousands of years, vayehi voker, it will be morning, and we'll go into that light together.

Layla tov. :)

This post is dedicated to the memory of Chaim Haviv, 78, who was killed in Jerusalem in the attack on Egged bus #78 on the 30th of Tishrei, 5776, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. May there soon be peace in Jerusalem, and may his neshama have an aliyah (may his soul go up).

1 Chabin, M. (2015, Sept. 13). Orthodox and secular Jews fight over shaping Jerusalem’s character. USA Today. Retrieved from Religion News Service.
2 Grossman, R. (2015, Aug. 26). Iran nuclear proposal brings discord among Jews. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
3 Ackerman, G. and Bloomberg. (2015, Oct. 1). Israel's divide with U.S. Jews exacerbated by Iran Nuclear Deal. Bloomberg. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
4 Isaiah 56:7
5 Psalms 122:3
6 Isaiah 49:6, et al.
7 Genesis 1:31-2:2
8 In Jewish tradition, the present world is called olam hazeh (this world) while the next world is known as olam habah (the world to come).

Yes, Please

Yom Shishi, 20th of Elul, 5775
Friday, September 4, 2015

"Ani LeDodi, V'Dodi Li," "I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me," sings King Solomon in a famous verse of Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs.1 In Hebrew, the initial four letters of this phrase spell a new word: ELUL, the name of the sixth month of the Jewish calendar, the month we're in right now. The month of Elul is a month of love, when, after the breakup period during the months of Tammuz and Av, HaShem is extra sweet to us to help us back into our relationship with Him. This time of special closeness comes before the serious days from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, when we take stock of our relationships with HaShem and with each other. After being forgiven on Yom Kippur, HaShem and the Jews finally consumate their love in the sukkah, a kind of honeymoon suite, during the year-end holiday of Sukkot.

The month of Elul is also known as the month of the besulah (the virgin), symbolizing the Jewish people as a bride, and HaShem as our groom.2 The book of Shir HaShirim is actually a love song about a bride and a groom who have been separated but seek to reunite. Traditionally, the song is understood to be about the love between HaShem and the Jewish people. But I think the story of an estranged bride and groom can also represent any relationship where people have become separated but want to get back together, like one Jew with another. In Elul, it's time to make up, and as in any relationship, there are two ways to do that. One is to look back at your mistakes and apologize, which we do from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur. But in Elul we do it the other way, by being a little nicer to our beloved, showing them a little more sweet.

Sugar - Maroon 5

In the month of the Elul, "the King is in the field," the parable goes - HaShem comes out to meet all the Jewish people, whoever we are, wherever we are, to draw us closer to Him.3 It's an act of great kindness for the King to make Himself available to everyone in this way. During the rest of the year G-d is in His palace, as it were, and without a special pass we can't get close to Him. But HaShem doesn't only come out to see us for our sake, G-d comes because He wants the relationship too. HaShem is not a stoic, unfeeling King, but a warm and loving King, even a King with a sense of humor. When the sixth month of Elul ends and the seventh month of Tishrei begins, on Rosh HaShanah, HaShem enters the palace, and the Jews again crown G-d as our beloved King. But if you get close to HaShem in the field, you might see the King wink at you from beneath the crown.

The first seven months of the Jewish calendar, from Nissan to Tishrei, parallel other time periods in Jewish life. Each week we go through a seven day cycle - six days of work and preparation for the seventh day of Shabbat. Like Elul, the sixth month, Friday, the sixth day, is also a time when we need a little more kindness from HaShem and from each other. After a long week of ups and downs, and many mistakes, on Friday we somehow have to put everything together for Shabbat. Preparing the meals, finalizing the guest list, doing the laundry, cleaning the house. On the sixth day of the week we might need to cut a few corners and give each other some slack as we hurry to prepare for the holy seventh day. Once the sun goes down, it's Shabbat, the special day of rest, but hopefully we can still feel the love within the holiness.

Part of the reason why Jews celebrate Shabbat is because we believe that, on a bigger scale, the world is going through another sequence of seven time periods. According to Jewish tradition, there will be six millennia, six thousands years, of effort and preparation for a seventh millennium of peace and tranquility. We're now in the year 5775 on the Jewish calendar, and many religious Jews believe that the great Shabbat will start soon. For the Jewish people, for all people, and for HaShem, it's been a long "week" with many ups and downs, big and little mistakes. And there's still a lot to do to prepare for the worldwide Shabbat, a lot of pieces to put together. So as in the month of Elul and on Friday, we might need some slack from HaShem and from each other to have everything ready on time.

The cycle of seven "days" in Jewish life also happens on the scale of generations. As I've explained in the first five posts of Achdus Now, the Jewish world today is characterized by some sharp divisions. That's not wrong, it's an essential part of the seven-day cycle. When making a braided challah for Shabbat each week, at some point you need to split the dough into separate pieces - it's a necessary part of the process. But the next step is to put those pieces together, and in the end we have a beautiful braided challah. Without the division, the final united challah wouldn't be nearly as beautiful. I believe it's now time for the Jewish people to take the sixth step, to combine our separate parts into one beautiful whole.

Andy Grammer - Honey, I'm Good

The work of achdus is about connection, joining together different parts. Orthodox "and" Reform, Diaspora "and" Israeli, women "and" men, combining these seemingly opposing parts of the Jewish world. In Hebrew grammar, the connective word "and" is simply the sixth letter of the alphabet, the letter "vav," which actually looks like a link. In contrast, the fifth letter of the alphabet, the letter "hey," is one of few Hebrew letters that has separate parts, implying division. While the previous generation was focused on and defined by differences, the task of the Jewish world today, for a new generation devoted to unity, is to focus on joining together the parts that were previously separate. Each of us might be good separate, but when we come together we're even better.

As in the month of Elul, when HaShem is very sweet with us to help us to reconnect to Him, in a generation of unity we might need a little honey to rejoin the various parts of the Jewish family. There has been a lot of hurt between the different groups in the Jewish world over the years, so we all need some extra love to get over our differences and come together again. And, as on Friday when we have to hurry and give ourselves slack to get everything done on time, an achdus generation might need to be lenient and forgiving. It's been a long week, and though we haven't been perfect in how we've treated each other, it's time to put all of our pieces back together.

We haven't been perfect to each other, and we haven't been perfect to HaShem. But at some point in every relationship, we realize that our partner is not perfect, yet there's still something about him or her that makes them perfect for us. At Mt. Sinai we signed a kesubah (marriage contract) with G-d that obligated us to do every commandment to the last detail. But that wasn't why HaShem fell for us at Sinai. HaShem loved us then because we had achieved achdus, we were living together as one people in peace. If the Jewish people can come together again in unity, we wouldn't be perfect, but we still might be perfect to HaShem.

So ultimately the task of achdus is about more than connecting one Jew with another Jew, it's about connecting all of the Jewish people with G-d. There's a "vav" in that famous verse of Shir HaShirim, and it connects two different parts of the phrase. "Ani LeDodi," "I am for my beloved," could be understood as each Jew being for their fellow Jews, "and" then "Dodi Li," "my Beloved is for me." The Jewish people are HaShem's bride, but we're only beautiful to G-d if all of our pieces are braided together as one. That's how we looked at Mt. Sinai, and it's how our ancestors looked after they repented and reconnected with HaShem in the month of Elul. Step one is for each Jew to love their fellows, and in step two the King will show His love for us.

1 Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 6:3
2 "The Month of Elul According to Sefer Yetzirah", Gal Einai,,
3 Ibid

Half Calf

Yom Revi'i, 28th of Tammuz, 5775
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I remember before I started dating, I would tell my family and friends that I wanted to date dutch - I'd pay for my half of the meal or coffee, and my date would pay for her half. It seemed only fair. My friends and family made fun of me, and when I did start dating they'd nervously ask "did you make her pay?!" "No," I said, and smiled, and they'd seemingly collapse in relief. And I admit it felt right, like I was being a man. But if you really think about it, is it very fair?

We're now in the Three Weeks, a time of mourning on the Jewish calendar. No weddings, no music videos, and no haircuts or shaves, so dating is even more difficult. The Three Weeks began on the 17th of Tammuz, when HaShem nearly broke up with the Jewish people over the making of the golden calf. The golden calf appears to be only between the Jews and HaShem, but I claim it was also about our relationships with each other. We connected with HaShem at Mt. Sinai because we were unified as a people. If our achdus broke in any way, it would also affect our relationship with G-d.

The incident of the golden calf occurs in a section of the Torah called parshas (portion) Ki Sisa, which begins: "And HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: When you take a census of the Jewish people,... each man should give .... a half a shekel as a portion for HaShem."1 By counting up those half shekels, we can find the total number of Jews. The use of a half shekel teaches us, commentators note, that a Jew alone is only half a Jew; we must join with others to achieve our full potential. So too, every person, man or woman, has a zivug, their other half whom they need to fulfill their purpose in this world.

(Video added after the Three Weeks.)

Later on in parshas Ki Sisa, the people panic when it appears that Moshe is not coming down from the mountain. They approach Aaron and ask him to make a god to lead them on. "And Aaron said to them, remove the gold earings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me."2 Why does Aaron ask for gold only from the women and the children? The most well known answer comes from the major commentator Rashi, who cites a Midrash (an ancient commentary in story form) saying that Aaron figured the women and children would not want to part with their jewelry, and that delay would be long enough for Moshe to come back.3

Maybe it's only me, though I hope not, but I think there's something very wrong with this explanation. It's gender biased, inappropriate, seriously lacking in respect for women. Even if Rashi and the Midrash are wrong, it's still hard to think of an appropriate explanation for why Aaron made that statement. Let me say first that Aaron HaKohen was one of the most spiritually advanced people who ever lived. He would become the High Priest in the Sanctuary, and he was known as a great peacemaker, the Mr. Achdus of his day. But I want to suggest, nervously, that he was also a human being, subject to the biases of his culture.

Aaron's comment revealed a flaw in our achdus, one that we still struggle with today. We learned at the start of parshas Ki Sisa that men and women are two halves of the same coin. Those halves, while different in some ways, are of equal worth, and they complete each other. Yet from Adam and Eve until now we fail to recognize this fact. This problem took on one of its worst forms in Egypt with Pharoah's decree to throw all the boys in the river and keep the girls alive. The prophet Jeremiah called Egypt "a very fair calf" - for all its cultural advance, Egypt was terribly lacking in basic dignity for all human beings.4

The Jewish people ultimately repent their mistake, and HaShem forgives us. When the call is put out for people to contribute to build the Tabernacle, so that HaShem can dwell among us, the Torah records that "The men came with the women, everyone whose heart motivated them brought... all sorts of gold ornaments... for HaShem."5 Some of this gold would be used to make the cover of the Holy Ark, where, from between two gold cherubs, one male and one female, HaShem would speak to Moshe and the Jewish people. For HaShem to dwell among us, we need to make a welcome space for G-d between us - as individual women and men, and as a people.

Sadly, the sin of the golden calf has not been completely forgiven, as we recall at this time each year. We continue to bear the mistakes of our ancestors. Part of that heritage is the underlying cause for the sin of the golden calf. Every morning when I open my Orthodox siddur to pray, I'm faced with the following pair of "blessings" prescribed for women and men.

The * refers to comments that seek to justify the difference.

If this is how we see each other, and ourselves, how can G-d dwell between us? Perhaps it is appropriate for men and women to say different blessings, as there are indeed differences between the genders. But those blessings must express the dignity, nobility, and fundamental equality of both women and men. For some time now, I've been saying "for having made me according to His will." It's my own small effort to fix the gender inequality in the Orthodox camp. I still say the rest of the prayers,6 keep Shabbat, study the Torah each day, and live my best Orthodox Jewish life, but some things need to change. We're still in the process of fixing the world that we've inherited.

While it's beyond the scope of this post, the equality of men and women is not only a matter of achdus between the genders; it affects the achdus of the entire Jewish nation. Gender equality is perhaps the biggest issue separating Orthodox Jews from Jews in other denominations. But it doesn't have to be. Some movements, like Conservatism, have made great strides at achieving gender equality. Though in some cases they go too far, ignoring appropriate gender differences that do have a place in Judaism. In my view, Judaism should include some of the gender equality of Conservatism and some of the traditional gender roles of Orthodoxy. Just as a person needs both of their halves to be whole, so the different parts of our nation need each other to be complete.

During these Three Weeks, we mourn the loss of HaShem's presence among us, and reflect on past mistakes that led to that loss. Our tradition tells us that eventually these days will be transformed from a time of mourning to one of celebration. But for that change to happen, we must work to fix the mistakes of the past. To restore our connection with HaShem, we need to work on our achdus, each lone half-a-Jew joining with all other Jews. Only when we can look across that table in the coffee shop and see the other person as the essential other half that completes us, whether man or woman, Conservative or Orthodox, will we feel that spark of G-d between us again.

Shalom Aleinu, and don't forget the tip. :)

1 Exodus 30:12-13
2 Exodus 32:2
3 Rashi, Exodus 32:2 from Midrash Tanchuma 21
4 Jeremiah 46:20
5 Exodus 35:22
6 With one exception. In one other blessing, instead of saying "for not having made me a goy (gentile nation)", I say "for having made me a kadosh (special) nation."

Love, Sweet Love

Yom Shishi, 26th of Iyyar, 5775
Friday, May 15, 2015

We're now most of the way from Passover to Shavuos, the second of our yearly festivals, and the anniversary of our meeting with G-d at Mount Sinai. Instead of chocolate-covered matzah and flourless brownies, we'll soon savor rich cheesecake, blintzes, and other dairy foods customarily eaten on Shavuos. But before we head out to the store, I have to mention a great display of achdus that I saw this spring during Pesach. It wasn't at shul, or at the Passover seder, but in the grocery aisles.

As I strolled with my cart through the Passover section, looking out for double chocolate macaroons and other Pesach sweets, I noticed lots of my fellow Jews, and Jews of many different stripes, or slices. It was wonderful to see different kinds of Jews starting up conversations with each other, asking for help finding something or chatting with people they didn't even know. I heard one person say how great it was to see so many of us there together.

During the original fifty days between Passover and Shavuos, our ancestors excitedly prepared for their rendezvous with G-d at Mt. Sinai. But the Torah tells us that as the Jews moved from one camp to the next, they struggled with disputes and strife between different parts of the nation. Yet when the Jewish people arrived at Sinai, they had become unified, camping together "like one [person], with one heart."1

The commentators explain that it was our achdus, our oneness as a people, that made the Revelation at Sinai possible. If we hadn't been united, HaShem would not have spoken to us there at the mountain. We weren't even yet all dedicated to G-d, united in the same goal, though that did follow. Rather, it was because we had become one nation living together in harmony that HaShem spoke to us.2

People in different parts of the Jewish family sometimes think that one quality in particular makes a Jew: it's your ethnicity, or whether you observe Jewish law, or your support for Israel, or if your Mom keeps breadsticks in her purse. But at Sinai we showed that what really matters is that we are all brothers and sisters, members of one family.3

The sage Avnei Nezer relates this to a mishnah that says "Any love that depends on a specific thing, when that thing is gone, the love is gone; but if it does not depend on a specific thing, it will never cease."4 Looks, brains, a Jewish nose, keeping Shabbat - these things can change. But when you realize that your heart and soul are bound up with another, that you complete each other, that's the kind of love that's gonna last.

In the Jewish community in my hometown, there's a special kind of achdus in our grocery store. If there's ever only one box left of a certain kosher item in the freezer, we all leave it for the next Jew, for someone who truly needs it. No one knows if the person before them was tall, short, Conservative, or Breslov, all we know is - that box stays there for a long time. That's the kind of achdus we had at Sinai, and that's why HaShem fell for us there.

The time from Passover to Shavuos is also known as the courtship period between the Jewish people and G-d. At Passover, we went out on the big first date. On Shavuos, we experienced the intimacy of our wedding night. But for the love to last, we have to maintain our unity as a people. HaShem loves the Jews as a whole, everyone included. If even a single Jew is missing, our closeness to G-d fades too.

To make our connection this Shavuos, we need everyone: Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, women and men. No matter how seemingly odd a pairing of Jews, we're still both Jewish, so we have a lot in common. We also have our differences, to be sure. But if the infinite Creator of the universe could fall for the smallest nation on earth, there's hope for us too!

So when you're at the grocery store preparing for Shavuos, look out for your fellow Jews. Make a little eye contact, smile, and say Shalom. Love your fellow Jews, whether they're Israeli, American, Ethiopian, Chassidic, Reconstructionist, Modern - any of those fine Jewish flavors. And if there's only one more box of cheesecake, do the Jewish thing and leave it for someone who truly needs it. If everything goes well for us on Shavuous night, we might all be hungry later for a little something sweet.

1 Rashi, Shemos 19:2
2 R. Yissocher Frand, "Parshas Yisro: Not Just A Case of Politics Making Strange Bedfellows",,
3 See comment to Why Now? by Mighty Garnel Ironheart
4 Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:19, in R. Frand's article above

Why Now?

Yom Chamishi, 27th of Nisan, 5775
Thursday, April 16, 2015

Consider two Jews trapped together in a shul or a store by a terrorist or a neo Nazi, chas v'Shalom (G-d forbid). Even if one Jew was wearing a Chareidi outfit and the other Jew a Hawaian shirt, they'd still call each other brothers or sisters. The religious Jew would say, you know, HaShem probably put us in this situation to bring us together. The secular Jew may not believe in G-d, but they would say, yes, I see what you mean. So if we'd be brothers and sisters then, why not now?

Today we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the worst tragedy that ever happened to the Jewish people, perhaps to any people. It wasn't the first time that our enemies set out to destroy us, as we recalled two weeks ago at our Passover seders, but the Holocaust was a different order of suffering for our people. The questions come back and haunt us again... how could human beings do that to other human beings? How could it happen in a world made by a benevolent G-d?

The same outrage and incredulity roil within many of us today as we read news stories about the choices that this country and others are making about Iran's nuclear weapons program. They risk, chas v'Shalom, giving weapons of annihilation to a dark regime that has called for Israel's destruction. The proposed plan goes against all common sense and the most basic human decency. It is obviously and utterly wrong. What are they thinking?! How can this be?!

There may be no way to say this without sounding naive or insensitive, but I say it honestly: there actually is an answer to these questions. The Jewish people have faced annihilation before, and we have learned from that example. More than 2,000 years ago, in ancient Persia (modern day Iran), a government minister named Haman had a decree issued to kill all Jewish men, women, and children. We were ultimately saved from that decree, and we celebrate our deliverance every year on Purim.

Haman began his genocidal request to the king by saying "Yeshno am echad m'fuzar u'm'forad bein ha'amim ..." - "There is one people, scattered and divided among the peoples ..."1 Jewish tradition understands this to mean that Haman got his decree because the Jewish people were fractured as a nation. The underlying spiritual problem was a lack of Jewish unity, a lack of achdus. But when Mordechai and Esther led the Jews to unite, events changed quickly to overturn Haman's plan - the Jews were saved and Haman was destroyed. Ultimately, Purim revealed that G-d was behind it all along - He simply wanted the Jews to come together again.

The same cause and effect relationship that held in ancient Persia applies throughout Jewish history, including in 20th century Germany. I am not a historian, but because of the connection between national threat and lack of achdus, I've wondered if the East European Jewish world was then more fractured than at other times in our history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were indeed bitter conflicts between different groups in Jewry. The Chassidic/Misnagdic division, the Orthodox/Reform split - these were wrenching conflicts that tore communities apart. In Frankfurt, the separate Orthodox and Reform communities, which had been apart for many years, reunited only in the wake of Kristallnacht.2

There are certainly other factors that contributed to the Shoah. Many Orthodox Jews believe that the Holocaust was a Divine punishment for losing our Jewish identity and assimilating into German culture. Some Zionist Jews, secular and religious, see the Shoah as the terrible dark before the dawn of our return to the Land of Israel. But we must acknowledge that achdus also had to be a major factor. It is a fundamental of Jewish thought. When the Nazis, who we believe to be of the same national origin as Haman, forced all of us to wear "Jude" stars, it showed who was Jewish not only to the Nazis, or even to ourselves - but also to our fellow Jews.

"Jude" stars identified us not only to the Nazis, or even to ourselves, but also to our fellow Jews.
The law connecting a national threat against the Jews to a lack of achdus also holds true today. If Iran, today's Persia, seems to be gaining the ability to destroy the Jewish nation, we must all take a close look at the state of Jewish unity. Indeed, many observers in the Jewish press and the blogosphere have noted a bitter divisiveness between various Jewish groups. If you're like me, you probably feel pain and despair when hearing a fellow Jew talk about "the chilonim (secular Jews)," "the Chareidim," "the Chassidim," or "the Conservatim." That's the problem - a scattered and divided nation - but despite whatever differences we have, we are truly Am Echad.

The problem is the same as in the days of Haman, but the solution that Mordechai and Esther showed us is also the same. If now, as then, we can get our people to unite, the decision upstairs will quickly change from threat, chas v'Shalom, to triumph. If the Jew in the Chareidi suit can join hands with the Jew in the Hawaian shirt now, then G-d won't have to do it by force. If all the Jews in the world can recognize that we have always been, we always will be, and we are one people, NOW, then there will again be "light and gladness, and joy and honor" for all of the Jewish people.3

1 Esther 3:8
3 Esther 8:16

Why Achdus?

Yom Chamishi, 28th of Adar, 5775
Thursday, March 19, 2015

We often hear Jews around the world talking about achdus - by the Shabbat table, at an Israeli bus stop, or in the blogosphere - and saying they wish the Jewish people had more of it. We might reflect on another community in our city or even in our neighborhood and lament the breach between "us" and "them." Events of national pride or tragedy sometimes jolt us into a state of unity, but then it fades and the old separations reemerge. Achdus is a little like love - it's often elusive, and then sometimes it just seems to happen to us.

Yet I propose that achdus is something we can actively work on, that in fact we need to make achdus a priority goal for the Jewish people. Why should we work for achdus? There must be a reason for every type of Jew - security benefits for the Jews in Israel, stronger and more diverse Diaspora communities, getting many kinds of Jews into Torah study or Tikkun Olam projects. But I think there is a more basic reason, one that's been at the heart of the Jewish people since our family's origin. Achdus is one of the main reasons for the Jewish people's existence - it's what we were made to do.

According to tradition, the original family of Israel, as described in the Torah, achieved a goal that was set for humanity from the beginning - forming a society where brothers and sisters can live together in peace. In the first human family, Adam and Chava's children Cain and Abel had a terrible sibling rivalry, getting us off to a bad start. In the time of Noah, ten generations later, humanity was so caught up in nasty fighting amongst themselves that HaShem decided to start over. And for yet ten more generations, G-d's goal of a world where people could get along still wasn't coming together.

Finally, Abraham and Sarah - the first Jews - enter the scene and things start looking up for humanity. Abraham is the epitome of kindness, and he and Sarah teach the world that there is one benevolent G-d Who wants us to be kind to each other. Yet Abraham's children, Ishmael and Isaac, born of different mothers, can't get along and separate. Isaac carries on the Jewish mission with his wife Rivka. But their children, Esav and Yaakov, start looking a little like Cain and Abel, and Yaakov has to run for his life. Eventually he settles down, has a nice, big Jewish family, and gets the new name Israel.

For many years the family of Israel lives peaceably, with thirteen unique children all getting along, but with some jealously about the favorite son, Joseph. One fateful day that resentment spills over, and most of the brothers gang up on Joseph, nearly deciding to kill him, but in the end only selling him into slavery in Egypt. It looks like hope is lost for the family of Israel, the Jewish people, who could have set an example for all the families of the world. But, after years of pain, repentance, and with a lot of help from G-d, Joseph and his brothers reconcile, and the first book of the Torah closes with all of the Jewish family reunited and living together in harmony, albeit in a foreign land.

From Egypt, where the Jewish people became a nation, until today, when our family spans the world, unity has been key to the Jewish destiny. The family of Israel left Egypt as one people and stood united at Mt. Sinai, accepting as one G-d's call to be a light to the other nations of the world. Under the rule of King David and King Solomon, we lived as a united people in the Land of Israel. Then for many years we struggled with disunity, and conflicts between different parts of the family ultimately led to exile from our Land, and the scattering of the Jewish people all over the world.

When we look around at the Jewish world today and see the different split off parts of our family, remember that these parts were once whole. When we sigh over the breach between "us" and "them" in our city or community, recognize that it's essentially the same longing you'd have for a distant member of your family. That hopeful desire for more achdus among all Jews is like wishing your family could get past its dysfunction and get together happily with each other more often. We can wait for it to happen, or we can take action to reconnect. We're certainly capable of it - we've done it before - and it continues to be our challenge, and our destiny, to do it again.

Shalom Aleichem

Yom Rishon, 19th of Sh'vat, 5775
Sunday, February 8, 2015

Welcome to Achdus Now, a blog about Jewish unity. The word achdus literally means "oneness," from echad or "one." But achdus is a oneness of unity, where different parts join together to form a whole. When Jews talk about achdus, they express the hope that various kinds of Jews will come together as one. That's the purpose of this blog, to call for different parts of the Jewish community to join together. What do we want? Achdus! "And," to quote the great sage Hillel, "if not now, when?"1

In this blog I plan to focus on two groups within the Jewish family: Orthodox Jews and Jews that are not traditionally observant. There is of course a spectrum to observance. Among the Orthodox, at the right end of the spectrum, we find Modern Orthodox and Chareidi Jews. And at the left, Reform and secular Jews. But I think there is a noticeable split in the spectrum, a gap between Orthodox Jews at one end and non-traditional Jews at the other. I want to talk about that separation in an effort to bridge the divide.

I decided to write this blog partly because I grew up as a non-observant Jew and became an Orthodox Jew as a young adult. From living in both communities, I know that there are positives and negatives to both lifestyles. There is truth in the secular perspective and in the frum (Orthodox) view. There are people that I care about in both communities. So it's my hope that there is some way to combine the two so that I can be my whole Jewish self.

In trying to resolve the secular/Orthodox conflict for myself personally, I've learned a lot about Jewish unity, and I'm eager to share what I've discovered with others. What can we learn from the Torah about achdus? How did the Jewish family get to be this way, long ago and in recent times? What are the strengths of the different groups that make up the Jewish people today, and how might they fit together? Could gefilte fish be the solution to the whole problem? These are some of the topics that I plan to talk about.

I'm also curious to know what everyone else thinks about achdus, and to hear about your experiences as you've searched for your place in the Jewish world. Do you also think it's important for the Jewish people to be more united? Have you too felt torn because of the splits in our family? What do you think about the conflicts between the different denominations? Why can't we all just get along? I look forward to hearing your stories, and your frustrations and hopes.

The Jewish people, Am Israel, started off as one family. But over the years, some of us began doing things a little differently than others. And now, we focus on those differences so much that we see ourselves as being separate families. I hope that this blog will help us to reconnect. And we might find, in the end, that our family photo has simply become more colorful because of our differences, but that we are still, and we always will be, Am Echad.


1 Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14