In the shadow of the horror of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and the subsequent war to vanquish the enemy and return the hostages, points of light are emerging. Before the attack, it seemed as if Israeli society was ripping itself apart along religious and political lines. Since the start of the war, however, we have begun to see Israel knit itself back together.
Will this process continue after, God willing, Israel is victorious? Are there steps Israeli society can take to encourage more unity?
First let’s look at a few vignettes:
- In response to demand from both religious and non-religious soldiers, volunteers across the country are making some 60,000 sets of tzitzit for soldiers. Soldiers see wearing tzitzit as spiritual protection in time of war.
- Over 2,000 young haredim have volunteered to serve in the IDF. The army is the midst of conducting abbreviated basic training and finding roles for the volunteers.
- One Jerusalem trauma center, Mivtach, is offering free services as both a call-in center and in-person location. Pinchas Weiss, who runs Mivtach, related a story of how, after a successful counseling session, the client was shocked to find out that Pinchas was haredi. The client said, “Think about it, three weeks ago we wouldn’t have been speaking with each other.” Pinchas said he has received similar comments from other clients.
- A new gourmet kosher restaurant was set to open on the Golan Heights when the war broke out. The owner Shimi Schein decided to open despite the crisis. Instead of serving tourists, however, the restaurant is giving free food and sending food trucks to 500-1,000 soldiers per day along the northern border. This is but one small example of the enormous volunteer efforts to deliver food and needed supplies to soldiers and reservists serving across the country.
- Numerous yeshivot are ensuring that learning is taking place 24/7 for the spiritual protection of IDF soldiers. In addition, rabbis are actively sharing names of soldiers both secular and religious so that each one has someone praying and learning for them. They are also sending food and supplies to the soldiers. Unity seems to be the dominant theme in sermons given at synagogues throughout Israel.
Israel’s current unity is something to behold. It is heartwarming on numerous levels. But is there a way to sustain this unity after, God willing, an Israeli victory? Is there a way for Israel to learn the lessons of post 9/11 America, where unity quickly dissipated?
Unequivocally, yes. But part of the challenge is that the dynamics of democracy tend to undermine unity. I say this as a former Capitol Hill staffer. Interest groups, politicians and the media all thrive on conflict. The job of a successful staffer is to work with interest groups and the press to find and accentuate issues that differentiate their congressperson’s position from others, thus growing their constituency. The same is true in Israel, and in both countries, the amount of money feeding this industry of disunity is staggering.
Israel needs to find a way to rein in this dynamic. Perhaps limits on foreign funding and influence would help. Creating “commissions”—like those the U.S. used in regard to the closing of military bases—to deal with hot button issues such as judicial reform might also be useful. Experimenting with a small amount of regional Knesset representation and autonomy could help diffuse national conflict.
Israel’s rabbinic leadership has been stressing that the most important thing God wants is peace within the Jewish “family.” Right now, Israel’s political and military leadership needs to focus on crushing a savage enemy. Yet at the same time, it is critical to think ahead and consider how to sustain and grow that peace within the Israeli and Jewish family.