Twice in the history of the modern state of Israel has the public been given a personal and thrilling example of unconditional love for the people. The first was in 1948 when Menachem Begin, facing the Irgun’s weapons ship Altalena, which had been set on fire, swore that brothers would never wage war on each other. Begin ordered his group not to fire on the Israel Defense Forces soldiers who torched the ship at the orders of David Ben-Gurion.
The second was when the Gush Katif settlers were uprooted from their homes after Tisha B’Av 15 years ago, for no real purpose, in what later turned out to be a colossal mistake by Ariel Sharon and his government, both in terms of morality and security. The settlers swore “love forever” and believed until the very last minute that they would be saved, and did not lift their hands against their Israeli brethren. Even after the expulsion, settlers from Gush Katif continued to enlist in the ranks of the same military that removed them from their homes and then razed the houses. They realized that the state, the national home of the Jewish people, was bigger than any mistaken, confused government.
As Tisha B’Av approaches, many of us are far from loving unconditionally and are, in fact, guilty of the opposite. Midrashic tradition says that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, and illustrates the point through a famous story. In the story, a rich man wanted to invite his beloved friend Kamza to a feast, but his servant made a mistake and invited Kamza’s son, who was turned away in front of everyone, humiliated.
Jewish history, unfortunately, is rife with real examples of such hatred. Josephus Flavius tells about three Jewish armies that fought against each other in Jerusalem while the city was under siege, making it much easier for the Romans to sack it. The Sicarii zealots even burned stocks of food meant for the residents of Jerusalem and the fighters defending it.
The behavior of the two biggest political camps in Israel today resembles the events of the end of the Second Temple era. At least, they are light years away from the unconditional love that Begin and the Gush Katif pioneers demonstrated. No one is clean, not Prime Minister Netanyahu or any of his opponents. The language in the street and the public experience have become riven, accusatory and embroiled in disputes. In battle, many of us have made hatred of others, or disagreements, such an inherent part of things that they become part of our core identities, with the opponent and his opinions being allowed to define us.
Normalcy has been erased from our private and public behavior. There is now almost no way of holding a discussion without slander, arguing without ridicule, or talking without “annihilating” the person in front of us. What is said quietly is no longer heard, and what doesn’t come with a little mudslinging falls on deaf ears. The arguments themselves and their content are less and less influential, and the main thing is how loudly things echo in public.
We are so confused that sometimes, we forget that there is something bigger than our different approaches. Alongside the “I” there is the “other,” and alongside wars between the various Jewish tribes, the tribes of the Jewish people are one. We are forgetting that there is something bigger than our own stances: that the Jews in this land have their Jewishness in common, as well as a common past and present of culture and memory and Jewish existence.
More than anything, we are forgetting that the whole—the Jewish people—is bigger than the sum of its parts or its arguments, and that more unites us than divides us. Tisha B’Av is a time to remember that.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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