We Can Be Different Without Being Discordant

By: Benjamin Gottesman  |  April 6, 2022

By Benjamin Gottesman, Arts & Culture Editor

“Six teens mercilessly beat a Jewish man in Brooklyn.” That’s the news I woke up to yesterday. This follows two days of rallies in Manhattan where protestors called for the renewal of the intifada and the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Israel. These rallies came on the heels of a two-week wave of violence in the Holy Land which left eleven of our brothers and sisters dead. The Israel Defense Force is on military alert as the country prepares for a wave of violence as Ramadan begins

Unfortunately, we have been here before; dealing with tragedy is a too-regular part of the Jewish experience. Even so, each loss stings as if it is the first time we have suffered. There is no way to prepare for the news of more lost life.

In order to honor the memories of the fallen, let us consider who they were. This month we laid to rest a chabad Rabbi who ran a soup kitchen. A Moroccon-Israeli mother of three who died fighting the man who stabbed her. A chareidi school teacher with a one-year-old son and a new baby on the way. A quiet senior citizen, content to spend his days learning Torah. A small-business owner shopping for Pesach whose fourteen-year-old son tearfully recounted his father’s unyielding love. A woman from a rural kibbutz who passed while her nephew, a first-responder, tried in vain to resuscitate her. These are the people we lost; gunned down and stabbed in the streets of our homeland.

There were no commonalities between the victims aside from their shared heritage. It did not matter if the victims were young or old, male or female, Ashkenazi or Sefardi. Chassidim, chareidim, religious Zionists, and secular Jews were targeted alike. The lens of antisemitism blurs all lines.

Often, we fall prey to partisanship, focusing on division more than togetherness. Sometimes it takes hardship to remind us that “kulana bnei ish echad nachnu” – we are all the children of one man (Gen. 42:11). In the Book of Esther, Haman charges our ancestors with being “a divided and disjointed nation (Est. 3:8).” Esther thus instructs Mordechai: “Go and gather the people (4:16),” understanding that salvation only sprouts through communal strength. Similarly, on the night of the exodus from Egypt, God commands that the Paschal lamb be eaten in groups (Ex. 12:4), forever setting the precedent that togetherness is the harbinger of freedom. Today, we begin the seder by ceremoniously inviting the needy into our homes, as only through a show of unity can we begin to relate the genesis of our peoplehood.

We live in a time in which tremendous ahavas yisroel [love for fellow Jews] has been demonstrated. Our Yeshiva’s recent mission to Vienna on Purim was the modern fulfillment of Esther’s call for unity, as our peers spent the festival arm-in-arm with Ukrainian refugees, displaying the innate brotherly love that sustains our people. Over COVID, a groundbreaking initiative to unite the Orthodox world in a day of Torah learning drew thousands of participants. Just recently, Jews from all walks of life rallied together to support the victims of the tragedy in Surfside. 

However, on occasion, we still struggle to look past our differences. It is not a secret that our campus is not monolithic; Yeshiva University’s student body is as diverse as it is passionate. Religion is a sensitive matter and the fact that it informs the way we believe our institution should run only exacerbates the tension that may arise between those who approach faith differently.  

Periodically, this passion gives way to frustration. When our emotions get the best of us we may find ourselves expressing anger and vitriol rather than constructive conversation. It is not uncommon to hear mean-spirited comments about other members of the student body on both Wilf and Beren. Just recently, I heard students mocking “the guys in Glueck” for their meticulous approach to halacha. On the flip side, sarcasm regarding the perceived “liberal” element on campus is just as common. In a time where achdus (unity) is so crucial, we are overly quick to put down those who are different from ourselves.

I don’t need to give more examples because we’ve all heard the jokes. We’ve all heard the one-liners about “frummies” or “lefties” or any other silly nickname designed to take what someone else holds dear and trivialize it for a cheap laugh. It is vital that we speak often and passionately about societal issues, but that must be done respectfully and with kindness. I understand that at the heart of these conversations is a deep and genuine worry about the future of the community, but that is not a warrant for degenerative speech and jokes. 

There are eleven freshly filled graves in Israel today. As hate rains down from all sides, a little bit of communal love would go a long way.

The next time you want to make a point, take a moment to think. Those who believe differently than us are our people, not our punchlines. There are ways to disagree without being mean.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zy”a writes in Orot that “just as our land and the world with it was destroyed through baseless hate, so too our land and our world with it will be built through baseless love.” I know we will see these worlds fulfilled. I know we will be a part of it.