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Achdus And Agony

A Post-Election Perspective

By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg

Chofetz Chaim Torah Center

Any visit to Eretz Yisrael is always inspiring and uplifting; however, my most recent trip was overwhelmingly frightening as well.

One need not be an astute observer of Israeli politics to know that the deep divisions among the various religious and ethnic groups in Eretz Yisrael seem to grow wider with each passing day.

From all the trips that I was zocheh to take to Eretz Yisrael, I don’t remember if and when I was ever there for elections. This time, for personal matters, I found myself there several times in the weeks leading up to the elections, including election day itself. It is an overwhelming, frightening, and painful experience. Each new day brought with it new personal attacks on other groups or individuals that clearly transcended any normal political rhetoric.

People from the main Sephardic party not only called upon Ashkenazim to defy their own leaders and vote for them, but said that any Sephardi voting for another party is committing a chillul Hashem and has no portion in the World to Come. Those from the Sephardi splinter parties responded with accusations that their attackers are all baalei machlokes and religious terrorists.

Even in the small religious party for misnagdim, which had years ago split from their chassidic ideologues, there was a spirited discussion as to who truly inherited from Rav Shach, zt’l, the mantle of leadership. And this group’s leadership also appealed to the Sephardic masses to support them, to ignore the party of their mesorah.

As in any political campaign, personal attacks abound, but the volume and depth of insults and venom spewing forth from all sides was, in the eyes (and ears) of this writer, unprecedented. We heard talk of the “end of the chareidim,” the “final destruction of the settlements,” and an ever-growing chorus “to rid the country, once and for all, of the Taliban leadership in Bnei Brak.”

Wherever you turned, there were posters from one group or another, and invariably if you returned the next day, the posters were either torn down or covered with graffiti, at times even—impossible to comprehend—with the infamous Nazi swastika.

I selected two days to get away from it all and left with my wife to Mitzpe Rimon (between Beer Sheva and Eilat) for some much-needed quiet the day before the elections. On the evening before election day, I drove into town from the hotel in search of a shul to daven Minchah and Maariv. Not surprising at all, I found the entire town filled with political posters from wall to wall, including one banner two stories tall with the picture of Rav Ovadia Yosef.

The next morning, election day, I drove again into town to catch the only neitz minyan, and not only did I find most of the signs ripped or defaced, I found the large one with the picture of Ovadia Yosef lying on the ground, and witnessed a man allowing his dog to defecate directly on top of the picture.

The shock quickly turned into disbelief, when I drove a little bit closer and noticed a small kippah on the man’s head. I opened the car window and asked him rather incredulously how he could do such a thing. He responded quickly and distinctly, “Ani soneh kol ha’rabbanim” (I hate all the rabbis); and, seeing the shock on my face, he quickly added, “Afilu yoter min haAravim” (even more than the Arabs).

One of the things I witnessed, which was the most disturbing to me, was on the Sunday night before the Tuesday elections, a highly respected chassidic rebbe from outside Eretz Yisrael leading a large protest against participating in the elections and referred to the “Zionist” as “Amalek.” Following his remarks, which made headlines throughout Eretz Yisrael, another respected rabbi spoke and said, “Anyone who votes in the elections it is as if he is oveid avodah zarah.”

Now I am a firm believer that every segment of Klal Yisrael can and should remain loyal to their mesorah. If their mesorah is not to participate in elections and that it is wrong to do so, then by all means it should be transmitted to their followers in no uncertain terms. But was this type of incendiary language necessary? Does it make us, a nation that sits all alone in the world, stronger—or are we weakened by it?

All I could think of when I heard this was of the large rally held in Yerushalayim a few nights earlier, on Thursday night, when the ziknei ha’dor (the elders of the generation) all joined together to urge the skeptical masses to go out and vote. And heading that group was the gadol ha’dor, the close to hundred-year-old Torah leader, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, who despite his great frailty made the superhuman effort to participate. Would Rav Shteinman be classified as an “oveid avodah zarah?” As a matter of fact, I heard that one of the sons of the late Gerer Rebbe called up that rav and said to him, “My father, the Gerer Rebbe, voted in past elections. Is he an oveid avodah zarah as well?”

Why does it have to be so? One can still be passionate about his party, his religious or ethnic group, and his hashkafah without having to resort to such bitter and acrimonious name-calling and hatred. The elections did result in bringing a new government closer, but without doubt it did not result in bringing Mashiach any closer. Maybe even chas v’shalom distancing him even further.

In the 1930s, the illustrious Torah leader Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt’l, wrote a series of public articles about the terrible desecration and chillul Shabbos being performed by the secular Zionists. His articles were filled with strong denunciations and criticism of the Zionist leadership. When his brother-in-law, the world’s foremost Torah leader of the time, Rav Chaim Ozer, zt’l, heard about these articles, he commented, “Reb Elchonon has forgotten one small thing. Chazal teach us that Klal Yisrael had to swear three shavuos to HaKadosh Baruch Hu (see Kesubos 110a) and one of them was that we would not antagonize the nations. Klal Yisrael is also a nation, and one has to be careful of attacking them as well.”

As painful as it was for me to watch all this division and hateful words in the days and weeks before the elections, on my very last day in Eretz Yisrael, I found great comfort as well. On Wednesday (the day after the elections), we returned to Yerushalayim and prepared ourselves to leave on the midnight flight back home by doing some last-minute shopping in Geulah. As any obedient husband does, I stood in the street holding the packages (or at least trying to) while my wife ran in and out of the stores purchasing gifts. All of a sudden, I heard a call for Minchah. I left my packages with a shomer and followed the crowd into a tiny two-room shtiebel called the Kamarna Shtiebel. This tiny shtiebel cannot be seen from the street, as it’s behind two pillars and blocked by the wares of a sefarim store. As much as it cannot be seen from the street, it seems everyone knows it’s there, and it filled up quickly.

As I squeezed into one of the tiny rooms that has a capacity of 20 but now held at least 50, we began to join in the saying of Ashrei. As I began to look around the small room, a great feeling of comfort and nechamah overtook me. Here in this tiny room, where there wasn’t even room to bow down for Modim without banging into the person in front of you and in back of you, was Klal Yisrael.

There were two chassidim from Toldos Aharon with their Yerushalmi garb, five Sephardim, one Ethiopian, two soldiers in full uniform (and thankfully their machine guns were pointing upward), several yeshiva boys from the Mir, a few American visitors, at least one noticeable baal teshuvah, and one Breslover chassid (with the words “Na, Nach” embroidered prominently on his yarmulke). And we all came together to daven to Hashem. All ethnic, religious, and political differences were left at the door, and in the that small, extremely crowded room where Yidden joined together in one cohesive minyan all davening for Klal Yisrael’s salvation and redemption, I found comfort. I felt achdus and k’ish echad b’lev echad for the first time in a long time. I felt the urge to ask everyone to take just one minute for one collective hug of achdus before we exited back into the street, back to our own divisions and conflicts and to staking our individual claims for identity; but I didn’t think it would work out too well.

As I left the suffocating and crowded Kamarna Shtiebel, I thought of the comment from one of the early chassidic rebbes, who said it is true that chassidim and misnagdim have a different order for the beginning of the Shacharis, but when they get to the tefillah of Yehi ch’vod, “May Hashem’s glory endure forever and ever,” they all come together and all work for the same goal.

After days of frustration and agony at the breakdown of achdus before and during the election process, I headed to the airport, leaving the beautiful and holy city of Yerushalayim behind once again, but with a heart filled with the hope and inspiration that we all can and we all will join together k’ish echad b’lev echad when we will together work for the great glory of HaKadosh Baruch Hu and proclaim His name throughout the world.

May it come speedily in our day. v

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Posted by on February 21, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.