Last week I wrote about the need for unity among the Jewish people. My message came from the heart and my words obviously struck a chord because I received massive feedback from all of you to my request for your help in that mission. In the nearly nine years I have been writing this weekly column, this was by far and away the most responses that I have ever received.
One of the most common refrains I heard from all of you is to make sure to invite Jews to our Shabbat and holiday tables. So many times we like to share meals with folks who think exactly like we do. Or if we invite those who may have different viewpoints, we spend the entire meal explaining the way we think. Listening to others is becoming a lost art. I would suggest that we not only open our homes, but make sure we listen to those who we welcome in. We may be surprised at the multitude of things that we have in common.
One of the ideas that built Aish and made Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt’l, so successful was his emphasis on the Almighty. Our approach was to help all Jews to come to terms with the fact that there is a Creator and that He loves us more than we could ever hope to realize. So many Jews don’t spend any time thinking about G-d. If they do think about G-d, they think of Him as an angry or vindictive Being who sends calamity to the world. Rabbi Weinberg famously told people that he also didn’t believe in an angry, vindictive Being. He believed in a G-d of love.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein of South Africa was asked by a podcaster if Shabbos could work for an atheist. Rabbi Goldstein replied that without the Almighty, Shabbos can’t work. The Almighty is the key. I believe this is the point we must unite around. The Jewish people must unite over our love and devotion to the Almighty. The rest is details.
When I first came to Aish I met one of the major donors. I was surprised when he told me that he did not observe many of the commandments. He then launched into a lecture about the Almighty. He told me that all of his successes in life were due to the Almighty and as a result, the charity he gave came from the Almighty. In essence it wasn’t his money. I was so moved by this conversation. It was clear that Rabbi Weinberg bonded with so many Jews through the prism of the Almighty. How many commandments they kept was their business. Aish was a community built on love for the Almighty.
A few months ago I agreed to chair the Resolution Session at the World Zionist Congress meeting in Jerusalem. Many of my close friends asked me why I accepted that thankless task. There was much yelling and fighting among the delegates. At one point, I actually got body checked away from the podium. What was there to gain?
At the start of the session I turned to one of the heads of a world wide liberal movement and suggested that we work together to oversee the proceedings as peacefully as possible. The two of us worked hand in glove to move the session along as best as the circumstances would allow us. The best part was that I made a friend that day. A friend with whom I differ on many issues. Yet we remain friends. I saw him at an event a few weeks later and he gave me a big hug and introduced me to his wife as “his friend, the Orthodox Rabbi.”
This may sound cliche but much of the world does come down to “love and hugs.” We must find common ground with all Jews. I believe that we must force ourselves to talk to those with whom we fundamentally disagree. Hear them out. Find a common thread. Most importantly, tell them how much we love them and care about them. We are family. Family fights are intense and unpleasant. Yet in the end we always remember how much we love each other and we patch things up. The Jewish people are a family. No matter what happens we must stick together. We must love each other. We must hug each other.
Recently I was approached at a local minyan by a man who said he follows my writings and appearances. He said he has been meaning to come over to me to tell me he heard my message to hug fellow Jews loud and clear. Then he gave me a hug. My friends, love is the one resource which is unlimited and we will never run out. Let’s spread our love among our Jewish brothers and sisters.