Healing the Rift with an Ayin Tova

BY RABBI DR. ALAN KIMCHE

Seventy-five years ago, as the State of Israel was about to be declared, one of the most hotly disputed issues was whether to include the name of G-d in the Declaration of Independence. No compromise seemed possible. The secular delegates wouldn’t sign if it was included, while their religious counterparts wouldn’t sign if it was omitted. The two groups, both celebrating the birth of the new Jewish state, held radically different views concerning the significance and orientation of their momentous joint project. Ultimately, the signers agreed upon an ingenious solution. The declaration of the State of Israel would use the phrase “placing our trust in Tzur Yisrael (the Rock of Israel),” an ambiguous, symbolic phrase that was open to a multiplicity of interpretations.

This clash was a dark portend of the unstable nature of the State of Israel, in which a potentially explosive religious-secular divide was hardwired into it from its very inception. While this inner tension has been simmering ever since, we are currently witnessing an almost unprecedented outburst of interdenominational conflict.

Today, many secular Israelis view the essence of their identity as secular rather than Jewish, and stridently reject the encroachment of religiosity into the public and private spheres. At the same time, religious communities have grown significantly in number, with many sectors utilizing their newfound electoral power to become more assertive and dogmatic. And finally, in the middle, over a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union are creating their own brand of secular subculture, with about a quarter of them living in the no-man’s-land of being Israeli but not halachically Jewish.

These tensions are greatly exacerbated by demographic trends. Religious communities are, predictably, growing at very much faster rates than their secular neighbors, who tend to marry later, less often, and have fewer children. By 2050 it is projected that more than 50% of first-graders in Israeli elementary schools will be religious. Naturally, such trends cause great anxiety among secular Israelis, fueling anger about the future character and composition of their state.

Yet with all these tensions, I believe that mutual rapprochement and collaboration is possible. Amid all the difficulties, a few signs of optimism shine through. In particular, two recent public speeches gave me hope for the possibility of reconciliation within Israeli society.

Yoav Galant, a decorated military general and current Minister of Defense, gave a poignant speech when elected to the current government. Himself a non-religious Israeli, he acknowledged that it was only because of the tenacity of Orthodox Jews over two millennia of exile, who held firm to the Torah and prayed three times a day while facing Jerusalem, that we have a state at all. In his eyes, it was the Torah, the Talmud, the siddur, and the traditional rabbinic leadership that preserved the Jewish people, providing them with a national anchor which miraculously preserved them throughout centuries of persecution in the Diaspora. Every one of us, he argued, can trace our ancestry to Jews who lived traditional religious lifestyles. He spoke of the pictures of his grandparents and their families on his wall at home, going back four generations, all of them dressed like members of the Yahadut HaTorah faction. “In all my military enterprises,” he said, “I focus on what I am fighting for – the protection of Medinat Yisrael and the Jewish people, but also on my mission as an emissary of those generations who lived with the palpable presence of ‘Hashem Tzevakot,’ ‘The L-rd of Hosts.’” Ending with a verse from Yishayahu, Galant insisted that only through this traditional lens can we understand and explain our presence in our homeland.

It is only possible to maintain a successful partnership between people who do not share the same value systems and perspectives through mutual appreciation. With an Ayin Tova, “a good eye,” it is possible to see the good in each other and to value each other’s contribution to the nation as a whole.

I found another powerful example of recognition and validation in an onlin e video posted by a secular Israeli nurse, who passionately defended the Charedi world. Insisting that she could no longer bear the demonization of the religious community in much of the secular press and media, she cited the large number of Charedi volunteers as evidence of their value and contributions to society. Over 100,000 volunteers from the Charedi world work in organizations such as Zaka, Magen David Adom, Hatzalah, Ezer MiTzion, Yad Sarah, among others. She also praised the immense value of their lifestyle of material modesty, their strong and stable family life, and their loyalty to the Jewish tradition. While many demand that Charedim commit themselves to national service, this nurse pointed out that many of them are already doing just that, although not through the traditional paths. 

These two speeches reflect the value of Ayin Tova, of the ability to see and appreciate the good in others, particularly when they represent opposing sides of the political or religious spectrum. This quality is absolutely necessary on all sides. The urgent healing of this national rift must begin here and will require the practice of mutual appreciation by all sides. May we soon see the return of peace and harmony to our people and our Land.

 

Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche is the Senior Rabbi of the Mizrachi Community in Melbourne. A student of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and Rav Chaim Shmuelewitz zt”l, he holds a PhD in Talmudic Law from University College London. Rabbi Kimche founded and led the Ner Yisrael Community in Hendon, London before making Aliyah in 2019.

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