Tragedy's Legacy: Striving for Jewish Unity

Tags: Jewish Unity, Israel Engagement, Am Yisrael, Elana Heideman

By Dr. Elana Yael Heideman

Time continues to pass since Eyal, Gilad and Naftali came into our lives.

Within moments of the kidnapping, word spread like wildfire, igniting among the Jewish world a unity we had not felt in many years.

Community burial of Eyal Gilad and Naftali, Z"L

Sadly, the compassion has faded, the headlines have turned ugly, and Israel has endured yet another war and another wave of terror forced upon us. Memory is all that remains of an event that captivated the heart and soul of the nation of Israel and brought us together, reminding us that, in spite of distance and differing opinions, WE ARE ONE.

That spirit made slogans and cliches tangible. It made us acknowledge good and brought out the best in us: the ability to give thanks, love for soldiers and for the state, togetherness and what bring us together and concern for each other and a shared fate. That spirit shoved evil and cynicism and disagreements and divisiveness aside. The wind in our sails steered our ship on a straight course, in unity and strong faith. Now we have all the reasons in the world to keep praying. Together -- observant and secular, Left and Right, in different languages -- but with a single heart, like we did then. Now we must remember that we are, first and last, one people whose enemy doesn't distinguish between those of us who hold different opinions. Nadav Shragai

Rabbinic leaders, Jewish activists, high school students, families, and Israeli soldiers all gathered together, raised their voices in unison to advocate on behalf of fellow Jews…simply because they are fellow Jews. What are the lessons that we can take with us as we reach one year milestone? Is it possible to translate those few moments of unity into a movement that surpasses all obvious constraints and helps us repair the damage done by political, religious, and cultural obstacles?

We are witnessing the emergence of a more splintered Jewish world than many could have ever imagined. Simultaneously we are witnessing an outpouring of support for Israel, a rise in criticism of Israel - some legitimate, most not - and a rise in extremist hate and Antisemitism masked as anti-Zionism. We are seeing Jewish groups call for the destruction of Israel, Jewish students on campuses everywhere living in fear, and Jewish families and individuals confused because they simply do not know what to believe anymore. It is much easier to just turn it off and block it out. With this as our reality, it would seem we have learned nothing.

Yet somewhere deep inside that moment remains with us. Every year, as we reach the Yahrtzeit of these boys, our boys, innocent Jewish boys killed only for being Jews, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to recall the connection, the unified spirit that encompassed our lives for those 18 days.

What nation exists that feels this range of emotion and deep care for each other across continents and languages? This caring and love is unique and should be cherished.

This is what it means to be Jewish. This is Israel.

We are a nation in spite of our differences; we are a nation by virtue of our history, our ancestry, our faith, our land, our pride. We are one family, one heart, one nation.

Through the memory of that time, perhaps we can revive anew our united spirit and decide to make one change in ourselves, in our understanding, in our behavior and to seek out our own personal path to making a difference in some small way.

Jewish heroism is not expressed solely by physical strength, but by a strength of spirit, which has been the cornerstone making up the very foundation of the Jewish people throughout the generations. We must seek to remain on the path the people of Israel have followed throughout the ages. … We are not two separate peoples -- a Jewish nation in Israel and one in the Diaspora -- but one entity, which be whole only if the sum of its parts work together.   Dvir Kahana 

Just as we stood proudly with Israel over the period of the conflict, we must continue to reach out and express solidarity with each other, with our Jewish state, with our Jewish destiny.

Now is the time for us to, once again, stand proud in the face of those who seek to destroy us and proclaim aloud Am Yisrael Chai.
Now is the time for strength.
Now is the time for unity.

Dr. Elana Heideman is a dynamic educator and social entrepreneur whose passion drives her every endeavor. As Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, she has transformed the face of the personal Israel connection providing endless opportunities for engagement, activism, and celebration for Jews around the world. Elana’s range of involvement in Holocaust memory, Antisemitism, and Jewish identity-building reflect her ongoing commitment to expanding understanding, pride and respect for the history, identity, and rights of the Jewish People and our collective legacy.

The disappearance and deaths of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel united the people of Israel at a tragic time. Followed by the fear and loss of Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014 became a summer of solidarity and love between Jews in Israel and around the world. We invite you to reflect back, and look forward.

Click HERE to download your Brother's Keeper Reflection Program.

ONE PRAYER OF HOPE. By Harry Maryles

I fear our unity will end as quickly as it began. Those different than us will be denigrated and vilified – one side against the other. The name calling will resume. Words like Amalek and parasite will rear their ugly heads again. I’m sure of it. And this saddens me. We had one shining moment where we were all one – albeit in tragedy.

Why can’t we just continue that? Why must we all think ill of the other? Why can’t there be more of us judging the other side favorably?

We all see the problems with the other side. But we all have our own problems too. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all recognized that? Why must the other side be de-legitimized and vilified? May the unity we experienced in the merit of these 3 murdered boys continue. Let us not fall back into a pattern of enmity and vilification. Let us all get along even while we fight for what we believe.

Yes, let us fight. But with respect and with dignity – without the rancor. Let not the deaths of these three teenagers be in vain. Let them retain the legacy of Achdus. Let us learn to respect one another even while we disagree. It will be a much better world.



About the Author

Dr.  Elana Yael Heideman
Dr. Elana Yael Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, is a dynamic and passionate educator who works creatively and collaboratively in developing content and programming to deepen and activate the personal connection to Israel for Diaspora Jews. Elana’s extensive experience in public speaking, educational consulting and analytic research and writing has served to advance her vision of Israel-inspired Jewish identity that incorporates the relevance of the Holocaust, Antisemitism and Zionism to contemporary issues faced throughout the Jewish world in a continuous effort to facilitate dialogue and build bridges between the past, present and future.

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Tags: Jewish Unity, Israel Engagement, Am Yisrael, Elana Heideman

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