Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unity: The Peace of Strength and Valor

Yom chamishi, 5 Tamuz 5770.

Who started the silicone bracelet craze?

Gel or rubber or silicone bracelets have been popular since the 1980s.  Lance Armstrong was probably the most powerful force for the "charity bracelet" movement, when he used the medium to promote cancer awareness with his "Livestrong" campaign.  Since then, enterprising companies and individuals have used a variety of colors with or without molded slogans as interesting personal billboards.
 Never one to pass up a good idea, I decided to make my own statement.  Since late August of 2005, I have been wearing a bracelet combination in an effort to cause conversations about achdut (unity).

It seems to be working.  People of various ages and religious affiliations ask me about my bracelets.  For the most part, the discussions have been interesting and civil -- even when certain aspects of "the bracelets' story" bring up controversial opinions.

Here's the story.  I was part of the "orange camp" in the year leading up to the expulsion from Gush Katif.  From my safe little perch on my kitchen stool in Baltimore, I used to watch the internet news daily, following the unbelievable and heart-rending story of my people in our Land.  This is not the forum to rehash the history of those dark days -- and I don't want to depress myself.  Suffice it to say that Kleenex made a lot of money off of me that year, and the color orange became more than a fashion statement.  Meanwhile, the color blue -- which had always stood for Israel -- was adopted usurped by the pro-Disengagement crowd.

History lesson:  we lost.  We lost Gush Katif.  We lost another piece of Jewish and Israeli self-esteem.  Our humiliating sacrifice brought us not one step closer to peace in the Middle East.  And we took a big hit in the achdut department.

Immediately after Gush Katif, very loving people would no longer give rides to soldiers.  The "orange camp" and the "blue camp" were at each others' throats, even more than before.  There was a lot of pain, and a lot of blame.  However correct those in pain were about their stand, the rage and hurt didn't fix anything.  I was of the somewhat unpopular opinion that G-d said no.  Not because Gush Katif wasn't part of our yerusha (inheritance).  But for reasons of His own, that would take pages and pages to guess at -- and like questions about the Holocaust and dinosaurs, the guesses won't have any satisfactory answers till the End of Days.

After a family trauma, one has several behavioral options.  Blaming each other is a perennial favorite.  "If you had worked harder/prayed harder/fought harder..."  "If they or he or she would have done the right thing, this wouldn't have happened."  Diving to the bottom of the abyss, and refusing to rejoin humanity, is a good hiding place in the short term.  ("We will never forget -- and we will never forgive.")  But it has its obvious limitations in the long term.

Another choice is to pull more closely together.

I'm of the opinion (and I didn't invent it) that the single most important job of our generation of holy Yidden is to somehow give up our devotion to our differences, and instead to focus on the fact that we are family.  Hashem will not give us our Holy Temple -- no matter how many mitzvot we do, no matter how many marches or rallies we attend, perhaps no matter how many prayers we pray -- until we make nice with each other.

So I wear my orange bracelet, to remind myself "Eretz Yisrael l'Am Yisrael," that the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation of Israel.  I do not want to waver in that commitment.  The color orange also reminds me of the "Gush Katif refugees," who five years later are still suffering.  I have added a blue bracelet, to remind myself that my heart should remain firmly in the East (Israel), no matter how much pressure there is from the West -- and to love my fellow Jews who disagree with me or are uninformed about our heritage.  I wear a green bracelet as well, in support of all of our children who fight to defend this people in this land -- and as a reminder to myself that those young soldiers were given an unfair and untenable burden.  I don't blame them.  And I pray that they will never be so ill-used again.

I tie this trio together with a red bindle.  As it comes from a red thread that was wound seven times around Kever Rachel, it ties my heart to all things holy and Chasidic.  It reminds me to love the Chareidim, who are also my brothers.  Attached to the red thread is a bead of Sephardic derivation, for these holy Yidden are also my brothers.  I look forward to finding something to add from the Ethiopian and Bnei Menashe branches of my dear family...

An Israeli woman in slacks and a designer scarf began screaming at us in a crosswalk one day.  "What's so good about being a Jew?  What's so great about holding onto the whole land?"  (Apparently we were wearing a uniform that triggered something in her.)  I tried to think of how one responds to that much anger in the length of a crosswalk.  "I really love that scarf," was all I could think to say.  We parted with kind words and smiles.  I didn't change her mind, or fix her problems.  But I didn't make them worse.

Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, zt"l, said that to bring Moshiach, everyone should do teshuva (repentance) in the area of "veahavta l'reicha kamocha (and love your fellow as you love yourself)."

"The exalted peace we long for, the peace of strength and valor, is the peace where the seemingly opposing powers within our nation are united, where all forces and ideologies are recognized as being the words of the Living G-d." -- Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

To make a contribution toward ending the lingering pain of Gush Katif, please visit Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon's worthy JobKatif project, which is working to assist the many remaining refugees to get back up on their feet.

Baltimore mishpacha:  Here is a very good article to refresh your memories and to update you by our own Kenneth Lasson:  Five Years Later: Gaza's Former Jewish Settlers.
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