Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Where is the Jewish Community?

It was a moment of Jewish inspiration. A thousand Montreal Jews huddled together in a synagogue to conduct a memorial service for the victims of the Mumbai massacre and the Mumbai Chabad House. Every type of Jew, including Satmar, Lubavitcher and Belzer Chassidim, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, all came to the memorial. It was a powerful display of Jewish unity.

But after the inspiration, I was left with disappointment. The evening of course was touching and meaningful, but I was left with a nagging doubt: would this unity last? Yes, we Jews come together when things are difficult. Much like the old saying that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, there are no quarrels during tragedies; disasters have the unique ability to unite Jews together in a common cause. Bloodshed brings Jews together.

But when things get a little more comfortable, our unity fades. During the difficult days at the beginning of the Intifada, thousands of Jews, shocked by the images they saw on their TV screens, came out to rallies in support of the State of Israel. It was a critical juncture, a time “when the chips were down”, and even ultra-Orthodox Jews who wouldn’t consider themselves “Zionists” came to support the Jewish State. But once the violence quieted down, people were less willing to give their active support to Israel. Jewish unity is much more difficult to achieve in good times.

In difficult times, our hearts are touched by another person’s suffering. This powerful emotion, empathy, can affect even the most evil of human beings. While murdering six million other Jews, Adolf Hitler went out of his way to spare the life of his mother’s Jewish Doctor, Eduard Bloch. Because empathy is such a powerful emotion, even Hitler could sympathize with a Jew he knew and respected.

However, empathy is not enough. Our commitment to others goes beyond gut reactions; what is required is an unwavering, hardheaded sense of responsibility. Responsibility is based on profound sense of duty, and is not affected by emotional fluctuations. Even in the absence of tragedy, we must fulfill our responsibilities.

Responsibility is greatest towards those closest to you. Judah, when asking to take charge of his younger brother Benjamin, says to his father “I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.” Judah’s proclamation stands as the paradigm of Jewish responsibility, of how every Jew is responsible for one another.

Unfortunately, we have overlooked our responsibility towards one lonely, forgotten Jew. All of us should be asking ourselves this question: “Where is Gilad?” On June 25th, 2006, Gilad Shalit, a 22 year old Israeli, was abducted by Hamas; (it is certain that he was alive following his capture). Since then, he has not heard the voices of his parents, Noam and Aviva, and his brother and sister, Yoel and Hadas.

Sadly, other voices remain silent as well. Jews around the world, so capable of unity in the aftermath of tragedy, do very little to call for Gilad’s release. There is no dramatic video of Gilad to arouse our empathy; there is no sense of urgency for a crisis that has dragged on for over two years. It’s time we take our responsibility to Gilad seriously.

In Canada, The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus has initiated a letter writing campaign on Shalit’s behalf entitled “Where is Gilad?”. (One can go on the webpage http://www.cicweb.ca/ and quickly fill out a form that sends an e-mail to multiple members of the Canadian Parliament.).

We have to raise our voices with the Shalit family, and ask “Where is Gilad?’. But we also have to wonder why the Jewish community has done so little. Where are Judah’s descendents now, to say “you can hold me personally responsible for him”? Where is the state of Israel? Where is the Jewish community?

Where is our sense of responsibility?

1 comment:

rabbi lars shalom said...

Where are Judah’s descendents now, to say “you can hold me personally responsible for him”? see what you think of this;;;;