Thursday, March 19, 2020

Give Israel a Hand

Give a Hand to Israel

Tonight, on balconies all around Israel, ten of thousands of people went out and clapped for 30 seconds. President Rivlin had asked them to do so in honor of the heroes working in hospitals around the country. Videos of this moment are exceptionally inspiring; a group of quarantined people uniting in a powerful public demonstration of gratitude.

Community is one of the casualties of the coronavirus. When people can't gather together, they can't pray together and they can't celebrate weddings and Seders together. In halakha, the ten people in a minyan must be in the same room to count as a community; distance means that community ceases to exist. And without the direct personal connection there's something profoundly missing. A friend of mine once showed me postcards of correspondence that his grandfather, a rabbi in New Jersey in the early 1900s, sent to the major rabbis in Europe in his time. Many dealt with writs of divorce, from men who had went ahead of their wives to America, and instead of sending a boat ticket sent a divorce. The distance between the spouses ended up leaving them emotionally distant.

The clapping Israelis on the balconies teach us that doesn't have to be. Aside from personal connection, there is a second element to communities: solidarity. One can feel connected to a person they have never met before if they are related. Judaism sees the Jewish people as being part of the same family, and being guarantors for each other. Throughout Jewish history Jews who had never met before embraced each other as brothers and sisters; and a stranger visiting from out of town knew that he only had to go to the local synagogue for some help. This sense of solidarity doesn't require a personal touch, it just requires a sensitive heart.

Israelis understand this intuitively. Walking on the street, there's no such thing as minding your own business. Complete strangers will come to help you, offer you advice, and treat you as part of family. The lessons of solidarity are part of Israel's DNA.

We are now in a time where we stand at a great distance from each other, locked into our own homes. But the lessons of solidarity are this: if our hearts are connected, no distance is too far.

I'd like to give a hand to all those Israelis this evening for reminding us of that lesson.

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