Photo Credit: Twitter
Gerrer chassidim from southern city of Arad surprised soldiers from Nahal Brigade with pizza, earlier in October.

Like most Anglos, I’d never heard of Kibbutz Be’eri until this Sukkot. The only difference is I first heard of it on October 3, a mere four days before the world heard about it after Hamas’s massacre on October 7 of Be’eri and other surrounding kibbutzim.

October 3 found me at an event organized by Safeguarding Our Shared Home (SOS Home). Just as G-d spreads a sukkat shalom, a canopy of peace, over the Jewish nation, so too SOS Home hoped to bring together Jews of all stripes – pro-reform, anti-reform, religious, secular, etc. – maybe not to achieve peace, but at least to take some baby steps toward mutual understanding and respect. To discuss issues and listen to opposing concerns, not just yell at each other via street protests. Thousands of Israelis, at over 250 host sukkahs, prioritized this as their Chol HaMoed event instead of traditional celebratory gatherings.


I got one of the last seats in one sukkah. People continued to trickle in, sitting on rocks, stairs or even standing, with around 40 people in total ending up at this stranger’s sukkah. The facilitator guided us to share our name and place of residence, as well as our most Israeli moment or memory. And that is when I heard of Kibbutz Be’eri for the first time, from one of my fellow attendees. I can only hope he is still alive, though at best, I know he lost family or lifelong friends to terrorism. Efforts to get his contact information have so far come back empty-handed.

Then, we were to jot something down on two pieces of paper. The first? Something we feel is vital to Israel’s character, but that we can live with, in compromise, if it doesn’t happen. The second? Something so vital to Israel’s character that we cannot live here in its absence. The idea was to discuss some of these notes, fleshing out the opinions and feelings behind them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first note was also our last. It sparked such a passionate discussion that it carried us until midnight.

There was a lot of anger in the air but, ultimately, a fruitful conversation ensued. The Yom Kippur clashes in Dizengoff Square dominated the conversation at first, with opposing opinions receiving relatively equal airtime. As the discussion veered into the topic of judicial reform, however, only anti-reform voices were heard. Suddenly, a clarion call: “Enough with the reasons why the judicial reform is dangerous! I think it’s dangerous, everyone who has spoken thinks it’s dangerous, but what’s the point of gathering here if we don’t hear from someone who is pro-reform?! Is there anyone here pro-reform?” At that, a resident of a Samaria settlement stood up. A bit emotional, he thanked that participant, “It’s the first time in nine months I feel like someone anti-reform is actually interested in what I think.” From there, he was given ample time to spell out his positions, interspersed with lively debate.

Eventually, the facilitator moved toward closing remarks. One participant sounded a pessimistic note: “We heard everyone talk, but I don’t think we’ve moved one inch closer to each other. I came to give this a try, but what’s the point?” Thankfully, others took a different view. Not an optimistic one per se, as the harsh reality of Israel’s divisions could not be ignored. But nonetheless, most participants reflected that the gathering itself was an achievement, hearing different opinions without name-calling was valuable, and that additional such gatherings would be welcome.

Whatever positive takeaways there were, though, unity it was not. Animosity, pain, and near hopelessness filled the air.

So when the country seemingly unified instantaneously in the wake of Hamas’s barbaric massacre, a bit of skepticism remained inside of me. Was this unity? Or just a national version of “there are no atheists in a foxhole?” Was the newfound unity our true colors or was existential fear just covering up the true colors of our divisiveness? It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy sentiments, but did it need to take 1,400 innocent lives murdered to achieve that?

What if instead of the current unified, national mobilization, everyone had made but a fraction of those efforts the past nine months? Not necessarily to agree with each other – unity is not uniformity – but at least to understand the fears and ideas animating the opposing side? To argue without derisive name-calling? In the words of Buchenwald survivor, Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, “We are champions at dying together. But living together? We haven’t even passed basic training.”

Geopolitical dynamics and intelligence failures no doubt allowed October 7 to happen, but we would be remiss to forget that both Jewish history and Talmudic literature underscore the dangers of internal Jewish strife (see Yoma 9b and Vayikra Rabba 26:2). This outlook occupied my mind the first few days of the war.

Thankfully, my wife rescued me from this dismal mindset with a wonderful insight. The Talmud and Maimonides discuss an unusual law regarding Jewish divorce. Background: In Jewish law, a divorce given via coercion is not a valid divorce. However, if the court orders a divorce, the law is that one may exert incessant social and economic pressure on the husband to issue the divorce until he finally says, “Here, I’m giving it willingly.” But isn’t this precisely a divorce issued against his will? He had to be painfully shunned and sanctioned until he agreed! The answer is that beneath the cruel exterior and psychological defenses, at his core we believe the man does not want to hold his wife hostage; rather, he wants to do the right thing.

So too, perhaps, on the national level. Our unity now is not a farce, only there because of the gun to our collective head. Rather, our current unity is the emergence of our pure core, with the many external layers of strife and internecine conflict stripped away by the brutal pain inflicted by Hamas. While a shallow unity will automatically go away once the danger passes, if the unity is reflective of our pure core, it has the potential to cause a lasting change in our national dynamic. The current overwhelming force of unity is, in my lifetime, unprecedented and offers hope that the second approach is true.

This newfound unity is not a unity of words and platitudes, as it often is. This time, there is a unity of action.

“Common” stories of unity abound. Many American gap-year programs have spearheaded myriad different efforts. From firsthand experience at Midreshet Tehillah alone, I can attest to tzitzit-tying, knitting blankets, running a carnival for Southern refugees, and sending cards/cookies to soldiers. All this done with the limitation of operating under lockdown.

Among the various shiva houses I visited, some were religious-Zionist, some were secular. All were filled with secular, religious, and charedi visitors coming to share in the families’ pain.

None of the above unifying initiatives should be taken for granted, but especially noteworthy now are new, more surprising expressions of unity. This time, there is speaking each other’s language.

Wonderful bridges suddenly exist between the secular and charedi communities. Last week, my wife, an English teacher in a secular high school, assigned her students to write about one positive story they had seen or heard in the media. There was zero religious angle to the assignment. Yet multiple students wrote about videos demonstrating the investment of charedi Jews in IDF soldiers’ well-being, the most memorable being Belz chassidim showcasing a receipt about twenty feet long(!), all items bought for IDF soldiers.

In the reverse direction, secular students and staff spoke about shutting their phones down on Shabbat for the first time, not because someone asked or guilted them into doing so, but of their own accord. Upon delivering tzitzit to soldiers, my wife was greeted with a miracle story firsthand from a secular soldier. The previous night in Gaza his vehicle went over an IED, but a pocket-sized Psalms he had recently put in his breast pocket stopped the metal shrapnel flying into his chest. That soldier also decided to put on tefillin every day, and his girlfriend kept Shabbat the previous week for the first time.

An overwhelming theme that has become clear is that even while charedim generally do not enlist in the IDF, many of them are filled with concern for the soldiers and are translating that into action. The Rebbe of Belz, one of the largest chassidic groups today, instructed his followers to recite the Mi She’beirach prayer for the IDF on Shabbat morning. The Rebbe of Boyan, whose father was a Yeshiva University professor, oversaw a project which sent care packages to soldiers and their wives, accompanied by a note he wrote.

Many yeshivot in Israel cut short their Sukkot vacation by a week and resumed Torah learning, even as high schools and universities were shut down across the country.

One of the largest, ongoing projects that has consumed the religious world in Israel is the tzitzit-tying project. Since IDF regulations require them to be olive green or navy blue, regular pairs stocked by Judaica stores are of no use. Jewish law requires them to be hand-tied with intention to fulfill the commandment, making it a time-intensive, laborious process. Owing to these costs, the IDF only gives tzitzit to soldiers who request them. In the current war, over 150,000 reservists have requested tzitzit, with the organizer estimating a significant percentage of those requests being from irreligious soldiers. Who is tying them? In my synagogue, we’ve had religious-Zionist and charedi Jews tying side by side the past two weeks, and so it is throughout Jerusalem.

Beyond the immediate challenge of supporting the war effort, it is not too early to think about our next challenge: maintaining greater unity than what existed on October 6. Barring Messiah’s arrival, we certainly won’t remain as united as we are today. Sharp disagreements will still exist. So can greater unity. To again quote Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, “Before fighting antisemitism and our enemies, first of all, our duty is to create unity between all groups of the Jewish people.” I humbly suggest, it remains our duty to hold on to that unity even after our enemies are defeated.

And maybe we’re already there. Earlier this week, G-d blessed us with the rescue of a kidnapped soldier, Ori Megidish. From one side, it turns out Ori’s mother stepped out of her comfort zone, inviting a religious woman to her home last week to separate challah. From the other side, in a heartwarming video, Viznitz chassidim in her town took to the streets along with other residents, dancing and singing in celebration of her release. Keep in mind that charedi ideology states that females serving in the IDF is a cardinal sin, to be avoided at any price. And yet, this beautiful scene. And yet, beneath the disagreements, we are family. This is identifying with the plight and sheer joy of a sister! This is unity not in a foxhole, but in the afterglow of success!

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Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has semicha from RIETS and a graduate degree in child clinical psychology from Hebrew University. Aside from practicing psychology and teaching Torah at various yeshivot/seminaries, he runs Mussar Links, a non-profit dedicated to publishing the Torah writings of Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.