Photo Credit: Courtesy Bob Levi
Bob Levi

One of the first mitzvot given in the Torah relates to Passover and setting aside the Paschal offering. Hashem instructs Moshe to command Kol Adat Yisrael, the entire assembly of Israel, to comply.

Our sages comment that the Torah’s use of the word adat is noteworthy because its root is aid, meaning “witness.” All of Israel, together, the twelve discrete tribal families that would soon begin their sojourn to the land of Israel, needed to bear witness to Moshe’s specific and clear message.

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In essence, there needed to be achdut, unity of purpose.

These are challenging times for the global Jewish community; times that demand a fresh call for achdut. We can only achieve this unity through a renewed effort to reduce the acrimony and stridency characterizing our political and theological discourse.

Regrettably, it has been a considerable amount of time since we as a community have displayed that level of unity.

Possibly the most recent projects engaging a unified American Jewish community were the efforts on behalf of the emigration of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews. Make no mistake about it: during the 1970s and early 1980s competing national Jewish organizations entertained divergent views and strategies on how to deal with the issues, with one another – and, at times, with a less-than-supportive White House. However, the individuals who led those organizations set aside their parochial disagreements and moderated their hyperbole to pursue an effective and, ultimately successful, strategy.

Nowadays, listening to the ear-piercing stridency of those on the political-religious left and those on the political-religious right of American Jewry gives rise to the impression that ideology is more important than practical outcome.

In effect, the message has become more important than the desired result. Too often we employ digital messaging to rouse, without emplacing the requisite infrastructure to effectively deliver a credible message and implement a feasible outcome.

A unified and effective Jewish-American message cannot be predicated on generating an actual or virtual “flash-mob.” Messaging cannot be impulsive – it must be deliberate.

Our community synagogues provide the fertile ground on which to cultivate and nurture the essential middot and appropriate derech eretz with which to pursue the achdut for which our community cries out. Our rabbis and lay leaders should challenge us to pursue and attain the essential unity we need.

For the sake of our agenda, vitriol and impetuous digital-only messaging must stop. The stakes are just too high. Our organizations must retain relevance and credibility.

Organization leaders, as well as political-religious activists, must learn to be attuned to the “real audience,” which is not necessarily our own members; we must recognize that name-calling distances our cause from our goal and from our potential allies; and we must understand that promoting extreme positions only yields extremism.

Organizations and activists must reach an accord to build a durable infrastructure necessary to effectively strengthen the American Jewish religious identity. Jewish identity produces Jewish unity.

Some of my Orthodox co-religionists may initially bristle at the notion of fostering “general” religious strength, but in the realm of advancing robust goals on behalf of global Jewry we must cast a wider net than the one to which we may be accustomed.

From my vantage point, it is vitally important that American Jews fully comprehend the importance of building viable and substantive programs that fortify Jewish communal institutions, as well as enriching the success of national organizations.

A national or local Jewish organization can neither sustain itself nor be an effective advocate simply by messaging issues – it must deliver programs that attract members and appeal to organizational participants.

We need to rebuild our organizations from the ground up to ensure that we have an American Jewish infrastructure that can successfully communicate on both an organizational and an individual basis; enhance and clarify our organizations’ goals; influence national and international policy makers; and, most important, foster achdut – Kol Adat Yisrael.

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Bob Levi is chairman of the board of the National Council of Young Israel. He has worked on and around Capitol Hill for more than thirty years.