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Dear God, Save Us from Ourselves

Portrait of Yael Eckstein

August 20, 2015

Israel was established with the vision of brotherhood, unity, diversity; a haven for Your people. Miraculously, You opened up an opportunity for the Jewish people to come home, to no longer be strangers in a strange land. But, sadly, we have become strangers to ourselves.

Orthodox, secular, Haredi, modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, settler, liberal – the list goes on forever. People argue that these labels breed diversity, but I say that with each label we force upon each other, with each box we force each other into, we’re burying our national soul.

Dear God, why do so many people ask me “what I am” when they meet me, full of preconceptions based on the scarf wrapped around my head or the skirt that reaches my knees? Why does it confuse them when I simply answer “I’m a Jew,” and refuse to further label myself?

I don’t drive on Shabbat, but don’t judge others who do. I cover my hair, but don’t think it’s for everyone. I wear skirts down to my knees, but t-shirts which show my arms. I say traditional prayers each day, but don’t believe that they’re any more or less accepted by God than the prayers of those who pray from their hearts.  I’m a God-fearing woman who loves the Torah, is in love with Israel, and looks at every one of my people as blood brothers and sisters.

What, God, does that make me?

With tears in my eyes I ask you, God, are the people of Israel not all flowers from the same seed? Have we already forgotten that just 70 years ago Jews of all beliefs, lifestyles, and labels were burnt in the gas chambers as one? Haredi, enlightened, modern, assimilated, and Hasidic Jews all shared the same fate in the Holocaust. Our enemies find it easy to look at us all as “Jews.” Why can’t we do the same?As I exited the cab at the hotel, he said, with a firm handshake and a warm smile, “We are brothers and sisters. We all want the same thing: freedom.” And, indeed, he was exactly correct.

Dear God, how do we not see that these new labels popping up each day are tearing us apart, breeding division and mistrust instead of unity and love? These struggles are as old as man himself, yet we seem not to learn from our mistakes, or take to heart the wisdom we’ve acquired from our past.

Did Yishai Schlissel not learn from the biblical stories of Noah and Abraham that God wants us to save our brothers and sisters from sin through prayer and love, not violence and hate? Noah’s one mistake, the Midrash explains, was that he neglected to pray for his generation to be saved from the flood, thereby illustrating compassion and sympathy for others, even those who lived a life Noah believed to be immoral and corrupt.

In stark contrast, one of the important pinnacles in Abraham’s life, which symbolized how the patriarch treated all mankind, was when Abraham prayed with all of his heart and grappled with God to spare Sodom from destruction, despite the fact that its population was deviant and its laws were evil.

Did the people who firebombed an Arab home and killed an innocent Palestinian baby and father in a “price tag attack” not read the Ten Commandments, in which God clearly tells us not to murder? Did they really think that any good could come from such an inhumane and despicable act?

Yet, God, despite the difficulties, the beauty and holiness in this land of our forefathers is illuminating. I pray that as You have taught us, we will see the good and not the bad. I plead for You to dwell on the splendor of Your people instead of the many times we fail to obey Your law. We are trying to be a light unto the nations, an honor to Your name, and there is a lot of good we are doing here in the Holy Land that is unique and distinctive.

Where else in the world are all streets closed to cars on Yom Kippur?

Where else in the world do television reporters, doctors, ministers, radio hosts, and drug store clerks all wish “Shabbat Shalom” to their customers?

Where else in the world can you hail a cab, find the driver covered in tattoos and earrings, and end up speaking for the entire ride about the coming of messiah and the beauty of Shabbat dinner?

Where else in the world do people from all walks of life pray with such passion and soul as they do at the Western Wall?

Where else in the world are soldiers given a Bible for one hand and a gun for the other, along with prayers that only the Bible will be used?

Where else in the world can you rely on total strangers in the park to watch out for your children and help them if they need anything – and do so without fear for your children’s safety?
Where else in the world do you sit on a public bus and see the wayfarer’s blessing hanging from the rear view mirror?

Where else in the world is there a mezuzah on the entrance to nearly every government building, school, home, and restaurant?

And yet, despite these things, God, in so many ways we have failed You and failed each other. This is why I’m begging You, save us from ourselves – from the labels we assign to each other, from our baseless hatreds – before it’s too late. In this upside-down world, so much of what Your children are doing in the name of holiness is exactly the opposite. Open up our hearts to know Your truth, and keep Psalm 133 as our guiding light: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” 

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