We spoke to a prominent Jewish communal professional this week who confided that after decades of leadership in federation life, he stepped down from a key post following the bitter clash over the Obama nuclear deal on Iran of 2015. He said the pointed accusations from his leadership on both sides of the argument — each threatening to withhold contributions unless the federation sided with their views — made him feel trapped, his efforts limited.
A sad testimony to the ways that our virulent quarrels erode our communal strength.
Three years later and well into the Trump era, such disputes go on and, in some cases, have deteriorated. The president has become a lightning rod, dividing loyal defenders and bitter opponents, with supporters in the Jewish community citing Donald Trump’s robust support of the Israeli government, and critics pointing to what the Wall Street Journal editorial board this week called “The Trump Doctrine,” a diplomacy that is “personal, rooted in instinct and impulse.”
The stunning press conference held in Helsinki on Monday highlighted the contrasting perceptions of the president after his appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Defenders noted with satisfaction that the two men agreed on the importance of assuring Israel’s security amidst the deadly chaos in Syria. Detractors reeled at Trump’s verbal attack on U.S. intelligence agencies for concluding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections while giving a pass to the dictator who stood beside him — a form of “Trump First, the U.S. Second.” (The president backtracked Tuesday, saying he does in fact believe Russia meddled in the election.)
Perhaps the embarrassing and troubling example this week of a U.S. president condemning his own law enforcement and national security agencies (FBI, CIA) and allies (Britain, Germany, NATO, the EU) while praising an acknowledged “foe” (Putin) will give pause to those whose abiding commitment to Israel blurs their vision of a U.S. increasingly alienated from its friends. A weaker America translates into a weaker
These thoughts come to mind on the eve of Tisha b’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, which will be observed this Saturday night and Sunday. Jews around the world will fast and read from the Book of Lamentations, recalling the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Our sages attributed the tragedy to sinat chinam (baseless hatred), the fact that Jews expressed their disdain for each other in those days.
Sadly, many centuries later world Jewry is being buffeted by the kind of toxic accusations, one Jew against another, that call to mind the dangers of sinat chinam.
Controversies among our people are to be expected; arguments in the name of a higher cause are to be embraced — the Talmud is a living example of how disputes for the sake of heaven take on an air of holiness. But the increasingly disturbing level of clashes — loud in decibels, low in menschlichkeit — often revolving around sharply differing attitudes toward Israeli policies, should be a warning signal for us all. Calling fellow Jews “self-hating” or “anti-Israel” because they have a different point of view is self-defeating and diminishes us all.
Twenty centuries after the Temple was destroyed we need to find a way to hear each other, not decimate each other. Our common fate depends on it.