Despite their fallen brothers, a large group of Israeli soldiers — apparently before they go off to battle — are seen in a video, zealously jumping in a circle, belting the songs “Gesher Tzar Me’od (A Narrow Bridge)” and “Anachnu Bnei Ma’aminim (We are Sons of Believers).” The real possibility that some may never return home doesn’t dampen their fervor.
It is hard not to get chills hearing them chant, “The most important thing is not to be afraid” and “We have none else to rely on but our Father in the sky.” As someone who has lost family serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, I feel a primitive connection to these men — a sense of tribalism.
And it’s not just me.
Since the June kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, a heightened interconnectedness has developed among world Jewry. Just scroll through your Facebook newsfeed to see it.
After the discovery of the three Israelis’ bodies, my friend wrote on his wall, “We often call ourselves ‘The Jewish People.’ But it’s not often we get an opportunity to reflect on what that really means … what makes peoplehood so powerful is the unique ability for millions of people to feel the same thing at the same time. … Today, the heart of the Jewish people feels a terrible sorrow.”
This message captures what many Jews around the world have felt during the past two months. The growing sense of communal ownership is compelling Jews who never before felt connected to this issue to now “stand with Israel.” Many of my friends have changed their Facebook names to include their Hebrew equivalents.
In times of such difficulty, this intensified sense of community is natural. In moments of crisis, humans find solace among those who share their experience. There is a therapeutic element to feeling part of a tight group.
But I worry we are going too far.
Solidarity that stems from an increased awareness of peoplehood is different from a solidarity that stems from a heightened sense of tribalism. The former has a positive, inward basis, rooted in a collective goal of what the community strives to be. The latter has a negative, outward basis, rooted in a response to external threats. The danger of solidarity derives not from the expression itself, but from how we choose to express it.
Time and again I see friends attribute their growing sense of unification to the narrative that the world is determined to crush the Jewish community. Referencing the outbreak of violence in a Paris anti-Israel rally, a recent Facebook post read, “Has the world already forgotten…WAKE UP! Thank God Israel is strong and we have a safe place to go. Am Yisrael Chai!” I also can’t possibly list the number of links I have seen to videos of radical imams preaching anti-Semitism and jihad.
As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I unequivocally recognize there are shockingly disturbing acts of anti-Semitism in the world today. And Hamas’ terror and the 56 fallen IDF soldiers (as of July 30) are testament to the constant security threats facing Israel.
Yet I am comforted by the knowledge that, despite the outbreaks of anti-Semitism and the rockets and tunnels, Israel and the Jewish people are going nowhere — there will never be a second Holocaust.
Informing people of anti-Semitic incidents is completely justifiable. However, doing so as a basis for uniting world Jewry, as implied by the volume of these posts, obstructs our ultimate goal of peace and security for Israel and the Jewish people. Operating under the mindset that we will forever be threatened hampers our community’s desire to take risks for peace and alienates us from viable, moderate partners on the other side.
Some may argue that the Palestinian activist community’s unification is rooted in its hatred of Israel and even Jews. These critics will say they desire to live peacefully next to the Palestinians and that it’s the Palestinians who don’t want peace. They will ask how the international press can possibly compare Hamas’ acts of terrorism to calculated IDF military strikes.
I recognize these concerns, which is why I understand that the following statement will be the hardest for these critics to process: In establishing a basis for our unity, none of this matters.
Even if you believe the Palestinian activist community roots its unity in hatred and distrust of us, it is destructive to our broader goals for peace to reciprocate the incitement. The world’s Jewish community must base its unification on visions of our future, not fears of our past. After all, “the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
Elijah Jatovsky is an alumnus of the Jewish Community High School of the Bay and attends Georgetown University, where he is co-president of the J Street U chapter.