Jewish Unity is Alive and Well

The one stain that constantly hangs over our heads is the fact that, unfortunately, although we know how important it is to be together we often are not. Despite all the shiurim we have heard about “achdus” and all the articles that have been written, it is just not something we do. Yes, we have had great moments of unity such as after Hurricane Sandy and here in Israel during a war but we just can’t seem to get this done in peaceful times. I have often asked myself; Are we eternally doomed to fights and community splits unless a tragedy comes our way?

Thankfully, I received an answer last week that the answer is “no”. The Jewish world can be united and work together as one! This can be done in health, not just in sickness and in good times, not just during the bad ones. What discovery did I make that led me to this revelation? Simple…. I spent a couple of days with my family in the Golan Heights and found that in addition to it being one of the most beautiful places in Israel, it is also the example of 24/7/365 Jewish unity at its best.

We decided to take advantage of the Chanukah school break and head up north. (By the way; how many New York yeshivas give vacation during the entire Chanukah? Something to think when you have off on Dec 25th and Jan 1st…) The place I chose to spend some quality family time was in the Golan and we found a great place in Moshav Nov. This remarkable place is home to 135 religious families and it was exactly what we wanted; quiet, cool, scenic and with a beautiful shul that has 2 morning minyans, a daf yomi and of course, mincha and maariv that is full with children of all ages… yes, in the middle of the week!

I arranged to spend a few hours with Eldad, a friend of mine who was born in the Golan and lives there with his wife and children. He knows every rock and tree on a first name basis and was the perfect guy to take us around in his jeep. He explained the history of the Golan from thousands of years ago right to this very day! When I started asking him questions about how many religious and secular Jews live in the 30+ kibbutzim and settlements across the Golan he stopped me in the middle of a sentence. He then said the most amazing line I have ever heard; “Shmuel, you must understand that here on the Golan there are no religious and secular. We are all Jews living together as one. We work together, build together and share in each other’s happy and sad occasions. All of our gatherings are together; never divided into religious and secular. Yes, our towns are mostly separate but this is done with respect and love since we wouldn’t want to drive or barbeque on Shabbat in a place that would offend people. Therefore, outside of that, we do everything as one family and have never had a problem in the 45 years that Jews have been living in the Golan since it was liberated.” (Note: What Eldad told me is true for the smaller settlements. I must point out that the biggest city and capital of the Golan Heights is called Katzrin – population 7,000 – which is a “mixed city” with both religious and secular living side by side in complete peace, harmony, tolerance and… unity!)

I must admit that I stopped my friend in his tracks and asked him to repeat what he just said. Everything done “as one family”?? All Jews living together “with respect and love”?? Did I hear him right?? Well, my buddy repeated what he said and reiterated the point that all kinds of Jews, with all levels of observance, wearing all kinds of kippas (or not at all) live together on the Golan as one big, happy family. I told him that this was the best thing I ever heard and that it injected hope and optimism into my bones since I am a firm believer of the principle: If they can do it… we can do it!!

Yes folks, the Jews all across the Golan Heights live in tremendous unity. Nobody looks at the way they are dressed or which customs they follow. They simply respect each other – no questions asked! They do not wait for 3 boys to be kidnapped by Hamas nor for a hurricane to rip through their town. They live and breathe Jewish unity every minute of their day, week, month, year… and life! I can’t tell you how excited I was to make that “discovery” and will forever consider it my personal miracle of Chanukah.

Incidentally, when I told this to Eldad, he laughed and said that actually Chanukah has a lot to do with the Golan! The famous Yehuda Ha’Macabee fought many battles on the Golan and liberated many Jewish communities there over 2,200 years ago! He saw my puzzled look and taught me that Jewish life on the Golan goes back even further than that! Bnei Yisrael conquered the Golan from the Amorites and two tribes lived there during the time of Yehoshua Bin-Nun; Dan and Menasheh. The Golan was one of the “Arei Miklat” (cities of refuge) and King Shlomo sent people to live there as well.

Today, you can travel around the Golan and actually see remains of 62 ancient shuls from Roman and Byzantine periods. In Gamla, you can visit the oldest shul in the history of the world which was standing at the time of the second Bet Ha’Mikdash!! This Jewish city became very famous for handing the mighty Roman empire its first defeat. Unfortunately, Rome doesn’t like to lose and the evil Titus was brought in for “round two” versus the courageous and brave Jews who fought until the bitter end, ultimately losing to Rome about 3 years before the destruction of the second Bet Ha’Mikdash.

Everywhere we went – all across the Golan – there was Jewish history and remnants of Jewish life. I have no idea why these points are not stressed by all Israeli politicians and spokesmen. In every interview about the Golan they are asked when Israel will return the Golan to Syria and their answers are weak and apologetic. What I would tell the world is completely different: “Return the Golan to Syria?? How can you return what was never theirs in the first place? The Golan has a Jewish history that is 3,300 years old, from the days of Moses and Joshua. Jews lived there, built cities there and fought battles there. And if you say – well, that was 3,000 years ago, I would simply respond by saying that in the 1800’s, Baron de Rothschild bought over 100,000 acres of land on the Golan, which was in addition to 50,000 acres of land bought during that same period by the Agudat Achim Society on behalf of Jews in Russia. Jews (mostly from Tzefat) settled in the Golan during those years and they cultivated the land. They built businesses and raised families and lived there until the 1920 riots when Jews were slaughtered and violently driven off their lands. Therefore, the 1967 Six Day War was not about conquering the Golan, it was about liberating it and returning Jewish life to a place that has a 3,000 year history!!”

In conclusion; next time you come to Israel, please make sure you spend at least 2 days in the Golan. You will see history, you will see beauty and above everything else, you will see and experience Jewish unity that is unlike anywhere else in the world. Let’s learn from them and become the one family we were destined to be!