Losing Our Grip on Collective Responsibility

In the early morning darkness of March 7, 1936, Hitler seized the Rhineland. In contravention of solemn promises and international treaties, a few thousand poorly-armed Nazi soldiers were dispatched to occupy the Rhine Valley, without which Germany could never wage war. 
It was said at the time that the German army was still so weak it could have been arrested by the police force of Paris. What is certain is that the Nazis would have been crushed with ease by the French Army, had the effort been made. Instead, the response of the West was impotent—no action was taken—Hitler was encouraged—and the nightmares of World War II and the Holocaust became inevitable.
Had you been alive on that morning in 1936—had you been blessed with prophetic vision—had you seen the coming catastrophe—had you known it could have been averted—what could you have done? The answer is, almost certainly, not much: the world would not have listened to you and the Jewish people then had no voice.

Eighty years ago, threatened with the destruction of our people, there was little any individual Jew could have done. But today, we are a bit more organized. We are involved in politics, finance, and we are able to (for better or worse) freely express our opinions on virtually every segment of society. We have massive synagogues and hold rallies in our largest cities for causes that are important to our community. The biggest difference between our current situation and 80 years ago is that we now have the national home of the Jewish people, the State of Israel.

So why, if we are so organized and integrated into society, am I, my Jewish communal colleagues, and our lay leadership working day in and day out to grow and strengthen the Jewish community? Are we just being stereotypical neurotic Jews? If we are in such a great place in society, do we really need to work so hard? The answer is undoubtedly yes.

One of the main causes of the omnipresent Jewish communal neuroticism is the current state of discourse in our community. A simple, cursory review of how we behave toward each other is more than enough evidence to prove that we are losing the ability to communicate. This has created an environment where we have become our own worst enemy because we seem to have softened our grip on the concept of collective Jewish responsibility - of Jewish peoplehood.

Instead of looking to the ties that bind us, we have been focusing on the aspects that make us different. The fact is that we all eat, dress, pray, live and vote differently, but in the end we are all Jews. The commandment, "Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh" (all Jews are responsible for one another) does not allow for caveats about lifestyle, politics, or any other variable. If you are observant or non-observant - congratulations, you are entitled to live your life as you wish. But you are not entitled to shun other Jews because they are not like you. Yes, we should maintain our traditions, and yes, we should continue to evolve as a people, but neither should be at the expense of exclusion and fragmentation of our community.

The Jewish community needs to get a handle on our current discourse tout de suite or we will find ourselves in the same position as previous Jewish communities that now only exist in print, pictures, and testimonials. While we are engaging in a minute to minute dialogue dissecting our fellow Jews, the enemies of the Jewish people and Israel (yes, if you're anti-Israel you are anti-Semitic) have only grown stronger. They've grown in numbers and influence because they never changed the criteria for inclusion in their Motley Crew - if you hate Israel/Jews, you are welcome. 

The question now for our community isn't if the next "March 7, 1936" will come, it's a question of when. For Jews in France, the "When" has arrived, and it is now.  For Jews in North America, who knows.  Rest assured that when/if the time comes I, and my colleagues at the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, along with our fellow Jewish communal lay leaders and professionals will once again strategically assess and address the issue at hand. The real question for our local and global Jewish community is whether or not we will be able to set aside our differences and truly stand as Klal Yisrael.  For our sake, I hope that we can.

As always, I welcome your comments at todd@polikoffs.com.