The war in Israel and Gaza is a horrific fact. Events unfolding along Israel’s northern border threaten to expand that horror. And perhaps most stunning of all is that the 24 hours starting with Hamas’ assault on Israel saw the single largest loss of Jewish life in any single day since the end of the Holocaust. This is also deeply personal as I, like so many thousands of other family members, wait to hear that my relatives who are called up to serve are safe.
How, at this moment of terrible loss and almost unspeakable pain, can we — each and every one of us — make some positive difference? That is Clal’s question because that is the leadership question that each of us can answer, regardless of position, status, role, or viewpoint. While there is no single solution to the problems we face right now, we are not free (to paraphrase an ancient Jewish teaching) to turn away from responding to the question of how each of us can make a positive difference in addressing those problems.
For some, that response will involve many, or even all, of the things for which you have already been asked, in messages you have no doubt received from other organizations — things including your money, your prayers, your participation in public demonstrations of solidarity, and your messages to elected officials, to name the most common. There is value and wisdom in each of those, but we are asking for something more. We ask you to follow in the footsteps of both Abraham Lincoln and a student of Clal — a former officer in Israel’s Special Forces.
Like these two heroes, we invite you to hold together a wider range of ideas, emotions, and relationships than comes easily to any of us when we are in the midst of terrible conflict. We ask that because holding that wider range is what real leaders do — they remain both in the trenches and above the fray. We ask that of you because that is the mindset from which the solutions we seek — both short-term and long-term — can emerge.
We invite you, as you march, donate, and pray, to follow the lead of President Lincoln who, when asked at the height of the Civil War if “God was on our (the Union’s) side,” responded, “Sir, what concerns me is not whether or not God is on our side, but whether or not we are on God’s side.” Yes, we must fight the good fight, as Lincoln did, which includes the willingness to continue asking hard questions of ourselves and our most deeply held convictions, even as we do so.
Raise your voice for that which you most believe, but do so while experiencing what our second hero – the former officer in Israel’s Special Forces – shared with me earlier today as he reflected on the past 72 hours: “I am grappling with sadness, anger, humiliation, disappointment, vengeance…and hope.
We all know people currently feeling and acting on some of those emotions, but how many of us can hold them all? How many of us can embrace genuine hope and equally genuine rage — not letting the latter block out the former or the former insulate us from feeling the latter? I know how hard that is, as I am wrestling with it myself, deeply and profoundly, but that is what it means to be both in the trenches and above the fray, and that is our aim at Clal. Our histories as nations, both the United States and Israel’s, remind us that when that is our path, we can be at our strongest, most secure, most compassionate, and most successful. May that day be soon, and may we all count ourselves among those who made it so.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield,
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.