Jews vs. Jews

.Yesterday, I encountered a bearded young man riding a motorized scooter, donning a black yarmulke, with his tzitzit fluttering behind him. His attire juxtaposed traditional garb with modern flair, as his designer black sneakers sported a gilded logo. This sight encapsulated my confusion about how Jews perceive one another – often perplexing as the sight was not as expected. The differences between the way Jewish people look or act can be discordant.  The way we expect each other to look or act can feel disruptive. Yet, the Torah commands Jews to love one another.

At Torah’s core lies Parshat Kedoshim. The text requires that: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am יהוה.” The Torah commands us to harbor love for our fellow Jews. Yet recent events have tested our commitment to this tenet.

In Israel, Ultra-religious groups have been exempt from military service . . . until now. These groups have threatened to withdraw from the ruling political coalition if required to serve in the army. I appreciate that the Haredi of Israel have devoted themselves to Torah study, which we believe sustains the world. Their reluctance to defend Israel strains my ability to love my fellow Jews as I love myself. It’s confounding.

Closer to home, the offspring of cherished friends have clashed with their parents over the conflict in Gaza. For some, empathy for Palestinian suffering has led to a rejection of both Zionism and Jewish customs. The Passover seder table became a battleground, with some refusing to participate. I struggle to comprehend how politicizing and even abstaining from a Seder, the celebration of freedom, serves as a logical response to the ongoing war. It’s bewildering.

I’ve engaged in challenging dialogues with former friends regarding Jewish rituals and laws. Observant acquaintances have rebuffed me with statements like, “I can’t eat in your house because your kashruth isn’t sufficient,” and “Non-observant Jews are detrimental to our community.” Conversely, non-observant friends have expressed frustration, saying, “Your refusal to work on Shabbat or a holiday is absurd,” and “Can’t you make an exception?” Disagreements over religious principles often sow discord. It’s disorienting.

There are moments when I feel uplifted witnessing Jews proudly displaying their yarmulkes and tzitzit in public. This is especially true when on vacation an orthodox man goes whizzing by on his scooter. On the other hand, when individuals sporting religious attire ignore me, or worse, ostracize me, I am disheartened.

Recently while walking my dog on a Saturday, I offered a “Shabbat shalom” to my observant neighbors. I barely received a grudging acknowledgment. Then I realized I had my earphones on and a phone in my hand. I wondered, am I being regarded with suspicion, or is there a deeper rift?

Perhaps it’s natural for us to categorize “others,” thereby reinforcing our own identities. Yet, Jews are separating themselves from other Jews, defying Hillel’s caution, “Do not separate yourself from the community.

In times shadowed by anti-Semitism, we can ill afford to exist as isolated factions within the broader Jewish community. Though we may not always see eye to eye, we can still extend love towards one another. Despite differing interpretations of tradition, we can still show mutual respect. The perplexing truth is that while we aspire to love our fellow Jews, achieving this ideal often feels unattainable.

The injunction to love our fellow Jew may have more transgressors than adherents. Perhaps the best we can strive for is to practice loving each other while acknowledging that perfection in this endeavor may elude us.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame