Our Sages tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred – Jews hating other Jews. Just as the destruction of the Holy Temple really began three weeks earlier when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, so too the acts of hatred amongst Jews bring down our people and destroy our souls. I learned about the power of this three-week period of mourning firsthand on a teen tour of Israel decades ago.
There were many profound, moving and hilarious moments on our trip – visiting the Western Wall for the first time and swearing I could feel it breathe, sobbing with grief at Yad Vashem, and laughing hysterically when some guys on the trip, filled with Jewish pride, “reenacted” the raid on Entebbe with shaving cream cans as guns and underwear on their heads as uniforms. But one event, which happened during the three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av, would have the most lasting impact on me.
For some reason, our tour, consisting of teens mostly from Denver, kept running into another teen group from Atlanta that we just didn’t hit it off with. We had met many other groups from the U.S. that we enjoyed and befriended, but this Atlanta group seemed spoiled and snobby. While staying at the same youth hostel as this group, an intense rivalry built up. It finally ended when our “commandos” took the shaving cream cans they had previously utilized for their “courageous raid on Entebbe,” and instead employed them to “decorate” the Atlanta boys’ rooms.
After the din of the victory celebration died down, we heard our madricha (counselor), Tami, weeping. We asked her what was wrong, and in her most heartbroken, pained voice, Tami said, “What are you doing? We are all Jews here. They are Jews, you are Jews. How can you hate each other? Everyone else hates us; we have to love each other. How could you have done this? We are all Jews!”
Needless to say, we all felt ashamed. Her message sunk into my heart and has remained there forever.
I try hard not to be critical of Jews who think differently than me, and my heart breaks whenever I see Jews belittling other Jews.
I learned a life-changing lesson that day, the importance of Ahavat Yisrael, loving your fellow Jew. As a result, I try hard not to be critical of Jews who think differently than me, and my heart breaks just as hers did that day, whenever I see or experience groups of Jews belittling or badmouthing other groups of Jews.
Bottom line, we are all Jews. We are not “Denverites,” “Atlantans,” “Israelis,” “Russians,” “Ethiopians,” and so on. We are Jews. Our level of observance or non-observance, our political beliefs, our customs and traditions – these are all things that tend to divide us. So I want to issue a challenge: reach out to Jews who are not like yourself and find your commonalities.
We can respectfully disagree with Jews with whom we do not see eye to eye without resorting to name calling. Let’s work on eradicating the anger and distrust amongst different groups of Jews. This three-week period is the perfect time for us to reflect on ways to increase our Ahavat Yisrael.
Think of ways you can reach out and spend time with your fellow Jews who are different than you. It may mean inviting the family down the block over, having lunch with a co-worker, or just saying a friendly hello to your neighbor.
For instance, every year I am blessed to be part of the Jewish Woman’s Repertory Company. The JWRC puts together a professional musical production by women, for women. With members from the entire spectrum of Jewish practice, it's an opportunity to rehearse and perform with Jewish women from all backgrounds bringing us together and creating lasting friendships between people who otherwise might never have met.
So I challenge everyone, including myself, to use this time before Tisha B’Av to focus on the ways we can truly participate in the mitzvah of loving our fellow Jews. Let's do our part to help repair the spiritual damage that has been done. I encourage anyone with suggestions and successes to share them in the comments section below. Perhaps together, you can help me erase the damage of the shaving cream, too!