Years ago, I was talking to a left-leaning friend and was taken aback by something he said.
“I have nothing in common with them,” he said, and to make sure I understood, he named the types of people he was talking about. He meant the ones who live in “Beit Haggai, Otniel.”
“But you speak the same language, live in the same country, have the same religion,” I protested. “How could you not have so many things in common with any Jew, every Jew, anywhere?”
“We use the same words, but don’t speak the same language, definitely don’t live in the same country and don’t share religion either.”
“But I’m one of ‘them’ too,” I said, desperate to explain. It wasn’t possible. I had moved to Israel, grown up with the belief that there is this unseen connection, felt to the depths of my soul. We are all responsible, one for the other. We are one people. I am those very people he despised, I thought to myself.
“No, you aren’t.”
“Yes, I am. I am no different from them and if you have nothing in common with them, you have nothing in common with me – and we both know that isn’t true.”
I was saddened by the discussion, but let it go. What more could I say to prove my point…and hadn’t he said enough already.
A few years passed and the Israeli government announced it would unilaterally remove the Jews from Gaza and sections of northern Shomron (Samaria). I was against the decision on many levels, all levels. My friend was as strongly in favor as I was against. We talked, we debated, we discussed, we never agreed.
I didn’t believe the day would come, I prayed that it wouldn’t. He anticipated it. I sat and watched as my country, my army did the unthinkable. It made a mockery of our political system, a joke out of our army. It brought, as I expected it would – rocket attacks, more deaths, and war. Ashkelon will burn, we warned our fellow Israelis, I warned my friend.
“But then we can do what normal countries do. We can flatten them.”
“We won’t,” I countered. The same weakness that leads us to expel our own people will cripple the government and prevent us from stopping the rockets that will surely hit Ashkelon – and even Ashdod.
“One rocket,” my friend said. “One rocket after we pull out and their finished.”
We pulled out of Gaza and destroyed some of the most beautiful and productive communities in our land. I dreaded going to see my friend. I couldn’t stand to see him gloat at his victory and Israel’s loss.
Finally, I had no choice and with great reluctance I went.
“So,” he began.
“So,” I answered, wondering if after so many years our friendship would end.
“I took vacation to watch,” he said. I took a deep breath. I too had watched. Hours and hours and tears and tears had been spent. I cried till I could not cry any more, and then amazingly enough, I cried more. I went to the Western Wall to watch as the communities arrived and were welcomed. I cried there too. I didn’t want to hear, couldn’t listen to what I knew he was going to say.
“And I cried,” he said. “I cried when I watched the dignity of the people and what we did.”
I looked at him and I remembered his words from so many years before. A thought I had found so foreign, so incomprehensible at the time. For the first time in my life, I knew that he’d been right, or at least partially. “Do you remember when you told me you had nothing in common with those Jews who lived in Beit Haggai and Otniel?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I didn’t think it was possible at the time, but now I agree. I have nothing, nothing, nothing, in common with a Jew who could have watched the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza and not cried.”
You didn’t have to agree or disagree with it, I decided, but no matter what you felt, you had to cry.
This morning, a terrorist attempted to murder Jews in Beit Haggai. He entered the small village with a knife, as another terrorist entered the small village of Bat Ayin recently. That time, the brave terrorist attacked two children, murdering a boy of only 13 and seriously wounding a 7-year-old before a Jewish father ran and confronted the terrorist, who fled, typical of the coward he was.
This morning, a person was lightly wounded before the terrorist in Beit Haggai was eliminated. Every Jew today must feel relief, it could have been so much worse. Every Jew must be grateful that the Jews of Beit Haggai and Otniel are safe in their homes today, safe to live in the land we all love, speak the language we all share.