Published in The Jerusalem Post on October 20, 2002
Clearly, we Israelis love each other so very much. You can tell from the way we speak about each other.
Over the last week alone, Nissim Zeev of Shas called new MK Uzi Even (a homosexual) “repellent” and a “disgrace”. Yossi Sarid compared settlements to “Sodom” and settlers to “cancerous growths”. A senior rabbinical figure again said that the Reform Movement was “worse than the Nazis”. A leading women’s group called a rabbinical judge a “blood sucker”. Senior figures in Bibi Netanyahu’s camp labeled Ariel Sharon a “trickster” and a “cheat”. And Shulamit Aloni piped-up with her usual pearls of hateful hash – something about all religious Jews bearing the burden of Rabin’s assassination – just to remind us that she is still around.
Once upon a time we used to chalk-up the rough talk to Israeli “character” and shrug it off. But the disgraceful level to which our mainstream politicians have sunk is alarming. Society as a whole is affected; it becomes increasingly vulgarized.
Moderation, nuance, restraint, and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political and social landscape. The prevailing culture is *kasach* — unbridled, untamed confrontation.
Previous Jewish commonwealths, we are taught, disintegrated because of *sinat chinam* – everybody hated each other. And even if they didn’t – the norm was to harshly judge and stereotype one another.
And so, we all could do with a dose of *teshuva*, repentance for our inflammatory, intemperate, seditious demagoguery.
I am prompted to these thoughts not only by the anniversary this week of Prime Yitzhak Rabin’s murder – a tragic event provoked by incitement and hatred. Even more so, I am driven to mourn our ignoble situation by the eighth *yarhtzeit* that falls this week of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the saintly singer and composer, storyteller, scholar and saver of souls, who exemplified and taught *ahavat chinam* (boundless love).
Reb Shlomo was an *ahavat chinam* extremist. He loved all Jews to the fullest and was prepared to go to extreme lengths in order to bring them back to tradition.
Who else was prepared to foray into the ashrams, hippie villages and pubs of the 1960’s flower-child generation, showering love and acceptance of all? Who else was prepared to take the beauty of Jewish mystical teachings and *nigunim* to the Berkeley Folk Festival, to ‘Holy Man Jamborees’ and ‘Whole Earth Expos’ – which were packed with wandering Jewish youth searching for love and spiritual meaning? Only Reb Shlomo.
Reb Shlomo reclaimed thousands upon thousands of “holy hippilech”, from Haight-Ashbury to Metulla to Bombay, offering personal redemption through ecstatic song, meditative prayer, and most of all, simple “menchlechkeit” — moral, decent living.
I don’t know anyone on the face of this earth who can recall hearing Reb Shlomo raise his voice in anger. I know of no instance in which he hit back verbally at his many detractors, even when these misguided critics insulted him to the core, even in front of his closest friends.
Reb Shlomo’s response to all adversity and challenge, no matter how spiteful or nasty, was to love his fellow Jew even more. The redemption of Israel, the saving grace of the State of Israel, he taught, could only come through limitless love. Of all the thousands of songs that he composed, his favorite was *Lema’an Achai Verey’ay*, “For the Sake of My Brothers and Friends, I Will Sing for You Peace”. It was “the highest of high”, the “deepest of deep of songs”, he was wont to say.
“Holy life”, Reb Shlomo taught, was a life that increased peace and love, and that shunned strife and rancor. Very, very few things were worth hating for. To his assailants he would say “hate is a poison that corrodes the soul” and then kiss them on the forehead. Men and women, secular and religious, Jew and non-Jew alike.
At first glance, perhaps all this sounds a bit naïve when talking in terms of national politics, defense and social policy. There are real, unbridgeable differences of opinion among Israelis in these matters. Yet Reb Shlomo’s legacy is still relevant, I think. Everything depends on *how* you approach the person who disagrees with you.
A policy advocate whose position is arrogantly tinged with *schaudenfreud* for the downfall of his political opponent is automatically suspect, Reb Shlomo would contend. Legislation motivated by hate for another or by a desire to hurt another camp ought to be ruled out of order. *Believe me*, each and every one of us knows how to differentiate between laws meant to better the greater good and those meant to punish or penalize a rival camp.
So, as you step in to dance at one of the many, many concerts to held this coming Tuesday evening (17 Cheshvan) to mark the passing of the great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, consider making this personal commitment for the coming year: “I undertake to avoid making quick judgments out of ignorance or antagonism, for these are intellectually-flawed shortcuts designed to serve weak, fearful and hate-filled minds. Instead I commit myself to the patience necessary to withhold harsh judgment of my friends and colleagues, out of an abiding, overriding concern for *Klal Yisrael*”.