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Extreme unity could give us frostbite

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A few weeks before my wife was due to climb a mountain, she was advised by her doctor not to do so. It had something to do with her being likely to lose a reasonable number of fingers and/or toes because of the extreme weather they were likely to encounter. According to the specialist, medically, her body was better suited to Mauritius than it was to the peaks of Africa. Which is why, reluctantly, she cancelled the expedition which could have resulted in her either never wearing her engagement ring again, or open-toe shoes, or even both.

She was meant to summit with a cohort of women doing it for a cause. The nature of which, for the life of me, I can’t remember.

As a gesture to the group, she offered to host an evening for the climbers. Although I wasn’t particularly involved, I happened to have been walking past on the way to the kitchen in search of a snack when I heard one of the speakers poetically mention something about “15 women with one heart that beat in unison”.

Lots of bodies. One goal. One heartbeat.

Physiologically impossible and poetically dramatic as it might have been, I also found it plain old irritating. Which is why, as I continued my quest for something delicious, I tried to identify why it was that I was triggered by the harmless and sweet words of someone who was simply looking to inspire the would-be climbers.

Many years later, I might have stumbled on the answer.

Over the past few years, there has been a terrible amount of disunity in the Jewish world. Intolerance exists on all sides of the political and religious divide in Israel, and had been increasingly steadily to the point that disdain for alternate views had become the norm. Scenes of discord played out throughout Israel and the diaspora, with Tel Aviv, in many ways, becoming the “Ground Zero” of this phenomenon.

The pinnacle for me was the pulling down of the mechitza, the separation between men and women, at a Yom Kippur service.

October 7 changed everything. It reminded us of what’s important, what’s a priority, and left no doubt that though we acted out being outraged with each other, there were real people who meant us real harm. And who would give their lives to make sure that it wasn’t Tel Aviv, let alone a mechitza, over which we had to argue.

A “positive” result of the 7 October terror attack was a sense of harmony among Jews, not only in Israel but worldwide. Noisy but insignificant anti Zionists aside, Jews have experienced a sense of unity not seen for decades. To some extent, since that day, like our mountaineers, the Jewish heart has beaten as one.

Which is awesome.

But potentially irritating, and unquestionably not sustainable. Fifty-four days since the terror attacks, and I have been to more unity events than is good for me. I have said more tehillim than King David himself would have thought healthy, and I have shed more tears than I would have imagined possible had I been asked on 6 October.

I’m in no way diminishing how important this is, but I know my tolerance for unity has reached its maximum.

We move further from the terrible events of the day as a changed people. As awful as the events have been, it’s important to hold on to some of the results. And although we’ll never sustain the current level of unity, there are some aspects worth protecting. We need to be united in our intentions, but not in our thoughts. We need to continue to value our love for each other, but be comfortable with taking different paths on the journey. We need to argue like siblings, and resolve like adults. And recognise that we are different bodies with different hearts that beat to our own rhythm. We need to have our own and unique relationship with G-d. And we need to give others the space to have theirs. And we need to be united in these values.

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