As each news cycle seems to create new challenges to our Jewish community’s sense of wholeness, how will we respond — individually and collectively? Will we become broken and divided — or if not — how will we retain our footing so that we may remain connected to each other?
For those of us whose very fiber is enriched by a deep sense of belonging to Jewish community — whose essence is informed by Jewish values — it is painful to witness a public discourse that feeds the possibility of fracture.
We know, of course, that we have always been a diverse people — so much so that it forms a basis of Jewish humor: “Two Jews, three opinions” and so on. Even on a theological level, we have come to terms with the concept of plurality as a strength. From the teachings of Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch: “According to the Kabbalists, good and evil are but spinoffs of unity and divisiveness. We evolve from the ultimate singularity to plurality to diversity, but diversity need not disintegrate into strife. Instead, the diversity can be further dissected into the ingredients of harmony — a harmony that mirrors the singularity out of which the entire process was born.”
To retain the strength that emanates from a caring community, we must hold firmly to core principles:
• We cannot question the loyalty of those who have a different perspective. Instead, we must defend the right to hold varying opinions and create appropriate and conducive environments to respectfully discuss our different viewpoints.
• We must not only be inclusive and tolerant as a community — we must go a step further: We must celebrate the diversity of our community and embrace the idea that pluralism brings strength.
• We must not allow political rhetoric by anyone to become a wedge between the Jewish people.
The old UJA/Federation slogan: “We Are One” may feel like a myth at times. In fact, we are not “one” in the sense that our world views diverge in many ways. Some have observed that we are “a community of communities.” Amidst our diversity, we all can agree that it is no mere coincidence that the Jewish people, in Southern Arizona and around the world, continues to produce impactful leadership in the fields of philanthropy, creative arts, business, politics, science, and academics. Undeniably, these remarkable achievements are an outgrowth of Jewish community and the values at its core.
Our Jewish Federation’s motto is “Stronger Together.” This is an indisputable truth. Our Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation will continue to aspire to nurture the building of a community informed by our core values of chesed (loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repair of the world) — a community that remains committed to strengthening networks of caring and justice, supports learning, and develops leadership, while celebrating our diversity and, indeed, our understanding that unity can and does coexist in diversity.
Stuart Mellan is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. Graham Hoffman is the president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.