A few weekends ago, I spent Shabbat in Israel with Jewish college students from Germany, France, Canada and throughout the Former Soviet Union. The shabbaton began with a gripping speech by Natan Sharansky, president of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
While the weekend yielded fascinating conversations, two moments are stitched in my mind.
During Shabbos dinner, we sat segregated by country. Each group began independently singing Shabbos songs. Slowly, each group began competing and singing different songs trying to out shout fellow participants.
Then, the French delegation began singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” American, Canadian, Russian and German Jews all joined in to sing “A Strong Jewish Nation.” Pounding our fists on the table, laughing at the spontaneity, we were no longer different from each other. We were Jews. And on Shabbos, Jews sing and Jews celebrate — and that’s exactly what the song about our Jewish nation inspired.
Next song: “Hava Nagila.” An odd song for Shabbos, but nonetheless an energizing song for the moment. “It’s Shabbat. I’m in Israel. Let’s dance,” I thought. I grabbed two of my friends and dragged them to dance the hora in front of the 120 participants. Everyone laughed. Then students from France, Germany and Russia joined us. We danced like fools. It did not matter what language we spoke or at what type of synagogue we prayed. We were Jews, and simply being Jews, in that moment, was enough.
Next, a professor in his 80s, who was traveling with the German group, spontaneously addressed the entire shabbaton.
He started with six words that left me frozen: “As a survivor of the Shoah … .”
I never realized he was a survivor. Recalling his spiritual journey, he said his Judaism was birthed out of fear and persecution. He took a deep breath, smiled and said, “The future is bright. The future is bright because of you all.”
He spoke for those who perished in the Shoah and for those who are still alive today. And he spoke to my generation, which, I believe, is the most globally privileged generation of Jews.
This shabbaton illustrated masterfully the current status of the Jewish people and, perhaps most importantly, highlighted significant challenges that must be solved from within “the Tribe.”
However, the two moments des-cribed in this story are illustrations of the unity we all must actively seek to achieve and celebrate every day. Twelve college-aged Jewish males from across the world laughing and dancing the hora on Shabbat— that is unity. One hundred and twenty rowdy college-aged Jews from 12 countries mesmerized by an unplanned speech of approval and empowerment from a Holocaust survivor — that is unity.
While this type of organic unity among Jews is scarce, these moments give me hope. Unity may seem like a far-off dream, but then again, my ancestors did look down on me from heaven and watched me dance the hora in the Jewish State of Israel on Shabbos with Jews from France, Russia, Canada and German. We were laughing, smiling and ready to be a part of my generation’s Jewish legacy.