An Edah Editorial
By Rabbi Joshua Feigelson

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson is a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and the Campus Rabbi at the Fiedler Hillel Center of Northwestern University Hillel in Evanston, IL.


Do you know anyone serving in Iraq?

I intend to ask this question this year at Yom Kippur services. Of the 1,500 people who will hear it, I expect no more than a handful to say they do. I, for one, do not. Do you?

As it is for most of America, the Iraq war is an abstraction to many American Jews. We dont know by name anyone in uniform on the ground. And so, like most of America, it is hard for us to become motivated to take action. After all, what do we personally have at stake?

Contrast this scene with the historic events in Gaza two months ago.

Fifty-three thousand soldiers and police were deployed - one percent of the population, or the equivalent of 3 million Americans. Even if an Israeli did not have a son, daughter, or husband immediately involved, they likely had a friend who did. And even if they didn't have a friend connected to the events on the ground, just watching the pictures created a certain sense of inevitability: that could have been me in uniform.

Compulsory military or national service is the greatest factor in cementing solidarity between the citizens of Israel. Every child in Israel is raised with the assumption that they share the same future as their friends and neighbors: they will all go to the army. They are included in the same fate.

Rabbi Joseph B. Solveitchik termed this concept of shared fate "brit ha-goral", a covenant of fate. In his work Kol Dodi Dofek, the Rav argued that in light of the Holocaust, every Jew shares the same fate as every other Jew - no matter his or her connection to the Jewish people: The individual, against his will, is subjected and subjugated to the national, fate-laden, reality. He cannot evade this reality and become assimilated into some other, different reality. The implications of this reality include a shared sense of suffering with, responsibility for, and action toward fellow Jews.

Times have changed in the nearly fifty years since Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote Kol Dodi Dofek. Israel, though threatened, is vastly more secure. Here in America, we are two generations removed from the Holocaust, and the concept of brit ha-goral, a collective fate, rings hollow with this generation. Today we are all about choice, not fate.

Unlike in Israel, where the typical child orients his or her entire life around wearing a uniform in service to the nation, the American child is brought up to orient his or her life around - in the words of the U.S. Army itself! - being all he or she can be.

In Israel, the Disengagement provoked a national therapy session, a shiva house spanning the entire country. The tone of Israeli society was unbelievable: shared suffering, shared responsibility, shared fate.Israelis witnessed their children crying with each other, praying with each other, tending one anothers wounds. And in those moments all of Israeli society psychologically channeled itself into the homes in Gush Katif, and assumed collective responsibility for whatever fate lay in store.

And here in America? Despite its mounting toll in lives and treasure, the Iraq war has still not overtaken American society as the number one topic of conversation. The lives of celebrities, sports and entertainment are still further toward the center of our national consciousness. The suffering lies with the families of the soldiers; the responsibility lies with the administration; the fate simply lies.

American Jews have been looking for a meaningful way to respond to the Disengagement. Some sent money to the evicted families. Others sent pizzas to the police. Let me propose something much more immediate and much more demanding: that we, who have not chosen to move to Israel, engage our civic duty and develop here, in American society, the exemplary kind of solidarity that our brothers and sisters in Israel displayed last summer.

In its most substantial form, this would mean advocating for reinstatement of compulsory military service, with a national service option for conscientious objectors. If we immediately shy away from this notion, we must at a minimum confront the moral question and explain why someone elses child should be asked to risk his life while our own children lie sleeping ten thousand miles away.

Independent of this debate lays the clear moral and religious obligation to identify with those who are putting their lives on the line, and to support and sympathize with their families. Our synagogues should host returning soldiers and invite them to share their stories. Our communities should provide forums for anxious and grieving families to share their pride and their pain. In a word, we must make the effort to share their fate.

The central ritual of Yom Kippur in Temple times was the offering of two goats: one was sacrificed to God, the other thrown off a cliff in the wilderness. The goats were identical. All that separated them was a goral, a lot, an act of fate.

We no longer perform the sacrifice of the two goats. But we read their story as part of the Yom Kippur service. Let us resolve this year to embrace the brit ha-goral, the Covenant of Fate, that binds us as Jews here and throughout the world, and to create a society of shared fate here in America as well.


Home | Get To Know Us | Increase Your Knowledge | Talk With Like Minded People | Transform Your Community | Stay Informed | Find What You Need | Site Guide