Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unite, or Die

I bet that title got your attention. The phrase comes from a famous editorial cartoon by Benjamin Franklin that was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754. It depicted a wood-carved snake broken into separate pieces, which represented the disunity among the early American colonies. Originally written as "Join, or Die," it called for uniting the colonies against the French during the French and Indian War. In 1765, it was changed to "Unite, or Die" as a rallying cry against the British.

Perhaps we can use this sort of sentiment to address the disunity among the Jewish people. Before we are liberal or conservative, religious or secular, we are all Jews. And whenever we decide to primarily focus on what divides us rather than what unites us, we are in serious trouble. Given the catastrophic results of what happens when we do not cooperate with each other, we have to learn from our history. Holding true to each of our individual customs and philosophies is fine, unless it leads to deliberately hurting fellow Jews.

It's interesting that the symbol used in the cartoon is a snake. While the snake is most notable for causing Adam and Eve to sin, it was also the symbol (nachash hanechoshet, the copper serpent) used to cure those who were injured in the wilderness. Like virtually everything else on earth, it has been used for both good and evil. Let's use it for good. In addition, let's look for the good in others instead of what they lack. Whether we like it or not, we are all different parts (Ashkenaz, Sephard, Chasidic, etc.) of the same whole (the Jewish people). Thus, when any part begins to separate from another segment, everyone suffers the consequences.

Hopefully, a call such as "Unite, or Die" can serve a stark reminder to get our priorities straight. As long as the descriptive word that comes before "Jew" (e.g. Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, etc.) doesn't lead us to treat that person any less decently, we will be alright. For our enemies, simply mentioning the word "Jew" has the ability to galvanize evil, but it should have that same kind of capacity to unite us for good. We have it within our power to end intramural hatred and the indecent behavior that often accompanies it. We just need to give it our best effort. Allowing this kind of hatred to foster is an option we can't afford to take.

As former President Ronald Reagan once said:

"I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing."

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