Anyone who knows history knows that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed at the hands of a superior mighty Roman empire. And yet, that is not how Jewish legend and the rabbinic tradition tells the tale. Although the Roman army pulled the trigger, the demise of the Temple, the persecution of the Jewish people and the ensuing two thousand year exile rested solely upon the shoulders of the Jews, namely two Jews to be exact.
As legend has it the story goes like this:
There was a person who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. He once made a banquet and said to his servant, “Go and bring me Kamtza.” [Understandably, by mistake] the servant went and brought Bar Kamtza (the names sounding alike). When the host entered and found Bar Kamtza sitting at his banquet, he said, “The person sitting here is an enemy of mine. What is he doing at my banquet? Get out of here!” So Bar Kamtza said to him, “Since I am here, let me stay. I will pay for whatever I eat and drink.” He replied, “No, I won’t let you stay.” “I will pay for half the banquet,” Bar Kamtza pleaded. “No,” was the answer. “I will pay for the whole banquet, just let me stay.” He still said no, grabbed him by the arm, and threw him out. Bar Kamtza now said to himself, “Since the Rabbis were there and did not protest, that shows that they approved of what he did. I will go and denounce them to the Roman authorities.” He went and said to the Emperor, “The Jews have rebelled against you.” Bar Kamtza eventually convinced the Roman authorities that the Jews were disloyal to them, ultimately bringing about a war, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Israel for over 2000 years.
Is this a true story? Probably not, but the rabbis have preserved it and told it because the message is unequivocally clear. When we Jews are strong, our community, our reality, our destiny is strong. When we are weak, our world trembles our existence is in doubt and our communities crumble. When we are good to one another nothing can touch us. When we turn on each other, the beginning of the end is near. It was true two thousand years ago and it is true today.
My friends, in light of everything this local Jewish community is facing, particularly in light of the JCC’s struggles, we need to heed this teaching now more than ever before. It is too easy during times of crisis to point fingers, sling mud and play the blame game. Instead of finding solutions, we find fault. Instead of wishing one another well, we curse each other, begrudge one another and turn our backs on our fellow Jews and on our community. At a time when we need to take one another by the hand, we all too often close our hands or use them to push one another away.
Lately, I have seen many hurtful variations of the Bar Kamtza story played out in our little shtedtle north of Boston. Shirat Hayam and Cohen Hillel Academy and the Jewish Federation and countless individuals, me included, have worked tirelessly to find solutions, to provide alternatives to partner, to collaborate, to find our way through. And yet, finger pointing and name calling, hurtful words and unfair accusations have been bantered about casually or fired off viciously. And each and every time it hurts, hurts deeply and only sends us not down the path of construction, but down the road of destruction. Each and every one these institutions and every single individual I have worked with has expressed nothing but compassion, open-heartedness and a willingness to collaborate, not capitalize on the J’s misfortune, and to find our way through these challenges as a community. Now is not a time for “us” vs. “them” but rather it is a time for “we” – we are in this together. We are a community in crisis. We can and will find our way through. We will find a way through this crisis by coming together, perhaps merging, certainly partnering and undoubtedly collaborating in so many ways. It’s time for the synagogues and Jewish institutions of this community and every community to open their minds, open their hearts and realize once and for all that we are brothers and sisters; what divides us pales in comparison to what unites us. But most of all, at the end of the day, regardless of the outcome – we are being judged by our community, by the next generation and by our Creator for the means not just the end.
Are we suspect of one another? Are we casting aspersions, pointing fingers or laying blame? But above all else are we engaging in sinat chinam – senseless hatred between our fellow Jews. Sinat chinam is what ultimately destroyed the Second Commonwealth of Judaism and we cannot allow it to bring down the Judaism of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or this holy, wonderful and possibility filled Jewish community on Boston’s North Shore.
We are being watched. This is our moment to fall or to rise. The outcome will not be determined by external circumstances, never has been and won’t be the defining factor now. Rather, it will be determined by how we treat one another. How we speak to one another. How we open our hearts and our hands and whether or now we jettison the sinat chinam and replace it with our new mantra, our new slogan, our new direction: Am Echad; Lev Echad – One People; One Heart. We are in it together. If we are divided we will fail, but if we unite we will prevail. It is up to me, it is up to us, it is up to you!
Am Echad; Lev Echad – One People; One Heart