You may have heard the story of the farmer and his four quarreling sons. One day the farmer fell ill and was determined to end the divisive tensions between his sons, so he decided to tie four sticks together and asked them each to attempt to snap the bundle. None of the boys were successful. Then the father untied the bundle and gave each son one of the sticks to break. The sons were easily able to snap each of their sticks. When the sticks remained together, they were unbreakable, but when they were separated they were weaker and easily broken. Then the farmer said: “Now you understand. If you are united nobody can get the better of you. But if you keep quarreling, you will be broken by anyone.”
Unity makes strength. Now that is an overused saying if I’ve ever heard one. The origin of the phrase was derived from the Latin saying, “concordia res parvae crescent,” which directly translates to “small things flourish by concord.” The idea then evolved into several countries’ mottos, including the Dutch Republic, and is still used today by Belgium, Bolivia and Bulgaria. And the idea has also guided many of today’s institutions and movements, including various labor movements, the student movement and even the healthy food movement. This simple concept resonates with an immense amount of variant circumstances. And this alone shows the power the statement still holds. Through all of the hardships Jews have had to endure, unity is what has helped us survive. We must cling onto the source of that unity: Israel.
Throughout our long history, Israel has been a uniting factor among Jews. Even looking back at the famous stories of Passover, one can see that the Israelites’ success and perseverance was driven by a unity for a common objective to return to their homeland. It was at the revelation at Mount Sinai that the 12 tribes of Israel became a single nation.
The nation of Israel was again united under King David when he conquered Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE and made it the capital. His unswerving kingdom flourished for 400 years. It only fell due to disunity among the Jewish people under the rule of David’s grandson, King Rehavam. Israel had split into the kingdoms of Israel and Judea, leaving the nation vulnerable. This vulnerability ultimately resulted in the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and later the conquering of Judea at the hands of the Babylonians, ending the reign of the House of David in 586 BCE and forcing the Jews into exile.
Because of an internally unstable and disunified Judea, the Romans were able to destroy the second temple, and the Jews were exiled once again. And after 2,000 years of living in diaspora, the Zionist movement was finally born. The second half of the 19th century and early half of the 20th century became a time of unification among many Jews. It was a movement where Jews worked jointly to arrive to Eretz Israel and to revive the Hebrew language, culminating in the State of Israel’s establishment in 1948 and enduring until today.
Nowadays, Israel is an immense success—economically, militarily, education-wise, healthcare-wise and the list goes on—and as it is currently at the height of its strength, the country does not face any existential threat. Furthermore, for the first time, there are more Jews living in Israel than outside of Israel. Even those living outside of Israel, especially in the U.S., are living comfortably and prosperously, indicating great improvement from the past.
One would think that these facts would signify that our unity is more powerful than ever, yet our unity has clearly begun to deteriorate. There is a religious divide between the ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews. There is a political divide between the left and right. And there is a growing chasm between Israeli and American Jews, which is driven by both religion and politics. We are faced with so much internal heterogeneity we seem to have lost our sense of common identity, while history is blurting out to us that this disunity poses a danger to each and every Jew and must be rectified. If we remain in the divided and vulnerable position in which we currently stand, our celebrated, variant Jewish identities will quickly and surely fade.
This issue can seem overwhelming and impossible to impact when we think about it in such a broad sense, yet the solution is rather simple. It begins with each individual. In the way that it has repeatedly proven to be in our past, Israel can be what unites us. In today’s world that means engagement. Engagement can mean different things depending on one’s personal interest. It can mean becoming part of the less controversial yet key aspects of Israel, including high tech, medical research, renewable energy, agriculture and the language itself. You can connect with your Israeli identity by visiting the historical and religious sites, simply touching the millennia-old limestones and immersing yourself in your heritage. It can even be engaging in Israel’s phenomenal food, which is the confection of unity itself. The fusion of food from places all over the world, such as North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America and more created the Israeli kitchen, which is so well renowned.
There are also the more strenuous forms of engagement based in the conflicting religious and political beliefs that often divide us. But instead of letting the controversy dichotomize us, use it to engage us as a whole. Debate. Fight for what you believe. Just be a part of it.
Israel is more than a country that was founded 70 years ago. The land of Israel is rooted in history and is the source of our identity, whether historical, religious or cultural. It is our original source of unity. Israel embodies an ancient aspiration for a homeland and a sense of safety as well as solidarity, which can only be achieved by self-determination. Remember that a strong Israel means safety for all Jews in the world, which is a fact that we must fight to preserve. A strong Israel means a strong Jewish people.
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