Expansive Unity

Dear Friends,


An old friend recently shared with me that she is worried about the Passover Seder because of the deep divisions within her own family over Israel and the war. I know she is not alone.  

I have also been reflecting on the importance of and challenges to unity — in families and communities, in America and Israel, between Israelis and North American Jews, and between Israel and the U.S. The atrocities of October 7, the war against Hamas, and the fight against Israel hatred and Jew hatred around the world have been powerful unifying forces, as is often the case when people experience the aftermath of collective trauma and fight together against external threats to their existence. 

I just returned from several days of meetings in Washington, D.C. with leaders from Jewish communities across North America. We met to discuss the most significant challenges and opportunities facing our communities and the Jewish People today. We also spent 24 hours in high-level briefings with American and Israeli political and military leaders and scholars to better understand the state of the Israel-Hamas war and current dynamics in the relationship between the United States and Israel. This fly-in was an off-the-record opportunity for me and other leaders to reaffirm our support for Israel and Israelis, to call for the immediate release of the hostages in Gaza, and to both express gratitude and advocate for the unbreakable bonds between the U.S. and Israel. 

The U.S. government's support for and solidarity with Israel over the past five months have been extraordinary. However, some developments in recent weeks — including rhetoric in the President’s State of the Union Address, the Senate Majority leader’s recent speech, and the U.S. decision not to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution — have left Israelis and many of us concerned that U.S. support might be wavering and the relationship weakening. 

I believe that this relationship has never been more important for both Israel and America, for the Jewish People, and for the world. We need to work together in the fight against terror, the fight for democracy in both our countries and across the globe, and to build a safer, more peaceful Middle East and world where Israelis, Palestinians, and all people can live in peace, security, and dignity.  

Some of the silver linings of the past five months have been the deep expressions of love and mutual responsibility between American Jews and Israelis, support from friends and allies, and the numbers of people of every background and generation who have stepped up in so many ways, including young people on college campuses putting on Jewish stars, and showing up at Hillels and Chabads.  

We are seeing an awakening of the timeless Jewish spirits of achdut (“brother and sisterhood,” the sense of connectedness to a global Jewish family), resiliency, and strength. We see the power and potential of unity and collective responsibility at a time of toxic political polarization and a frightening fraying of social fabric and civic life. I see this every day in our community, and it was clear to me in Washington that this spirit and potential are still alive and strong. 

At the same time, we cannot be Pollyannaish about this unity. Clearly, there are different perceptions and opinions about this war, even among those who agree that Israel must defend itself and defeat Hamas. And the deeper divides — within our own communities, within American and Israeli societies, and between us — have not gone away. 

Yes, there are fundamental questions about the boundaries of our tents and who does and does not share values and commitments, such as to Israel and the Jewish People, to democracy, to equality and human dignity for all. My sense, though, is that a significant majority (sometimes silent) of people share those values and commitments even if we sometimes disagree about how to interpret them and live them out.  

To meet the challenges of this moment and build a strong, vibrant future for generations to come, we will need to commit to the Jewish values of ahavat Yisrael (loving every Jew) and ahavat habriyot (loving every human being) and to work toward unity that expands rather than narrows. We need leaders who unite rather than divide. As individuals, as Americans, and as a Jewish People, we can and must, in the words of Walt Whitman, “contain multitudes.” We can stand firmly and passionately for what we believe in and defend ourselves, our values, Israel, and the Jewish People, while doing so in ways that maximally include and bring close those who want to be in this with us but might not understand or agree about how.  

I am eager to talk, listen, and learn with those of you who are wrestling with questions of communal and intergenerational unity and disunity, whether literally at the Passover Seder, or more broadly. Perhaps a good place to start is with an exploration of the Passover Haggadah’s four children, which could take on new and profound meaning this year.  

These are not easy conversations, but know that I am here to have them with you. 

Shabbat Shalom,