More than one million people across the world gathered together on Friday, September 7, to pray for Jewish Unity. This remarkable initiative, held just three days before Rosh Hashanah, was spearheaded by the organization ‘Acheinu’, the outreach arm of ‘Dirshu’, the international Torah organization.
The Day of Jewish Unity is a revolutionary initiative designed to unify all Jewish people from around the world by engaging in a day of peace and prayer on behalf of the current state of affairs, as the Jewish nation finds itself in a precarious position both domestically and internationally. The political diversity and relentless hostility we face today is unprecedented. From our polarizing environment that has spawned a nation divided, to global military threats that continue to wreak havoc, the notion of peace and unity has never been more distant.
Nevertheless, Acheinu maintained that every Jew was born with an innate ‘brotherhood’ mentality that connects every one of us. We are always there for each other, physically and in prayer. In times of crisis, the Jewish nation has historically turned to prayer for help. With the daunting uncertainty surrounding the well-being of our people and homeland, our prayers are needed more than ever.
The Impetus Behind The Day of Jewish Unity
That was the impetus behind The Day of Jewish Unity. It would be a day where all Jews put aside their differences to unite in brotherhood and prayer. The inspiration for the Day of Jewish Unity were the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim about the severity of the sin of ‘Lashon Hara’ – speaking gossip or ill of another.
The day of Jewish Unity was marked with prayer rallies throughout the world. The flagship event, however, was held at the Kotel Hamaaravi in Yerushalayim early Friday morning, September 7. It was impossible not to be moved when the thousands who filled the entire Kotel Plaza thundered the Shema Yisrael and the prayer of ‘Hashem Hu Elokim’ that is said at Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur. One participant related, “It felt as if the very heavens were opening.”
One of the extraordinary things about the event at the Kotel was not just the massive crowd – the entire Kotel Plaza from the Kotel right up until the back was jammed – but rather the wide-ranging participation of Jews from all walks of life. There were Sefardim and Ashkenazim, kippot srugot of the National Religious, alongside the distinctive, white-knitted yarmulkas of the Toldos Aharon Chassidim, all kinds of Chassidim and Lithuanian Yeshiva types. There was even a large contingent of soldiers in military uniform who temporarily put down their guns and joined in the prayers. That unprecedented achdus and kiddush Hashem at the Kotel was a microcosm of the achdus displayed the world over.
In his heartfelt, short remarks delivered at the Kotel, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, the founder and Nasi of both Dirshu and Acheinu, emotionally hailed this unique achdus and its power to bring with it yeshuos in advance of the New Year.
He spoke with deep passion about the profound achdus through Torah study and prayer that the Jewish Nation was displaying throughout the world as they came together ‘As one man with one heart,’ to collectively invoke Divine Mercy.
Prayer Gatherings All Over the World
The event at the Kotel, led by the Gedolei Yisrael, was the flagship event but it was by no means the only event.
In Israel, Yom Limud and Tefillah gatherings were held in Meron, Kever Rachel, Bnei Brak, Tzfas, Ashdod, Modiin Illit and numerous other locales. In America, there were tens of locations where tefillos were held and in Europe, large gatherings were held in France, England and even in Odessa, Russia!
The Chofetz Chaim, Also, A Light Unto the Nations…
The idea to promote Jewish unity resonated in such a profound way that it was even picked up by a number of important opinion makers both from within and without the Jewish Community. Articles about the importance of the Day of Jewish Unity that coincides with the yahrzeit of the Chofetz Chaim appeared in numerous general publications, most notably a seminal article in Fox News, penned by Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and Presidential Candidate, and an article in The Hill, by entrepreneur and former Press Secretary for President Trump, Anthony Scaramucci.
There were also important articles in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel, that picked up the story and ran with it.
In his Fox News article, Huckabee wrote, “There are too many forces in our world trying to destroy the Jewish people and the Holy Land, but Jews need to stay strong and united – and we must join them.”
Huckabee explained that The Day of Jewish Unity, is designed to serve as a light to all of mankind by emulating the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim.
“Acheinu promotes this day of prayer in honor of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, who devoted his entire life to promoting respect and civility and cautioning about the evils of gossip. Though Rabbi Kagan died in 1933, his teachings live on.
“I think if Rabbi Kagan was alive today to see how divided the world still is, he would be disappointed. And yet, through the rabbi’s teachings, I also know that he would not give up hope but would continue to call for courtesy, understanding, and cohesion.”
Huckabee explains that the right to Free Speech is not necessarily licensed to abuse speech.
“As Americans, we are blessed to have the right to speak our minds and voice opposition to the government without fear of reprisal. But there is a difference between articulating your views and spreading vitriol.
“We can disagree with one another, yet remain courteous. A disagreement does not have to be a fight…”
A Call for Civility in Discourse
Anthony Scaramucci, founder and co-managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, who served briefly as White House Communications Director under President Trump, wrote an important article published in The Hill, a publication that is a go-to website for anything political and is faithfully scoured by the ‘Who’s Who’ in Washington. In his article, Scaramucci, calls on all Americans – Democrats, Republicans and people of all faiths to emulate the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim and his, “teachings about the evils of gossip and disunity among people.”
Scaramucci’s call for civility in discourse was announced to coincide with the annual Day of Jewish Unity. He writes, “The political and social discourse in America has grown so poisonous and partisan that I worry for our children’s future. We have forgotten the many values we share and what it means to disagree with civility. As a society, we must find a way to break the fever. John McCain knew how to reach across the aisle and work with people with whom he did not always agree.”
Scaramucci then invoked the Chofetz Chaim and the Day of Jewish Unity. “His passing comes just before the annual Day of Jewish Unity, which is celebrated each year in memory of a rabbi known as the Chofetz Chaim. This rabbi’s chief contribution to Jewish thought was teachings about the evils of gossip and disunity among people. Acheinu, the outreach arm of the Jewish education organization Dirshu, created this day originally to unify the Jewish people but is also asking people of all faiths worldwide to unite in prayer for global peace and stability.”
Rising Above our Differences… Without Insult
Jeremy Frankel perhaps put it most succinctly when highlighting the strife between Jews both in Israel and America and solutions to combat that discord. He writes in the Jerusalem Post, “We are a world divided. In Israel, there is a huge chasm separating the ultra-Orthodox and the secular Jews. In America, there is a vast gulf between liberals and conservatives. Rather than trying to bridge these gaps, each day there seem to be more harsh words driving the wedge deeper and spurring more distrust.
“If our two countries are to survive, the disparate groups within them need to unite and work together. This does not mean we ignore our differences; this means we choose to rise above them to actually get things done for the greater good.”
Frankel goes on to highlight why ‘The Day of Jewish Unity’ is so important. “That is what Acheinu, the outreach arm of Dirshu, a Jewish educational organization, is preaching. Each year, Acheinu holds a Day of Jewish Unity – this year on Friday, Sept. 7. On this day, Acheinu asks Jews everywhere to put aside the bickering and the snide comments to unite in prayer for peace. It is fitting that this day is observed in memory of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim wrote extensively on the importance of refraining from gossip and not slandering one another.
“I’m the first to admit that being kind to everyone and holding your tongue can be very hard. When you staunchly disagree with someone, your first impulse is to fling a cutting retort, but if we follow the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim, we know that we should ignore that first impulse. If we pause and restrain ourselves, we can craft a response that, while dissenting, does not insult or impugn the other person.”
School Children Inspired to Emulate the Chofetz Chaim
Another truly exciting element of the day was the fact that thousands of children and teens were touched by the Day of Jewish Unity. Special programming was held for both boys and girls, in schools across the world. According to Rabbi Gershon Kroizer, who oversaw the division that covered schools in Israel and Europe, “Hundreds of schools encompassing many thousands of children participated utilizing the unique content provided to commemorate the auspicious day.”
In the United States and Canada, Dirshu arranged special, age-appropriate material for schools that brought the message and legacy of the Chofetz Chaim to life. Dirshu prepared three different booklets to be distributed to participating boys’ and girls’ schools across the United States and Canada. The booklets were specifically designed for three age groups: grades 1-3, grades 4-5 and grades 6-8. The booklets contain age-appropriate halachos from both the sefer Chofetz Chaim and Mishnah Berurah, as well as inspirational and educational stories about the Chofetz Chaim with biographical material about the Chofetz Chaim and his life’s mission. The children also recited Tehillim on behalf of Klal Yisrael and the tefillah of ‘Acheinu Kol Bais Yisrael’.
The Children Understood How The Chofetz Chaim Relates To Them On A Personal Level.
Rabbi Yehuda Brecher, Principal of the Yeshiva Ketana of Waterbury, whose school participated exclaimed, “It was a phenomenal event! To mark the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrzeit, our school held a special assembly where we said Tehillim together. I spoke to the boys about who the Chofetz Chaim was and how, through his sefarim, he immeasurably enriched each and every one of us. Although the children had certainly heard of the Chofetz Chaim, they gained a true appreciation of what he did for us when I showed them the actual hard copy of the sefarim of the Mishnah Berurah and Chofetz Chaim and explained how pivotal they are in our everyday lives. They became cognizant of how the Chofetz Chaim relates to them on a personal level.”
Rabbi Brecher continued, “At the assembly, the children were told numerous stories about the Chofetz Chaim after which we said Tehillim and sang the song of ‘Acheinu’ in an effort to promote the achdus that the Chofetz Chaim so desired to uphold. I sincerely feel and hope that the enhanced appreciation for the Chofetz Chaim and the lessons that both the younger and older students learned about being sensitive and kind to others are lessons that will remain with them for a long, long time.”
“One of the beautiful side benefits to participating in the Yom Limud and Tefillah,” Rabbi Brecher highlighted, “is the fact that a number of Rabbeim in the yeshiva are Dirshu learners and conveyed to their students the special, personal connection that they felt to the day.”
Rabbi Brecher concluded, “I realized how much the special ‘Day of Unity’ and the commemoration of the lessons of the Chofetz Chaim meant when I saw how one of our Rabbeim sent an email home to all of the parents expressing his deep satisfaction that the children were so enriched by the special assembly devoted to following in the pathways of the Chofetz Chaim. “
The Yeshiva Ketana of Waterbury was but one small example of the impact that the day had on a wide range of schools that truly represent the entire panoply of Orthodox Jewry. Schools from diverse communities across the United States and Canada participated in the Yom Limud and Tefillah school programs, such as Toronto, Canada, Houston, TX, Baltimore, MD, Cleveland, OH, Albany, NY, Phoenix, AZ, Passaic, NJ, Atlanta, GA, Staten Island, NY, Denver CA, Deal, NJ, Livingston, NJ, Denver, CO, Boston, MA, Boca Raton, Florida, Chicago Ill, and Los Angeles, CA, Monsey, NY, Lakewood, NJ, Brooklyn, NY, Manhattan, NY.
Many Bais Yaakov Schools and Seminaries also participated. They included Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, The New York Seminary, At Alis, Hannah Sacks Bais Yaakov of Chicago, Yeshiva Derech Hatorah for Girls of Cleveland and many more.
“Who are We to Split us Apart?!”
In the Times of Israel, Zachary Silver sums up the power of the Day of Jewish Unity, “Our greatest weapon against…bigots and ignorant haters is our unity. We must remain strong and unified in the face of the hatred persistently growing against us. In order to be a strong, singular people, we must look at what unites us, not what divides us. At the end of the day, we all come from a strong heritage that is millennia old and filled with brave and outspoken people. And, according to the rabbis, we were all together — as one people — at Mount Sinai when G-d gave us the Torah. If G-d saw fit to put us all together, who are we to split us apart now?”