Today I’m sharing a short history lesson.
Wednesday marked what is a little known footnote in the Jewish calendar, the Fast of Gedaliah. Who was Gedaliah, you may ask? Well, he was installed by the Babylonian conquerors of Jerusalem after they sacked the First Temple in 586 BCE. His role was to gather together and organize the remaining Judean community as a vassal of the massive Babylonian Empire, maintaining some autonomy, and enabling them to begin to rebuild after decades of war, siege and destruction.
Gedaliah’s role sounds reasonable and relatable, doesn’t it? He was the son of Achikam, who saved the life of the prophet Jeremiah. He was keen on restarting the agricultural economy of the province of Judah, the underpinning of any secure and thriving society. Refugees who had fled in the preceding years began to return, and he established an administrative center at Mitzpah. In sum, a good man from a good family with a good plan in the face of adversity.
Gedaliah was assassinated on Rosh Hashanah by a man named Ishamael ben Netaniah and his confederates. Several bystanders and others were killed as well. The embryonic Jewish resurgence dissolved, with some fleeing to Egypt, and others following the exiles of Jerusalem to Babylon, where they would remain for over 70 years. The Fast day commemorates these events.
Some argue about Ishamael’s motivation. Was he a patriot? Was he a puppet of a neighboring king? Was he angry at being passed over for the leadership position? The truth is it doesn’t matter.
George Santayana famously wrote ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Well, I can state with the experience of more than 40 years studying and teaching our history that no one remembers the past like the Jewish people. And yet there are object lessons peppered throughout our history that we ignore at our peril. This is one of them.
We can’t afford disunity. Not then, not now. We can’t afford discord, character assassination, disrespect, division or disregard, from any side, or any point on the spectrum of Jewish identity. These destroy opportunities, effectiveness, empowerment and empathy. Divided, our adversaries can and do attack us piecemeal. Disunited, the strength of our common voice, or our collective giving, is dissipated.
What we can do when we come together - well, the possibilities are boundless. We can secure our community. We can stand for Israel. We can help the vulnerable here and abroad. We can confront antisemitism effectively. We can educate. We can celebrate. We can build our community. We can do all this and more, together. But we can’t do it without your partnership. So as we approach Yom Kippur, once again, we ask for your support for our annual campaign.Scroll down, and you can make a contribution below.
Together, there’s no limit to what we can do.