Monday, 16 April 2018

Thoughts on the video "Acheinu"

I recently watched the video "Acheinu" at and my reaction was the same as the one I would expect from most caring Jews -- and there would be good reasons for such a reaction. I was deeply touched by the exchange portrayed in the video and felt most positive about the conclusion and, most importantly, the concluding, continuing message. 

Upon contemplation, though, I found many challenges embedded in the video -- challenges that do not necessarily override the important message of the video but nonetheless need to be addressed if the video is ultimately going to have any real impact. The video touches the emotions but, to truly be effective, it must also enter into the realm of thought. The issues raised in the video are actually very deep and, as much as people may believe that answers to Jewish unity and Jewish identity can be attained through the emotions, this is not the actual case. Applying the terms employed by Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek in his discussion of Jewish identity, we cannot limit ourselves to only consider our shared 'fate' but we must also fully contemplate and investigate the idea of our shared 'destiny'. In this regard, to answer the question of 'why I am a Jew?', I have to have some definition of what it means to be a Jew. 

It is only in the realm of 'fate' that an Adolf Hitler ys"v can have a voice in defining Jewishness and this is a problem for many reasons. In a world where Jewishness cannot be imposed on anyone and one must effectively choose to be Jewish, the reality of such choice furthermore demands that one must arrive at some personal understanding of what Jewishness is so that one can make this choice. Beyond this reality that choice does exist, though, a strong personal commitment to this identity is actually only possible if one finds personal meaning in such identity. This, also, is the further challenge of Jewish unity. As individuals develop their personal understandings of what it means to be a Jew -- and, furthermore, find personal meaning in these possibly divergent definitions -- unity is only possible if these variant definitions can possibly converge. We must then necessarily also turn to thought to find the broader definition of Jewish identity, beyond the parameters of our personal definition, that can join us together -- if such a definition indeed does exist.

 In hearing any argument that Hitler taught us that all Jews are brothers and sisters, we must also remember that part of this lesson would also include the fact that Edith Stein also died at Auschwitz. This, indeed, must also be part of the lesson of shared 'fate' and on this level, she is indeed part of our people. This also highlights, however, the issue of shared 'destiny'. This video must demand of us to go beyond the video.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


micha berger said...

I think the assumption behind the video is that we've (we = the target audience) have grown to have too much emphasis on the Community of Destiny. And so the chiloni doesn't see his common ground with the older chareidi survivor (memory of a chareidi survivor?). The message wasn't so much that we are united by common Fate, but if you insist on casting it into these terms: Don't forget! We are also united as a Community of Fate!

But I think you're imposing a model on the film the authors didn't intend. They invoke shared history and make core to the video, starting with the title and background music, the siblinghood of all Jews. It's not about the bonds of Fate or of Destiny. It's the picture of remembering we're one family who have been through a lot together.

I think also that the "history" and "family" elements

BTW, he would have been more plausibly chareidi with the wider brim style of fedora. They got the uniform wrong. But since the chayal assumes the older man's people don't serve, I peg him as chareidi. The Chardali youth who shows up next likely would have served. (Perhaps even asked why there is no berakhah to be made upon giyus.)

Mr. Cohen said...
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Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I fully appreciate Rabbi Berger's comment and I would agree with his assumption that the video was conceived in response to an over-extension of the value of shared destiny at the expense of shared fate. (I should mention that I believe that the Rav's perception of shared fate was, in fact, similar to the concept of family which is the target lesson of the video.) It is is thus, most important, that this value of one family, one nation, be highlighted.

My argument, though, is that the promotion of this value cannot be at the expense of the realization that there is also the issue of shared destiny -- and this must also be intelligently addressed. Shared Fate alone is not the answer to the issues we face in regard to our differing views on the nature of Jewish Destiny. What I find is that many people believe the answer lies in ignorance -- if we just do not recognize our differences, they will not harm us. In this regard, I find it most interesting how so many people have no idea of the theological differences between the branches of Judaism. Such knowledge is actually seen by many as only adding to the problem of unity -- so the overriding focus on shared fate.

I would contend, though, that such ignorance actually only adds to the problem. Confronting the issue of shared destiny must be part of the process. On a certain level, this is exactly what occurred in the Brother Daniel case although the necessary depth this issue demands was still missing. My point is that while there is value in promoting shared fate -- and when the realization of this value is weak within the Jewish world, it must be clearly and loudly articulated -- the issue of shared destiny must be simultaneously addressed.