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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Yom Limud and Tefillah at the Kotel.

Yeshivas Maharsha, Johannesburg, South Africa.

One million people spanning six continents join together in prayer.

More than 1 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 wellbeing 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 HaElokim 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 yarmulkes of the Toldos Aharon chasidim, all kinds of chasidim 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.

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.

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.”

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. 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.”

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, “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 programing 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. Rabbi Yehuda Brecher, principal of the Yeshiva Ketana of Waterbury, whose school participated, said, “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.”

Schools from diverse communities across the United States and Canada participated in the Day of Unity school programs, such as Toronto, Canada; Houston, Texas;, Baltimore, Maryland; Cleveland, Ohio; Albany, New York; Phoenix, Arizona; Passaic, New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; Staten Island, New York; Denver, Colorado; Deal, New Jersey; Livingston, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; Boca Raton, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Monsey, New York; Lakewood, New Jersey; Brooklyn, New York; Manhattan, New York.

‘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 againstbigots 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 God gave us the Torah. If God saw fit to put us all together, who are we to split us apart now?”