It started with two women. They were settlers in the Land of Israel.
The news was bad. Jews were dying, being blown up in busses, in cafes, and shot on the road like ducks in a shooting gallery. People were being murdered and maimed almost everyday. Prime Minister Ehud Barak was leading the country at that time and he had just come out with a whopper of an announcement that he was going to split Jerusalem, and hand over Har Habayit (The Temple Mount) where our Holy temple stood, as well as give over our homes in YESHA to arch terrorist Yasser Arafat (yimach shmo - may his name be erased) in order to establish a Palestinian State. "How can this be?" the women said.
The two women then sat together in concentration. They thought back to another time when the Jewish people were suffering many tragedies in Israel. They remembered 2,000 years ago when our ancestors were attacked by the Roman army. Jews were dying in the streets, slaughtered, our land was taken over and the survivors were taken as slaves into Exile. It was a great tragedy and there was much suffering amongst the Jewish People. We have learned that this happened to us because of the most serious sin of sinat chinam - causeless hatred. The two women looked at our society today and saw that we were in the SAME situation. There were suspicions and fights between the Secular vs. the Religious, the Left Wing vs. the Right wing, the Ashkenaz vs. the Sephard, and perhaps most surprising of all, the Religious vs. other Religious! These women saw that after 2,000 years, Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) has made no tikkun (repair or fixing) for it's sin of sinat chinam, and they started a movement to try and 'fix' this and help merit G-d's love and protection.
After all, there are holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Cancer Awareness day, Diabetes Awareness, -why not a Jewish Unity / Ahavat Yisrael Day?
The two women (both mothers with children in school) decided to make an 'Ahavat Yisrael Day'. A day where people can concentrate on what unifies the Jewish People instead of what divides us. A day where we learn to appreciate each other and our unique ways of contributing to our nation. But how to do it? They couldn't just advertise and HOPE people would show up to a celebration. They knew that was not the route to go. And so they decided to approach the principal of their children?s elementary school. Here, they thought, was only one person they had to convince, but who could bring hundreds of students and parents to an assembly. BINGO!
I was fortunate and attended the celebration of Ahavat Yisrael Day and I will describe to you the beautiful and holy feeling of tikkun (repair work) we did that day.
All the school (and parents who were able to) came and gathered in the auditorium. The Rabbi prepared a d'var Torah (words from the Torah) and spoke about causeless hatred and causeless love for one's fellow. Afterwards, the two women got up and spoke about ahavat yisrael in their community, speaking directly to the children and giving them examples of how they themselves might be harboring prejudices of other Jews who live in a nearby community, who have a different rabbi they go by, and have different customs. They asked the children if they indeed recognized that though it is nice to talk about practicing ahavat yisrael, that they themselves in reality also may be harboring suspicions and hatred against their Jewish neighbors and so violating this important mitzvah (commandment). Many children shook their heads in agreement that they recognized this prejudice in themselves and wanted to do a tikkun, a 'fixing'?.
Afterwards, each of the 1st - 6th grades each got up and performed in front of the school, something on the topic of Ahavat Yisrael. The first grade sang a song, while another younger grade did a type of circle dance, and the older grades put on skits showing how each individual Jew is important in the make up of our nation. The secular may work for humanistic causes, serve in the army and do ground work, while the national religious community settle the land, farm, and excel in patriotism and mitzvoth, and the Haredi population take a firm hold on Torah study, modesty and Kiruv ( bringing Jews back to Torah observance). -- Of course, there is overlapping of these talents in all three societies, and the children were just generalizing, (the Israeli army consists of secular, national religious and Haredim) but it proved the point that each community had its strengths and contributed in their own way.
After the assembly, the children and parents were led outside to the school's courtyard and each child was given a helium balloon which they would launch into the air all at the same time. A laminated card was attached to a string on each balloon which stated:
Shalom, we are kids from the school (one of the) settlement schools, and we are doing a project on Ahavat Yisrael and Achdut Ha'am (National Unity). We are asking that whoever finds this balloon, that they please help us with our goal of spreading good deeds and fellowship between the Nation of Israel. As part of our project, we are asking you to either give charity, help an elderly person, or even just look at people differently and start giving them the benefit of the doubt, and do this for people you would normally NOT do it for because you wither do not have much contact with them or you may have categorized them as people from a community that you do not appreciate. Then, after doing this good deed, we ask you to please contact us (at a given telephone number) and tell us:
a) where you found the balloon, and
b) tell us what good deed you did.
The note was then signed in the name of all the children from the school.
The 2 women and the principal of the school hoped to be able to later report back to the classes what the results were of this project. Now, Israel also has Arab villages which are near Jewish communities and everyone was wondering the wind would carry the balloons to the Jews it was intended to reach.
As the children excitedly held onto their balloons, the smiling Rabbi led a brief prayer asking G-d to please accept our efforts to spread random acts of loving kindness, and our attempt to do a tikkun for the 'causeless hatred' which still lingers today. Then, all together we LAUNCHED the Ahavat Yisrael Balloons into the sky! Thankfully, the wind carried the balloons not towards Ramallah, but up high into the sky towards Jerusalem. (Short note - the army was notified that we were going to launch balloons so they shouldn't think it was some terror plot by terrorists trying to send something into Israeli population centers. <grin>)
The balloon launch was a beautiful site and a holy undertaking to do a tikkun, hopefully involving Jews from all over the country.
After the ceremony, the 5th and 6th grade classes all sat down at their desks and wrote a letter to Israel?s Minister of Education, (at that time it was Limor Livnat). They asked her ? each in their own words and handwriting, to please institute an official day on the calendar for an Ahavat Yisrael Day. A day where just like when we have Memorial Day or Holocaust Day, and schools change their schedules and invite guest speakers to share their stories, that schools also have speakers from all sectors of society enter classrooms all over the country and speak about what we have in common and how each can contribute in their own way to the Nation of Israel. After all, there are holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Cancer Awareness day, Diabetes Awareness, -why not a Jewish Unity / Ahavat Yisrael Day? The letters from the children were then sent off with photos from the Ahavat Yisrael Day, in a large manila envelope to the Minister.
And what was the result of the Ahavat Yisrael/balloon project? If this were a Hollywood movie, we would have had upbeat background music with scenes of people finding balloons all over Israel. - Places like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias, Beer Sheva, etc. etc. The background music would continue as we saw people from all over do a good deed, and then having the school office receive hundreds of calls. But this is not a Hollywood movie. In fact, the school did not receive one phone call from anyone. How is it possible that hundreds of balloons rose up to the sky and not one was reported to be found (except a couple that got caught in the telephone and electricity lines on the settlement itself). Could it be that as the balloons rose into the sky carried off by our prayers and the wind, that they all went straight up to G-d?
I like to think so.
I like to think that G-d cherished this ahavat Yisrael effort so much, that He kept the balloons in some special place in Heaven.
*** Want to start an Ahavat Yisrael Day in your community? Email Tamar and she will send you free of charge, the simple steps to take to make this happen in your community anywhere in the world. To email, see the upper right hand column of this page.