After the Meron Tragedy, Leave the Blame to the Police. Focus on Unity | Opinion

Maybe we're all to blame. Maybe we're all at fault. How many of us can truly say that in the past few months, we've been holding our brothers and sisters up, instead of trampling all over them?

When I woke up to the horrifying news from Mount Meron of the 44 innocent, beautiful souls taken from the world in the midst of celebration and rejoicing, I cried. I laid in bed, tears streaming down my face, frantically looking at different news reports hoping to find answers. But of course, those answers never came; only more questions, only more pain.

I was present in my grief for moments, which felt like an eternity, until I terrified myself at how rapidly my tears of unadulterated sadness began to transform into anger, and judgement, and hate.

Ironically, those emotions of blaming "the other" are so much easier to handle than sadness.

Putting all emotions to the side, I quickly got to work. What needs could I help with? How could my organization provide service at this time? As we created emergency programs to bring food and water to the survivors being transported to Carmiel hospital and organized food for the first responders on Mt. Meron for Shabbat, I was focused only on the task at hand.

But again, I was stopped in my tracks when a close friend in Jerusalem told me with a broken heart how his wife is so deeply affected by the riots in the streets, rockets in the south, and death in Meron that she actually wishes to just go back to the days of the coronavirus. Of course, she was not referring to the year of suffering, disease, closures, and economic disasters, but rather the beginning, when everyone was focused on family, on staying healthy, and on moving inward.

It struck me because as a spiritual person, I'm always trying to learn, trying to receive messages, trying to improve. I heard this powerful sentiment and it dawned on me that we are all responsible for the catastrophes which have been affecting the people of Israel.

In truth, we are all guilty.

The people taken from us were at a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is buried at Mount Meron. He studied Torah in a cave for 12 years, purifying himself and connecting to God. Yet when he exited the cave, he could not bear the site of individuals focusing on worldly matters. He would burn them when he looked at them with the passionate judgement of his eyes. Because of the fire of judgement, which came out of his eyes, God sent Rabbi Shimon back to the cave for another 12 months, until he fostered a genuine love for those around him and an appreciation for their individual journeys.

It was through these new eyes that Bar Yochai was able to arrive at the spiritual epiphanies which have sweetened and preserved Judaism to this day.

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man weeps at a cemetary in Benei Brak, during the funeral of one of the victims of a stampede, when tens of thousands of people were gathered to celebrate the festival of Lag Ba'omer at a site in Meron in northern Israel early, on April 30, 2021. - A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site killed at least 44 people in northern Israel. The disaster occurred in Meron at the site of the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday. GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

Listening to my friend tearfully speak about returning to the height of the pandemic, something inside of me clicked. I don't claim to know God's will, but perhaps the past year was our time of being isolated in a cave? Perhaps there's something to learn from the fact that the first large gathering after exiting our caves was at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and this disaster happened?

Perhaps this heart-wrenching site of 44 of our brothers in body bags can be a wake-up call for each one of us. Perhaps whatever lessons we thought we learned during the year of the coronavirus, regarding unity and appreciation for others, we still need to desperately work on.

Indeed, so much clarity inspired us all during the pandemic. We got newfound gratitude for the mundane, for normal life. We swore we would never take anything for granted again.

But maybe, just as Rabbi Shimon initially left his cave after 12 years without really internalizing the main message—to love and respect one another, despite our differences—we, too, exited a traumatic era without truly internalizing this most urgent and important philosophy of respect despite differences?

How many of us can truly proclaim that in the past few months, we haven't held the burning fire of hate in our hearts? Towards the Orthodox and Haredim or towards the secular; towards politicians or towards anti-vaxxers; towards the person who wore a mask or the rebel who didn't. For many, this hatred and judgement has even been directed towards family and friends.

We felt this hate, and then we rationalized it and justified it.

What will it take to realize that hatred towards our brothers and sisters can never be justified?

When will we stop and wake up to the burning truth, centuries old, that united we stand; divided we fall?

The easiest response to this immense tragedy is to feel anger and place blame. But let's leave the investigations and blame to the police and government. For ourselves, let's take the hard, but affective route: Let's go back to the emotions of sadness and pain, and each investigate just one person—ourselves—and how we can bring more love, unity, and respect into this broken world.

Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews.

The views in this article are the writer's own.