Reading about Israeli politics is never for the faint of heart. These days, the news seems particularly cringe worthy. There are loud voices, extreme views, protests and counterprotests. We worry about the state of affairs in the country we love and feel shame about how it looks to others. Jews in the news is rarely positive and we care about how Jews are perceived.

This week we read Parashat Emor from the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). The parsha begins by discussing the special guidelines that apply only to the Kohanim, the “priestly” division who served in the holy Temple and, one day soon, will serve again when the Third Temple is rebuilt. The parsha then speaks about the special guidelines that apply only to the Jewish holidays but not on other days of the year. 

There seems to be a running theme. First come holy people, who retain their sanctified state through certain actions and boundaries that do not apply to other Jews. Then come holy days, which also have specific conduct and structure that do not apply to ordinary days of the week. We also find a critically powerful commandment that applies to all Jews at all times: “You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel, I am HaShem Who sanctifies you; Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d; I am Hashem.” (Vayikra 22:32-33).
The Sages termed this mitzvah Kiddush HaShem (sanctifying G-d’s name). Why did G-d take us out of Egypt? In order to be our G-d, and in order for us to live lives of sanctity, lives that bring G-dliness into our world. “Holiness”, “sacrifice” – these are terms that are difficult to truly understand. They represent concepts we do not easily relate to. How do we apply this mitzvah to our lives?

Holiness is not just for special people, like kohanim. It is not only for special moments, like the holidays. There are times and places where it is easier to access that special spiritual force or flow, but Judaism is practiced in real time, day in and day out. Jewish life is not only for the synagogue or the Seder, but is an integral part of life at work, on the street, in the stores and, of course, in our homes and our relationships.

When we see Jews in the news for corruption, fraud, fighting or worse, we cringe. Their actions implicate us all. When we see Jews doing good – Israelis setting up medical camps in Miami, Turkey, or on the border with Syria; Jewish employers, neighbors, teachers, going the extra mile – we feel pride and then we forward the good news or post it on Facebook.

Holiness doesn’t just happen, we make it happen. Our words and actions can bring credit to G-d and the Jewish people, or G-d forbid, the opposite. The Rabbis teach that the actions of each and every Jew don’t just reflect on us. They shine a spotlight on all Jews, Judaism and even on G-d.

Sadly the news mostly reflects the negative. Good people quietly doing good things rarely catches anyone’s attention. Great events might make headlines for a day or two and then are forgotten as the news cycle moves on. We can change that narrative by celebrating community heroes like Ellie Greenberg who quietly go about making our community a better place. Ellie could have retired from all of her volunteer work and looked back on a stellar career in both business and philanthropy and volunteerism. But Ellie chooses to make a difference every day.

Yom Yerushalyim celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. That was a long time ago. And it remains a miracle worthy of celebration today.

Let’s counter the narrative. Join us Thursday evening, May 18 for JET’s annual event, Jewish Unity Live. It’s our opportunity to inspire ourselves and to come together to build Jewish Unity right here, right now!