The following was determined to be the winning proposal in a project of the Aish HaTorah New York Center for the best Jewish Unity Initiative, awarded in 2007.

Submitted by Gary Tolchinsky…….Copyright 2007


The effort to bring about a greater degree of Jewish unity can be addressed in two separate
but complementary ways:

1) The creation of programs which proactively nurture unity among the Jewish people.

2) The creation of programs which reactively deal with conflicts that have the potential to
nurture disunity among the Jewish people.

To the extent that we can proactively increase the level of unity among Jews, that can
provide a foundation of trust and respect which can enhance our ability to deal with
conflict in a constructive manner. Conversely, to the extent that we can deal positively
with conflict, so can we increase the success of proactive unity building programs.

To address both concerns noted above, this proposal advocates the establishment of an
institution called The Jewish Center for Common Ground ("JCCG"). The mission of
JCCG would be to serve as a focal point promoting unity and love among Jews at a
time when this value is threatened by different religious, political and social differences.
JCCG would seek to transform the process in which conflict is managed by the Jewish
community, and create a more loving and respectful environment in which Jews relate to
one another.

What follows below is an outline of four proposed divisions within JCCG to help
actualize its mission, and specific programs within each division which could be
implemented. While such programs represent a long term roadmap for JCCG, it
is recognized that they would necessarily evolve over time, given limitations
on funding and hired professional staff at its inception. In that context, the objective
could be to choose one program within each division and implement it on a scale that is
feasible in light of these limitations. To maximize the impact of its work given limited
resources, JCCG would seek to utilize volunteers, work in partnership with other
institutions which support its goals, and take advantage of potential cost savings by
strategic use of the internet.


For a brief time during the summer of 2006, we witnessed the powerful sense of unity
and love which came about in response to the Lebanon war and capture of Israeli soldiers.
This ranged from Jews of different religious and social backgrounds opening up their homes
and hearts to others, to the collective and individual prayers said by Jews of all stripes.
This was perhaps the greatest expression of unity since 1994, when millions of Jews
joined in prayer for the release of Nachshon Wachsman ztl' after he had been kidnapped by
Arab terrorists.

The challenge, of course, is to create such an atmosphere of unity and love without
requiring an external crisis to precipitate it. To that end, Grassroots Unity Programs
could be based on the Jewish foundations of Prayer, Torah and Acts of Kindness:

A) Communal Prayer

Programs could be promoted in which Jews of all backgrounds are encouraged
to pray or meditate at a specific time for unity among the Jewish people. Sample
prayers could be developed for those who wished to use a prepared text.

B) Torah Study

Source materials appropriate to Jews of diverse educational backgrounds could
focus on proper speech and ethical behavior and be studied in a communal fashion.
Perhaps a "Jewish Unity Day" could be sponsored in which large numbers of Jews
agree to spend at least a few minutes learning about these subjects individually and in groups.

C) Acts of Kindness

This could include ideas focusing on creating bonds of giving between Jews of different
backgrounds. For example, there could be the creation of a "Unity Gemach".
The Gemach is an age old institution in communities whereby the needs of individual
Jews are responded to by other Jews who can meet these needs. It is a well known
principle of Jewish thought that the very act of giving to another person can create a sense
of love and connection for both parties. The "Unity Gemach" and other chesed programs would
seek to involve Jews of different communities and encourage them to give to others outside
their own social, political and religious networks.

Page 1   --