April 18, 2024
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What Types of Friends We Can Be From Afar: Reflections From a Heartbroken Diaspora Jew

“it’s 3:23 in the morning and I can’t sleep because my great great grandchildren ask me in dreams what did you do while the earth was unraveling?”

— Hieroglyphic Stairway, by Drew Dellinger

As we watch with heartbreak from afar I feel that all of us are being awakened by our great-grandchildren’s questions. So many of us are thinking in so many ways about who we are as Diaspora Jews, and what this moment demands.

While many have written about what we need to do as a community for the different segments of Medinat Yisrael politically, religiously or materially, I have also been thinking deeply about what we can do as individuals for our personal loved ones and friends, 6,000 miles away.

How can we emotionally support those whom we love whose children are on the front lines or who have suffered loss? What kind of friend can we be to those who wait anxiously for WhatsApps on the brink of tears and whose worries cause seemingly endless sleepless nights?

As our friendships are needed more than ever, I turned to both the Rambam and a most influential thinker in my life, David Whyte, for guidance on how to best be of support.

The Rambam shares his vision of friendship in his commentary on Pirkei Avot. Influenced by Aristotle’s “Ethics,” he talks about three types of friends. The highest form of friendship is one that leads to searching for the ultimate good together, a friendship of virtue.

This friendship, אוהב מעלה, thrives when the desire of both friends is shared and their intention is for one thing — an ultimate good. Virtue friends are needed at this most tense moment. As we share our desire to support the IDF and displaced Jews in Israel, we share the same goals and we, from afar, must work with our friends to show our commitment and uplift them.

Virtue friends share a vision to push each other and uplift one another on the mission to make the world a better place.

And while virtue friendship will help in these tough times, there is another type of friendship that is equally, if not more, important. David Whyte, poet, author and philosopher, shares this other view of friendship. He says that, after all is said and done, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness.

There will be times when friends need each other but the words fail, and so witness is the key. This is because friendship, according to Whyte, is “the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of the other, to have walked with them and to have believed in them.”

We say so often these days, “there are simply no words.” Witness friendship — showing up to simply breathe with and be with the other — can fill that void.

At the end of last week’s Haftarah we are told that God will be machazik yeminecha, (Isaiah 41:13) that God will hold our hand. And we, in these times, need to work to be like the Divine.

As our world is unraveling, we need to strive to hold hands with those in Israel, we need to give, to pray, to collect, and to protest.

And, at the same time, we need to be the shoulder to cry on and we need to witness.


Rabbi Aaron Frank is the head of Kinneret Day School in the Bronx and incoming principal at the Ramaz Upper School.

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