August 2, 2007
Behind Harry's lightning-bolt scar and Hogwarts ancient walls lay a message that echoed through each page. Whether Harry ultimately defeats You-Know-Who, you must read to find out, but one thing is for certain: Harry's continued survival was dependent on one thing -- the unity and respect he creates among the entire magical community. Whether he befriends a wizard, house elf or giant, Harry Potter is a true role model for how we in the "muggle world" should treat those around us, irrespective of religious denomination or social standing.
That message first hit me when I was reading book five one Friday night a few years ago. I dragged my feet up the stairs after my Shabbat meal and while silently humming "Lecha Dodi," I opened to the first page of the fifth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While looking over stories of mayhem, magic and muggles, I searched for a way in which Harry's adventures might be applicable to real life. After all, with billions of dollars in sales, there must be something more to it than interesting names, fascinating spells, and powerful wands. When I ultimately reached page 204, I saw how blind I had been to the deafening message found in black and white right before my eyes.
To those who are not ardent Potter fans, let me fill you in: Harry Potter and his friends return for a fifth year to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where they learn to hone their magical talents. At the conclusion of the fourth book, Lord Voldemort, evil wizard extraordinaire and Harry's nemesis, made a fearful return to the wizarding world.
As the Hogwarts students shuffle into the Great Hall for their start of term feast, headmaster Albus Dumbledore retrieves the Sorting Hat, a magical hat that is placed upon each new student's head and reveals to which of the four houses of Hogwarts the student will belong. In the fifth year, however, in the wake of evil wizard Voldemort's return, the song of the Sorting Hat has changed and possesses a new message -- a message that I found to be particularly applicable to world Jewry of the 21st century:
I sort you into Houses
Because that's what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
Or we'll crumble from within.
I have told you, I have warned you ...
Let the sorting now begin.
As I read the message that a bewitched hat sent to a group of young wizards, I myself wished that such a message could be directed to modern Jewry. For hundreds of years, Jews have been split into different denominations corresponding to their level of observance and beliefs on the divine origin of the Torah, or by their lack of affiliation with Judaism as a whole. We have seen throughout history that this divide can be destructive and cause internal battles between people who are ultimately seeking the same goal: the perseverance of the Jewish nation.
Just as Harry Potter and his friends were advised to come together during a time of great need, now -- and not tomorrow -- is the time in which Jews of all walks of life must band together to fight the evil forces that cause the slow deterioration of the Jewish population. Such epidemics as terrorism in Israel and exterior foes who desire to see the Jews and the land of Israel "wiped off the face of the Earth" continue to gain power while we argue about trivial matters. Whether one is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or unaffiliated, a Jew is a Jew, and has the responsibility to ensure the continuity of our great nation.
We read in the Passover haggadah the unavoidable fate of each generation of Jews: "For not only one has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation they rise against us to annihilate us; and the Holy One, Blessed be He, rescues us from their hands."
Sixty years ago we were faced with Hitler and the wrath of the Nazis, over 2,000 years ago we were enslaved in Egypt, and now we face new threats in the form of mass casualties and leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad preaching anti-Jewish sentiments.
It is incumbent upon each Jew to join forces and fight, for we are warned by our sages that we will be challenged with adversity in each generation and a divided battalion has no hope to win a war. I agree it may have been cooler to hear it from a talking hat, but the message is directly before us and it is now in our power to grasp it.
Listen, I am not na?ve, nor am I proposing an immediate alteration to the social dynamic of Jews all over the world; however, I do urge individuals to take steps in their lives to come to the goal of mutual respect among all Jews, regardless of denomination or social standing. If Harry Potter can befriend a house elf, owe his life to the kindness of a centaur and unite the magical world, we too must come to realize the importance of some true R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
So the next time you find yourself at the market, rather than ignoring that woman you think you may have met at temple some months back, or turning the other way when spotting that guy you argued with at your uncle's Passover seder, say a friendly hello, sans judgment. Who knows, maybe they'll even let you cut in front of them in line.
Jina Davidovich is a senior at YULA high school for girls in Los Angeles.