My parents weren’t what we term “religious,” yet they bequeathed to me some of the most precious values I possess. Given the divisiveness that plagues the Jewish world, both within the observant community and between religious and secular Jews, I am particularly grateful for all that my parents gave to me.

I was 36 years old when I started studying Torah for the first time in my life. My rabbi emphasized that “a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” He drilled into me the concept that the Jewish people are all one family. When I criticized certain things Jewish or certain Jewish people, he would talk to me about loyalty: the kind of loyalty that pervades a family, a loyalty that goes beyond intellect and judgement.

My parents lived this concept of loyalty. We were a family that stood by one another and, more important, accepted one another, even when we differed.

No one tested my parents’ tolerance more than I. I constantly went against the grain. I remember once being on a hunger strike in protest of some injustice, camped with a group of fellow travelers in front of Chicago’s City Hall. It was about 11:30 PM, and we were singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” All of a sudden I looked up and saw my father approaching. He smiled, walked into the line, and began singing along with us. My father was an apolitical person. He didn’t protest, and didn’t like that I protested.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him.

“I came to see how you are doing,” he said. My father didn’t stay long, but it was long enough. I never forgot that night. His was a loyal act.

Flying back to Israel from New York a few months ago, I sat next to a secular Israeli who apparently didn’t hold religious Jews in high regard. During the first hours of the flight, we found safe topics of conversation and became friendly.

Eventually, we braved more risky levels of discussion. Did we argue? A bit. But for the most part we listened to each other. We both recognized that this flight was providing an opportunity to venture into knowing the “other.” We were both filled more with questions than with answers. We were travelers into the unknown territory of each other; we recognized that the required skill on this journey was to put ourselves aside and attempt to see the world through the eyes of the other.

We pursued no agreement or understanding. We did not seek to influence one another. But we recognized this unique opportunity to experience someone else’s view of life.

Throughout the flight we seemed aware of our connection to each other as Jews, and in this case, specifically Jews in Israel.

There was no true outcome of our conversation. Yet we knew that in the anonymity of the flight, two Jews of very different persuasions had bonded.

I haven’t seen him since; I don’t know if I’d even recognize him on the street. I knew he would talk about our meeting to his wife and friends; I suspect that if he has, his experience was similar to mine. For weeks afterward, whenever I discussed Israeli politics or religious divisions between secular and religious Jews, I had the strange experience of hearing as I were he. The discussions took on new depth. Statements and answers that had always been assumed became fresh and vibrant. I found myself in that exciting place where life’s contradictions, when allowed to flourish rather than be buried beneath preconception, promise hope and reconciliation.

It was not that my opinions and beliefs changed; instead, they came alive. They became charged with curiosity, with a renewed sense of purpose. The stagnation that comes from certainty became electrified, even a bit chaotic. With the help of friends and rabbis, I re-explored subjects that had become crusty through habit. Rather than being threatened, my convictions became stronger, and more dynamic and responsive than before.

In those brief hours of bonding between one Jew and another, a bonding whose only glue was the common Jewish soul within us, I found no solution to the divisiveness that today plagues us as a people. I saw only a possibility, an opening through which we might come together. This coming together did not require a lessening of our differences, but a transcendence of them.

Since I only glimpsed this possibility, I can’t articulate it well. I only know that this possibility has as its requisite the unshakable recognition of the Jewish family we are, the loyalty we possess and the unique soul we share.

Missing my mother and father, reflecting on the many things they taught me in their own way of teaching without teaching, I remember that with family members there is not always the need to convince or influence, to win or lose. There may be no apparent solution to fundamental differences among parents, children and siblings. But always, as family members, we need to trust that through loyalty, through unqualified support and an unbreakable connection to one another, we will find our way.