Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Maggid of Cannabis Chassidis, PopCartoonKabala

3 things I learned about Israel from Chapo Trap House (and One they could know)

Idealisms are, at our best, what we organize around. Our idealisms define our social and consumptive priorities, what kind of hekhsher; what kind of impact. What kind of people we identify with, and encourage.

Judaisms are defined, ultimately, by their idealisms because the people we want to be around care about what we care about, רעך. As plead by R Nachman of Breslov: to hear rebukes is to see the face of the shechina, so I LOVE leftist criticisms of Israel. They’re from an idealism that is not pragmatic but instead, humanitarian, aspirationally. That’s great.

To that end, I love listening to Chapo Trap House, which has focused and elaborated more and more it’s criticism of Israel and solidarity with Palestine the longer our campaign in Gaza goes, having reported tremendously around 2018 and on forwards, feeling responsible in light of the socialism and relative Judaism of it’s hosts (arguably Matt Christman most of all, as they maintain in one episode.)

A criticism from genuine humanism is a vital one to digest if we’re ever to be right with G-d and ourselves. To this end: I want to acknowledge three things I, as a frum Jew living in Eretz Yisroel, have noticed we can all notice better about Israel, that I’ve learned from Chapo Trap House… and a few things I think they’d like to understand better.

  1.   Our Meme Game is weak!

It’s because we’re not paid.  It’s an army of moms and sisters who were spooked and are sharing word.

As a rule, we know to disbelieve and distrust what any army says, and it’s a mystery what else is happening around and behind it. But we all also know people who lost people or worked in hospital capacities when people and bodies started coming in on Oct 7th and this doesn’t change the impact of who we are for other people, especially the ones most directly impacted by the antagonism we are openly identified by and associated with.


2.   We really do seem to be doing a historical massacre type thing, and as much as we’re not going to slow it down until “our objectives have been met” (i.e. until Hamas is uprooted as a government in Gaza), we’re going to have to investigate about it once all this is over, and/or we’re in more trouble than we realize.

My first natural reaction to this very normal suggestion could be some degree of defense of Israel’s right to defend itself on the basis of any number of things, b”H. None of them really matter because here we are. Winning, in some sense or another, if not in every way.  What responsibility is there on winning, except to win, somehow?

The degree to which Israel seems to be so much in the context of historic global imperialism in general, and ongoing US/Nato (West German lol, as per Norman Finkelstein’s argument for Russian paranoia!) military priorities in particular, reflects the very virtues that argue as justifications for Israel’s strategic positioning and functioning to Liberals and Liberalism itself.

But Leftists are not Liberals! Leftist criticisms of Liberalism parallel the more widely platformed right-wing criticisms of Liberalism, i.e. criticisms of the amoral consumption cycle that annihilates all traditionalisms, be they institutional or indigenous, except for crony dispensations for those who can organize to afford them. The strongest indictment against us, Israel and am Yisrael, the Yidden, for both the “legit” Left and Far-Right, is how bound up we are in the general bad success spiral; in which political, commercial and military power is deeply implicated. Just because other big countries do it doesn’t make it ok after all!
Or rather: the world was so hoping it shouldn’t and wouldn’t, and that we, specifically, would have found a better way by now. Specifically through the highest of morals, wisdoms, structures, and ethical priorities. It’s like they didn’t even really READ the Torah! But then again, maybe they learned the Gemara really well, and saw how aware we have always been about the kind of negotiable our priorities have been, and can be.

The tentative identification with-or-rejection-of “Liberalism”, whether conservative or progressive, ultimately completely identifies with our right and responsibility to preserve the blessed peace of the status quo. Rather than a hostile rage against The Injustice that seems deeply built into the shape of most common administrative models! Our war on injustice and wrongness ends with the limits of our will to care or take responsibility, the very terms under which the social contract is embraced and agreed to: pay no attention to what we’re doing to make things work, and we’ll do the same for the guys on our team. Like the other side does!  “Only following orders” or similarly unironically stepping into the full unapologetic bad guy model.

“Scratch a liberal, and you’ll reach a fascist eventually” is one classic Leftist aphorism about the limits of Liberal virtue, very implicated in most of the worst things that were ever tolerated and allowed to happen.  And now we’re that! And maybe, we have been since 1948.  This, I didn’t need to learn from Chapo, it was one of the social concerns that led me to Eretz Yisroel and Zionism in the first place. In the hopes of stepping away from the instability and transactionalism of the American/Western model, that so seemed to infect American Jewish institutions across the range of Orthodoxies and Modernities.  There are exceptions, and they are rare and fundamentally less powerful; i.e. successful.

I don’t know if any of what we’re going to become now, in light of having the power and now history of hosting the war that we have so embraced in the hopes of whatever comes next, can be held back or somehow moralized against, but the language of the ever emerging Left pivots away from moralization to villification… and that’s fine.  It’s fine! Just like we talk about our personal demons and social limitations in terms of Mitzraim and Amalek, the world talks about its own in terms of Jews and Israel. It’s fine.  It’s hard to talk about the problems, especially the ones we feel most implicated in, except by externalizing them into the other. Secularized Jews need a relationship to their own Torah, their own fundamental clarity in the truth as they witnessed it, filtered through common popular culture (drugs! socialism! media!) into something bigger, truer, deeper and more authentically illuminating as the  Chapo Trap House podcast.


Deeply formed as dissidents within relatively affluent and deeply imbedded secular Liberalism like most good Socialists. My mother in Ecuador used to describe Socialists as the people on campus who had their own indigenous servants to make their coffee because they didn’t like or trust how other would make the coffee. We are all now this kind of Socialist, because the nature of the system is to strongly limit functional dissent towards it, and limit most dissidence to something between entertainment and snarkery. To the degree that these have proven to be a vessel for at least acknowledging and engaging what’s really going on, the space within our global Liberalism to sell news and opinion has given way to a wonderful and desperate urgency to the quick rebuff of all our arguments and assumptions.

Initially popularized and relevantized in between the Post Gentrificative Urban decay of the last 8 years and the sudden culture and cognitive shock of the invention of the internet for what can only really be understood as (anti) nerds of conscience, informed by Mad Magazine, Anime, Psychedelia, and Comic Books as well as Marx and Religion and Movies and Military Journals amidst a palpable global shift in perception, informed by how much we can now know vs. how much information is being withheld by the ruling powers, ripe for satire that is not weak and distracting like SNL or even the best of Comedy News programs.  Engaging with hilarious informality on the level of Colin Quinn’s legendary Tough Crowd, a level of radicality grounded in joy and respect for whatever is fun and good at all in this world.

They’ve lost some dear friends and brilliant voices, arguably their best, from exhaustion, malady event, and scandal, but a common and coherent narrative about Israel was established relatively early on in 2017 when they first became better known, amidst more coherence around the new cool socialism, one that was less disassociated and decadent than the range of post-modern anarchisms that had defined “hipster” politics, but instead, motivated towards particular political goals while being cool with both sexuality and psychedelia, yet free of the yoke of cursed nationalisms.

Just before Oct 7th, one of the main pillars of Chapo Trap House global humanism, Matt Christman, suffered a medical event that has limited his output since. As a mystic and a chassid, I felt the impact of losing his voice, to whatever degree, for however long, amidst the sudden shock and horror of what we all heard about that canceled Simchas Torah morning.  He’s been trying to frame, describe, and clarify the story of history that has led us to the current state of political alienation and incapacity that we mostly seem to live in, in the West.

He noted in one of his history rants, a parrallel to the Charedi narrative about Israel, salient all the more so in the wake of the renewed threat of the end of Draft Exemptions for them, how we stopped being a unique people once we had a land like all others. I can’t say I learned this from Christman/Chapo, but it was startling, and maybe comforting, to feel both seen and validated (and cursed! and blessed) by the dread goal of all Zionism: normalcy, on global terms. Alas, we were always hoping to be a little better than “normal,” historically, and it’s one of the main things the world (and maybe G-d) most liked about us, the hope that we were trying to be a bit better.

Exctatic psychedelic politics, and the hope of noticing the better way already in progress, raise so much the hope of learning perspective. Christman, ironically in light of both his name and his German-American ethnicity, is surely the most “Jewish” and “lomdish” amidst a very Jewish and lomdish crew, having fun spinning clarities amidst active social commentary. His humanist historianism is an inspiration and blessing to all, and we all pray for and benefit his immediate recovery into speech as well as full dad powers. Yay for the recoveries yet to be.

3)  Felix Biderman is, in a different, more literal way, the most Jewish of them, relatively upper caste German, (family motto: “Let me buy that before it goes on sale”) and profoundly thoughtful and panoramically insightful amidst that.

“Observation about all Jews:  We all think we’re like King David, in that we basically leave big cosmic struggles to G-d and only get emotionally invested in very local, personal petty conflicts!” Pshhh!

Because he’s the most Jewish, he’s the most responsible to say and point out the worst things observable about Israel, and that’s just the nature of the gig, to feel responsible for the things our people do. So, he’s also been the one fundraising the most for particular organizations bringing help to Palestine somehow. I’m sure it’s one of the better ones, by what is almost certainly a genuinely accountable or at least cool network of validation or something, I don’t know.

Will Menaker’s dad is Jewish! and he grew up on some of the lore and stuff. But he’s only like half Jewish, and his parents were working class heroes in their deeply wonderful and progressive way. But, as he points out, his values and excitements testify a genteel recreational play athleticism tempered by a deep moral humanism that must feel so internal and inherent. It’s why he cares so much, and is ultimately so frustrated by how much too many institutions and individuals of influence are so implicated in the global exploitation and deferred blame of the rich towards the poor.

Part of the problem is, of course, the ways in which we are all implicated in systems whether we acknowledge and identify with them or not. One of the sublime high lights of the Chapo Trap House was when the team went to a Republican social event of some note tripping very hard on acid. There, at the most crowded moment of dark power rallying energy, was witnessed too in the deepest and maybe even unitive and redemptive way, how much we are all a part of this cursed ecosphere.

Because if one would say that Zionism is colonialism, one would be somewhat pressed to explain why Gentrification is not. I grew up in North Brooklyn and saw as mass displacement was the rule sporadically and re-colonization the other half of the market rule that made Williamsburg from a Dutch colony to a Jewish satellite in the late 1800’s, given it’s own bridge just to help shunt the excess Jews out of Lower Manhattan’s East Side. Latinos early and then waves of refugees from therabouts… within a parallel exploitation of need by housing developers to minimize costs and maximize the construction of whole new ways of expropriating industrial spaces, followed by the aristocrification prophesized by The Onion once upon a time.  Everything is both expensive and worse than ever in all the cities that tolerated Jews for however many years so far, so how could moving back to what really does feel like Our Land be worse than paying terrible landlords more and more that we just don’t have and shouldn’t afford, except by implicating ourselves in the cursed systems over yonder.

This is and was the hope of a better Socialism popular on the activist Left, one where social equity and access to resources, as well as universal humanization is the active project. I sure hope Brooklyn and Los Angeles can live up to that high moral standard, I know many local elected officials would at least want us to hope to think that they’d try and are trying their best all the time. It’s not easy.

But you can’t let gangsters get away with a raid on a party– it makes parties less viable. Cities can’t live with that.  This is the attitude that justified the worst actions of the Labour Zionists that really set the standard for most of the dismissive and dehumanizing acts and standards that congealed into the early State of Israel. The Socialist idealism that, historically, traditionally, has been more implicated in the building of racism into the superstructures of the State, keeping Arabs out of Knessets, disenfranchising Yemenites and other less-white Jews and so on.

Baruch Hashem, the creation of Arab Israeli citizens and the enshrining of a social safety net out here that includes an amazingly capable and responsive free health care system are good legacy accomplishments of that early era, and I wonder what kind of social safety network Brooklyn and LA will create for their displaced and disenfranchised refugees.  Every other atrocity of the Naqba, and then the anti-naqba experiment of the post 67 Settlement movement really falls on the same sublimated condescending structuralism that has haunted the revolutionary vanguard ever since knowing bigger words made people feel secretly smarter than other people.

All that said, the most important take away, for us, is just to see what people see when they see us, at least a little:  It really does look awful to the world, what we are and what we’ve been doing. And it is! It really is. People dying, families: there is no amount of remembering what happened on Oct 7th than will make every good person killed less awful, and we, as people, really have no reason to assume anything that ever happened “needed to happen”.  It’s not just the worst, meanest and most locally selfish crazies, making up stories about us, but the best of people, the funnest, most witty and most generationally caring and concerned. Which is a challenge in days of tremendous regional alienation.

The first time I ever met a “good” anti-zionist was at a Tibetan Buddhist Tea Shop in off of Bowery St. in Lower Manhattan in the early 2003 or so. He wasn’t an Arab, a Muslim, a “self-hating” Jew or an antisemite! Just a humanitarian, unaffiliated except with the Buddha, who had invested time and research and patience in just listening, but also just sharing what it really is, and what it really does, the price of our power and our security and even our comfort.

There really is hurt being done, by our missiles, in our names, and part of the worst of it is how much we are comforted by it, b”H, rather than crushed by the knowledge that a single baby or journalist was being targetted by us.

Like with religion
we don’t quite know what’s true
we can only know the stories we hear
from the people we trust
and like

R Nachman says
the people who care the most should be heard the most, even believed
to understand what’s happening.

And when in doubt
Better to be a Fool and believe Everyone and Everything
so then at least we’ll believe the truth too.

Part of what’s strange and special about this war
is how much we all feel it in our hearts together
in a way that’s hard to describe
and maybe what makes us accountable eventually

About the Author
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz a.k.a. Yoseph Leib Ibn Mardachya is the author of "Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs" (Autonomedia press, 2012) an epic devotional study of Cannabis and other ethneogens in Judaism and its heresies throughout history, into super-modernity, in the hopes of passing on a useful counsel with regards to their use beyond "do" or "don't." He is currently working on a book about Pop Cartoon Kabbalah, and alternates between leading services and sermons in Williamsburg Brooklyn at Cong. Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, and living in Israel's Elah Valley.