Nina B. Mogilnik

A Necessary Journey

We live in a time of nonstop — and often cruel — judgment. The distance and anonymity of social media has made lobbing hate bombs all too easy. And it seems that lots of folks have taken up that opportunity. Too often with a kind of sadistic glee.

Folks trace this moment in human evolution in America to many things: to the decline of religious affiliation; to the rise of identity politics; to social media’s prevalence, of course; to polarizing politics; and so on. I think the courseness and cruelty have always been there. And I think it’s Donald Trump who let it fly its flag with abandon. But if the impulses to lying, cruelty, and demonizing that he unleashed weren’t already present and bubbling just under the surface, they could not — at least in my opinion — have exploded so swiftly and with such widespread embrace.

The flip side of the unleashing of so much awfulness — hatred toward members of the LGBTQ+ community; hatred toward Jews; hatred toward Muslims; hatred toward immigrants; mocking of the disabled; denigrating military service, and so on — is the cowardice of those who could have chosen to stand up and push back, but chose not to. I have a special Contempt Award reserved for the members of the so-called Fourth Estate, namely journalism, that failed spectacularly to do much besides play the infamous on the one hand, on the other hand game, as if every despicable utterance or act of one person or party had an exact equivalent on the other side. Using the word ‘lie’ took about five years. As if that were too judgy for good journalists to employ.

Anyhow, I digress, a bit. In a form of twisted progress, American style, we have moved from grotesque, cruel, and dishonest on the right to — you guessed it — its mirror image on the left. I should pause to note that I consider myself a member of neither camp, and subscribe instead to the wisdom of that old song lyric: clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..

Trump gave the left more ammunition than it could have dreamed of to galvanize its shock troops. But what those troops have done does not crown them in glory. They have gone on a feeding frenzy of left-wing stupidity, in which everyone who is white is a supremacist guilty of overlording and abuse of black and brown people, while all people of color are valorous, noble creatures whose every misdeed (assuming they even exhibit any) can be blamed on imperialist, structural racism. All of which would be hilarious, if it weren’t so dangerous.

We’ve gone through, in America, a period of purging, of cancelling folks who’ve said and done sometimes genuinely awful things, and other times just dumb things from long ago that ought to be forgiven, but apparently cannot be. I imagine myself asking these purity warriors: So if you found a person of color in a public or otherwise prominent position who was a spouse abuser, or indulged in kiddie porn, would you condemn that, or is it only something you can find in the public domain of social media, or in an old paper, or recorded by students in a classroom lecture that you can bludgeon someone with that counts? And only if that person is white?

I’ve watched the army of the stupid twist education into some kind of unrecognizable propaganda machine, with book bans from the right, and thought bans on the left. In the middle are tens of millions of struggling students, too many of whom are already poorly literate, and are being force fed a diet of adult ideologies that are antithetical to everything a good education should be about, viz, building a foundation of critical and analytical thinking skills that will enable these same students to try to make sense of a complex and often confusing world. Instead, they’re just pawns in a cruel battle between armies of biased adult buffoons.

As for me, I’ve done a miraculously good job of tuning most of that out. I stopped following the news in a granular way after Biden won, thinking at least there wasn’t a lunatic in the White House with access to the nuclear launch codes. But the run up to the next presidential election, and the intrusion of global politics has brought the worst impulses of the idiot armies to bear. Again.

This time, it’s about the Middle East. Unless you’ve been living in a hole in the ground (like the Hamas terrorists and the hundreds of civilians they kidnapped from Israel on October 7th, 2023), you know that there’s a global tug of war over good and evil playing out in a place that seems to be ground zero for such battles. Let me be clear: civilian harm and suffering in Gaza is a terrible tragedy. Full stop. Shame on anyone who says otherwise. Let me also say that there are no more contemptible people on the planet than those who justified and/or celebrated the vicious slaughter of Israelis on October 7th which included:

Burning entire families alive so that only a single tooth was left. Mutilating and torturing people while they were alive — and in front of their friends and family, to deepen the torment. Cutting off the sexual parts of men and women, while they were alive. Putting grenades in the vaginas of young women. Beheading people, including one Israeli whose head was subsequently found in a freezer in an ice cream shop in Gaza (it had been offered for sale, apparently). And on an on.

I believe in peace. I believe in the necessity of coexistence. I despise the current Israeli government with every fiber of my being. But the appalling cheering on of Hamas, the refusal of any of the pro-Palestinian protesters even to mention the hostages currently held in Gaza, including a 1 year old child and his 4 year old brother, speaks volumes about the inhumanity of those activists. You can criticize the Israeli military all you want, and even spread Hamas lies about hospital bombings, etc., but to make no demands on Hamas to surrender AND to release the hostages tells me loudly and clearly that you care as little about Palestinian lives as Hamas does. Watch their interviews on Arab and Russian TV, as I have. They mock the fact that Israelis love life, and declare that their people proudly embrace martyrdom. That is the saddest thing I think I’ve ever heard. And it is a stain on the entire notion of being human, of being a child of God, which Palestinians invoke endlessly, with their appeals to Allah.

I have made a determined effort not to engage with haters, with those who despise Israel and Israelis, and try to pretend that they don’t hate Jews. Of course they do. How do I know that? Because if you embrace the Hamas position, and its talking points, you embrace its agenda and purpose, which is available for all to see. It’s in the Hamas charter, which declares Hamas’s intention to annihilate Israel and kill ALL Jews.

In addition to not dignifying the homicidal glee of haters with a response, I decided to do something that some thought courageous, others thought insane: I went to Israel. With my youngest child. Our intention was to volunteer, to try to plug some of the need gaps opened by the war with Hamas, by the calling up of hundreds of thousands of reservists, and by the absence of farm workers and others who normally do a wide variety of necessary tasks. We packed thousands of kilos of food for poor Israelis (of ALL backgrounds) and spent a back-aching day picking strawberries. I now have newfound respect for farm workers everywhere. I spoke with shopkeepers who appeared normal in their bearing, but are just putting up a good front. As one young woman told me, “What choice do we have?” From the back seat of his car, I heard my cousin’s son tell my daughter that he knows 12 people who were murdered on October 7th.

I come from a faith tradition, Judaism, that holds that the loss of a single life is equal to the loss of an entire world. Given the deaths in Israel and the deaths in Gaza, whole universes have been wiped out. It is a devastating tragedy for a region steeped in too much violence and pain for too long.

I am grateful that I went to Israel so I could see and hug people I know and love, and move past virtual hugs and check ins. The minute I got home, I wanted to go back. If for no other reason than to escape the casual cruelty of bloodied and otherwise defaced hostage posters and other ugly messages in my NYC neighborhood. The people who indulge in such cruelty, who trumpet their lack of empathy, are people who disgrace the suffering of people on both sides. Valuing only some life doesn’t make you a warrior for justice. It makes you an entitled, soulless bigot. And that makes the world better for no one.

About the Author
Nina has a long history of working in the non-profit, philanthropic, and government sectors. She has also been an opinion writer for The Jewish Week, and a contributor to The Forward, and to The New Normal, a disabilities-focused blog. However, Nina is most proud of her role as a parent to three unique young adults, and two rescue dogs, whom she co-parents with her wiser, better half. She blogs about that experience now and again at
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