A note to Gary on Jan 12th. In honour of my beloved, Israel

Leron Bernstein is the lead singer of Hakafot Shniyot - a band created to support Israeli soldiers across the country. Pictured with Lead Guitarist, Yair Lehrer, Cajonist, Avi Wiesenberg and Roadie, Shmuli Kraus

Leron Bernstein’s Original Post to which Gary Berkowitz made his comment: Facebook Post

Hi Gary, I’ve read the posts that you’ve tagged me in on your feed. I’ve watched some of the content that you’ve posted. I’ve intentionally not de-friended you. I strive to be open to learning about different opinions and perspectives. Unfortunately, in all honesty, I find most of the things you post difficult to follow and often not so clear. At best, I haven’t found them to be particularly compelling, but rather validating of the stance I hold, believe in and proudly live my life by. You talk a lot about a whole effort of brainwashing/programming that we went through in the same school that we attended in South Africa. That is a fairly bizarre claim – at least evident to be untrue – in the diverse population that came into the school and then their diverse life choices after school – notwithstanding the strong ethos of debate, drama and self-expression there. No-one was ever ‘punished’ or ‘cast out’ for their opinions. It’s deeply painful to see you write these things and leverage your identity as a Jew in an attempt to strengthen your arguments. At best, you are certainly not doing the Jewish People any favours. At worst, I fear that through your reckless myopic opinions, you could strengthen the resolve of anti-Semites who would be happy to see my (and your) demise.

On many occasions I have thought of answers and responses to the posts you tagged me in, but, ultimately, I decided against them – mainly because I’d rather spend my time where I add meaning and light to the world. I prefer to spend my time with my family, my friends, volunteering and working. Lately, as you’ve seen, I’ve had the tremendous privilege of giving direct support to my friends, family and other fellow Israelis who have been ripped out of their daily lives to have to go, as soldiers, fight a brutal and merciless existential threat to the Jewish People. Nonetheless, I’ll reply to this one, as you’ve now posted on my feed directly. The reason why the comments are limited to Friends is firstly because Facebook changed it a few weeks ago to set that as the default and I thought that was wise – so I went with it. Secondly, I use Facebook to connect socially, foster mutual support with friends and hopefully inspire when I can. I do my own self-accounting on my ideological and political views outside of Facebook. I don’t have any misgivings about trying to change your opinion here but I’ll use your comment here as a springboard to share a bit of mine, seeing it’s now on my feed and you’ve introduced yourself to my friends.

Gary, the State of Israel and the People of Israel love peace. We are obsessed with peace – on an individual level, on a national level and on an international level. However, there are people in this world who wish to wipe us off the face of the earth – they embrace darkness and destruction. And so my friends and my family and my fellow countrymen have to leave their spouses, their children and their jobs – and many times, give up their lives – to make sure there is a Jewish People tomorrow. For there to be peace, we have to sadly take up arms to fight against evil to attain it. War and fighting is dirty, horrendous and sad – especially in the Middle East. You have the luxury of sitting in South Africa at a safe distance and typing away. The other day, just as you tagged me in another one of your posts, I saw it as I was working in a coffee shop. Suddenly I heard massive explosions above my head. My heart raced as my 14-year-old son was likely on a bus on the way home from school. T”G, he called me immediately after to tell me he was safe. I heard the explosions of rockets kms away. He had his face near the ground after leaping from the bus to safety – where he looked up and saw the rockets explode above his head. Because Israel loves peace, it does not build tunnels and other machinery, as you would want to believe, to wipe out people in Gaza – rather our exorbitant taxes due to security went into building defences like the Iron Dome to protect our people from indiscriminate rocket attacks directed at all of Israel.

Gary, you posted a while ago about how you pictured yourself dancing at a wedding in Gaza. Do you know what would likely happen to you if you went to that wedding in Gaza and they discovered that you are a Jew? All your Facebook posts printed ten times over would not keep you safe. Do you remember the blood-stained hands of the people who killed two Israelis who took a wrong turn and, by mistake, landed up in Ramallah? Maybe they should have said that they were just looking to attend a wedding. Maybe the beautiful people at the Nova festival should have said they were practising dancing for a wedding and they would have been spared. Do you think that would have helped them?

Gary, when we have to defend ourselves from vicious evil, it is dirty and dark – it is awful. Does it go perfectly every time? Of course not. This is not elective cosmetic surgery in a quiet clinic in Sandton. This is a fight to survive and exist – and it gets very messy. At best, your arguments find their myopic manifestation in a less-than-perfect operation by the IDF, under a magnifying glass in the calm analysis of a laboratory post-facto. It’s very comfortable for you to systematically extrapolate those imperfections into a whole narrative of willful attacks and destruction by Israel. Unfortunately, you’re horribly wrong. Come visit me in Israel and I’ll introduce you to my friends – they’re amazing, kind, sensitive, loving people – who have been forced out of their regular lives into putting on an army uniform or their parents – living their lives anxiously waiting for a call from their children to know that they’re safe. I’ll take you to the supermarket in my town, where I warmly greet the Arab-Israeli workers who live and thrive in Israel – I show them extra compassion and gratitude on the days when I see shame on their faces, because of what Hamas has perpetrated the day before. We can go visit wounded soldiers in the hospitals and talk with the Arab-Israeli staff and doctors who have taken up the opportunities in this country to pursue high-level careers and live meaningful lives – including the women.

Gary, I know you’re thinking now about the claim of displacement of the Arabs from their homes for 75 years – “It’s not just about the war – they’re ‘freedom fighters’”. There is certainly complexity here too, yet I’m comfortable and confident with my people and my forebears in this country, to not believe the falsehoods described in some of your posts on this issue. However, even if your narrative of aggressive and intentional forced displacement en masse was right, it would still pale to what our shared forebears went through a few generations ago in Europe and for many generations across the world, for 1000s of years. And you know what I see as the best proof of us standing for life as a People? It is that we stand for life. Are we crying and killing over the fact that Jews lost their homes and their possessions? No, we lifted ourselves up and we do so every day – to build a better future for ourselves and for our children – in a way that also makes the entire world a much better place.

You don’t have to go much further than the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes and life-saving innovations that have emerged from this tiny country and People. We love peace. We love goodness and kindness. We practice it every day. On dark days, we have to don uniforms and fight with guns and bombs to maintain it and stay alive.

On the other side, our enemies have a single-minded focus on destroying us and so they leverage the victim mindset to do just that, and people like you get sadly caught up in that and bring down the actual good being done in the name of misguided illusions of simple peace and niceties that are not relevant against an enemy sworn to destroy you.

Especially – in the Middle East. You’re living in another paradigm and typing away valiantly about ours.

Paradoxically, if you were successful in your arguments, you wouldn’t be around for very long to celebrate your keyboard victory. The hate would come for you too, that you can be sure of.

Respectfully, I would ask you to please not waste your or my time debating the merits of our arguments on this platform. It’s not that I’m worried you may ‘prove me wrong’ – I just don’t have the time to prioritise this. As I feared, writing this made me run late in getting my kids to school this morning (where they learn about morality, goodness and peace – have you seen the textbooks in Gaza, Gary?). This is not my preferred use of my time – though I am grateful to have had the opportunity to organize my thoughts like this.

I am a student of the teachings of Rabbi AY HaKohen Kook. Rav Kook bears the title of the First Chief Rabbi of Palestine (that term applies equally to Jews and Arabs who lived in this land under the British Mandate – there was never an independent sovereign Arab state called Palestine. The term was manipulated into use by the PA and Hamas to fuel their anti-semitic extermination of Jews through perpetuating a narrative of victimhood that the West has fallen prey to). In his book, Orot HaTeshuva, Rav Kook defines introspection, self-awareness and refinement of one’s moral compass as a religious imperative. I take that very seriously and while I open myself up to learn from content on Facebook (notwithstanding the echo chambers) and other sources of content, I do my self-reckoning elsewhere and I’m extremely comfortable with and proud of where I stand and what I do. From where I see things – you’re standing in very dangerous territory – siding with evil. Of course, we could do things better – and I promise you that we try. When we get something wrong – it’s not helpful for you to take that inevitable mistake and turn it into a full-blown malicious narrative. I’ll mention it because it’s happening today – the ICJ hearing is being led by the current ANC leadership – how well is your life in South Africa playing out under their corrupt, arrogant, cynical and destructive leadership of the country? I’d think more than twice to be lining up alongside such people. That’s not my argument for the folly of their claims – it’s just a touchpoint for you to consider in your own journey of self-assessment.

I’ve got another idea. Make a trip here. I’ll pick you up from the airport – we can tour Israel and then discuss this over lunch – on me. We can also get a gift and some insights to console your ‘Rabbi in mourning’ about where his Jewish future actually lies. If he wants to bemoan the suffering of civilians in Gaza – maybe we can organize a Facetime call with the leaders of Hamas – as they are solely to blame for it. Let me know what you decide. I’m just not going to any weddings in Gaza with you. I love life too much. Shabbat Shalom, Gary.

About the Author
Leron Bernstein lives in Israel, working in Hi-Tech, as an inspired member of the Start Up Nation workforce. He made Aliyah in 2020, after serving as a communal leader in formal and informal education in South Africa, for over a decade. He feels blessed to be living in our eternal Homeland with his precious family, seeking out the extraordinary patterns in everyday moments.
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