Michelle Lisses Topaz

I can walk and chew gum at the same time

This is my Home
This is my home. (courtesy)

The past three weeks have been tense. The past year too. But ever since the last round of elections here in Israel and definitely since October 7, 2023, this sentence my father used to say to us when we were children has been reverberating in my mind. He would normally say it when he was annoyed with us for not moving things along quickly enough while doing our chores. Surely you can do two things at once girls, he would prod us along with his words. And pick up the pace because time is of the essence.

These days, here in Israel, there is an air of unity. A sudden joining of forces and energies in solidarity. In so many ways it is heartening to see, especially after the past year of divisive infighting and clashes of world views. Because as the fight for “right” raged and raged, threatening our very fabric as a nation, we almost forgot our shared past and our shared fate. We almost threatened our own futures.

But it was based on differences in basic principle. It was bitter and real.

And then, in one horrific “unifying” Shabbat fused with what is supposed to be among the most joyous of holidays which symbolize rebirth and renewal, ostensibly all was cast aside. Forgiven? Forgotten? Or simply made proportionally insignificant.

As calls of “Am Yisrael Chai – the Nation of Israel Lives Eternal” rise and echo, it is hard not to feel heartened and connected, especially when you are an ‘Oleh Vatik’ – one who made Aliyah and immigrated to Israel years ago. These calls strike a particular chord for me, as someone who chose this country more than three decades ago, and one who continues to choose this country again and again, even when she has been through hardships and yes, even when I have a hard time with her.

Some may identify me with one side or another – I see myself as left of center somedays. Right of center on others. And I do NOT subscribe to the attempt to put me into any dichotomous box and belittle or simplify my views.

As such, my mind continues to wander back to earlier days. I am reminded of the early 1990s, when the United States went to war with Saddam Hussein of Iraq following his aggression against Kuwait and threats of chemical warfare against Israel. And then once again in 2001, when it waged war against Al-Qaeda and Osama bin-Laden following the unforgiveable terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. During both of those times I listened closely to the rallying of the battle cry in the American media. Words like “Support the Troops” abounded. The underlying message was: “You either choose to get in line and support the troops; be a patriot or you are a traitor.”

Black and White. Right and Wrong. True or False. Absolute ultimatums, which leave little room for free speech, critical thinking, or holding leaders accountable. You’re either with us or against us. That message was broadcast loud and clear but also softly and subtly. Or in the words widely attributed to a former staff member of the Soviet cultural ministry: “When the cannons roar, the muses are silent”.

Which brings me back to my father’s words, and the past year at least, or maybe even the past decade and a half.

I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

I am capable of keeping in mind the importance of restoring and upholding our safety as a nation while at the same time seeing and calling out incompetence, callousness, cowardice and lack of personal responsibility and culpability in our government and its purported leaders. As a matter of fact, it’s my moral duty and imperative to walk and chew gum at the same time. Because if I do not, we are not a democratic state, de facto. That was true even before the 7th of October 2023, and it is even more important now.

I reject the placating voices that say: “Now is not the time or place”.

I reject the placating, condescending voices that say: “We will look at all the evidence and form a Commission of Inquiry (ועדת חקירה ממלכתית) to get to the bottom of things once the objectives of the war have been achieved”.


I can walk and chew gum at the same time. And I must.

I choose to enlist the knowledge afforded to me by one of the most influential minds of my profession, that of Melanie Klein. As the mother of the psychoanalytic theory and practice of Object Relations, Klein cautioned against the trappings of the dichotomous or getting stuck in what she termed “The Paranoid-Schizoid Position”, which is commonplace and acceptable in the development of the young child, but which we are supposed to overcome slowly as we mature and develop. Klein warned against the dynamic and the danger in which adults and nations find themselves when threatened, especially existentially; they must be aware of the tendency to slip back into primitive modes of thought and action.

Americans have seen these powerful forces at work time and time again. Within my lifetime, calls and jeers of “love it or leave it” rhetoric ran rampant and were levied during the Vietnam War at those who wished to think about the consequences of governmental action and its prior responsibilities. Even when action is warranted and consensus widespread, like in the case of post Pearl Harbor or even before,  following the Nazi invasion of Poland on the first of September 1939, a populace must keep in mind responsibility, actions (or lack thereof), and accountability of its leaders. We must prevent ourselves from slipping into simplistic duality.

We can all maintain solidarity and unity while still expecting leadership to accept responsibility, as Truman indicated subtly but intentionally by keeping a placard on his desk in the Oval Office. On the placard were embossed the words: “The Buck Stops Here”. With these words he indicated to a nation that he was in charge, not only in glory but also when times were rough.

It’s not too much to ask of our leaders.

My chosen country of Israel was formed, in part, because of the brilliance and resolve of its seminal leader, David Ben-Gurion. He  understood that we would have to “… fight in the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, but … fight the White Paper as if there were no war”. It’s not one or the other. It’s not either/or. It’s not now or later.

It’s both. At the same time. Because only this way does a country survive and thrive.

And if that’s not enough, let’s remember the (often forgotten) words of Ehud Manor, no less a visionary than a poet, whose de facto, secondary national anthem “אין לי ארץ אחרת” (Ain Li Eretz Aheret; I Have No Country Other, as translated by Elli Sacks) that has been adopted into the hearts of its people on all sides:

I have no country other,
Though she’s burning, torn asunder…Can’t keep silent in light of
How my country’s changed her guise.
Won’t quit trying to remind her
In her ears, I’ll sing my cries,
Until she opens her eyes…

Here is my home.

 אין לי ארץ אחרת
…גם אם אדמתי בוערת
לא אשתוק כי ארצי
שינתה את פניה
לא אוותר לה
אזכיר לה
ואשיר כאן באוזניה
…עד שתפקח את עיניה

.כאן הוא ביתי


About the Author
Michelle Lisses-Topaz is a psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and parents, both in the public and private sector. She has lectured widely to both professionals and the general public on Child Development and raising bright, well-balanced, independent human beings. She has also written on the subject of the complexities of being a third generation Holocaust survivor. She lives in Israel, and is committed to her chosen country, in good times and in bad.
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