On October 7, 2023, I was to travel to Israel from my hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyoming for my semi-annual visit as a dual citizen. I love the beach, and I try to spend a couple of months working remotely, getting tan, and getting back in shape with daily swims in the Mediterranean Sea and lots of walking. It’s my gift to myself after working overtime during the busy season. But October 7, 2023 turned out to be the worst day for the Jews since the Holocaust.
Instead, I found myself in Berlin which was only to be a short stopover to visit my daughter. Its bleak weather was a proper backdrop for the horrifying news alerts that buzzed increasingly more frantic on my phone. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wandering around dazed and distracted this day; not caring whether I’d buttoned my shirt properly, brushed my teeth, or had anything to eat.
Though I hadn’t been in Jackson Hole on October 7, many friends and locals reached out to me (thank you; I see you). From Berlin, I had an interview with a Wyoming reporter who was refreshingly educated on the complicated emotional landscape and military and geopolitical issues of the conflict. Not only was he concerned over what the Jackson Hole Jewish community was going through, but he was also appalled and outraged at the atrocity perpetrated against civilians dancing at a rave in the desert or preparing breakfast on a Shabbat and holiday morning.
Still, I knew that this first wave of compassion for the massacre – the worst atrocity to take place in Israel within memory – would quickly fade. Israelis have seen it all before. I knew that soon, Jewish Lives Wouldn’t Matter (though dead Jews would). Elite white college students would stomp on the Israeli flag, shouting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” with no idea of what it means (or, perniciously, knowing exactly what it means: more dead Jews), while others would be posting Israeli vs. Palestinian body-count statistics with no intellectual framing. British goons would be yelling “Allahu akbar” as they smashed Jewish businesses, and tenured academicians would say that last week’s massacre of Jewish civilians was nothing but Zionist propaganda. My prediction of this “Stranger Things” upside-down world only took three days to come true. Poof – compassion gone.
I needed to be in Israel. Some of my Israeli media colleagues said: Come help us. I arrived on Thursday, October 12 – five days after Hamas had shot, raped, burned, and mutilated its way through the rural kibbutzim of southern Israel. I’m sure you know the story by now, so I won’t retell it.
No, wait. Now that I think about it, maybe you don’t know the story.
Maybe you were watching the BBC, which deliberately avoids calling Hamas a terrorist organization so as not to offend viewers. Maybe you were pressured by your friends to look past the rivers of Jewish blood and instead direct your outrage against Israel’s counterattack. Maybe your high-school teacher or college professor explained things in purple “yes, but…” language that ignored the 1,400 butchered civilians. Maybe you were drawn into the lunacy of ill-informed influencers on social media shouting that Israel is a bloodthirsty, illegal settler enterprise that needs to be decolonized. (Maybe they should listen to what the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt said: “Whoever thinks decolonization involves decapitation should have their own head examined.”) Hostages? What hostages? Or maybe you know someone who insists on verifying the exact number of Jewish babies who were burned alive or beheaded rather than “merely” murdered.
Here in Tel Aviv, anyone on the street will tell you that they know someone, or are related to someone, who was murdered in this massacre or is being held hostage in Gaza. Anyone on the street can show live-streamed images on TikTok of their relatives lying dead in pools of blood. Everyone is linked to someone with an unfathomable horror story. Israel’s Holocaust survivors are living an unfathomable horror story yet again.
Today, fighter jets rumble constantly overhead. Sirens warning of incoming rocket attacks send me into the stairwell for protection several times a day. Hundreds of funerals are being held. A ground invasion is imminent. Soldiers’ parents are terrified. Jews are concerned for their own existence and – incredibly – anguish terribly over the toll this will take on Palestinians in Gaza.
A long time ago, a lovely Jewish woman attended Shabbat services at the Jackson Hole Jewish Community. Afterward, at our kiddush oneg, she politely critiqued one of our lay leaders for referring to the Jewish people during his sermon as “they” or “the Jews.” She said, “You know, you should really be saying ‘we.’” It is an understandable mistake when you live in far-flung places like Wyoming, but we won’t be making that mistake again.
Friends, we are so sad on so many levels that I cannot attempt to explain it. The sadness is crushing and complex: sadness for us and for all who have suffered, and are yet to suffer, from this evil. Don’t turn the page too quickly. With only 16 million Jews on the planet versus the hundreds of millions who hate us, the math is easy. We will undoubtedly lose the PR battle as the war goes on. We will give you facts and photos to justify our anger. We will show that we really do care about the fate of innocent civilians. But it won’t matter because this time, the war is not just one of words and memes, but a real war with real blood, and we feared it was coming.