Mark Silberstein

Israel is Not Normal

Entering my ninth year living in Israel, it’s clear to me that this generation of Israelis is not normal.

What I have seen over the last 12 months will no doubt shape my family and all Jews’ future for generations. Countless acts of self sacrifice astonish me day after day.

Simply put, I have witnessed the rise of the Jewish people’s greatest generation.

I’ve seen mothers with small children forced to be incredibly strong while their husbands are uncontactable fighting in Gaza for unknown lengths of time.  Often these families can’t go home and are living with friends, relatives, in hotels and even at my in-law’s apartment.  Most Israelis with extra space or an empty home have, without question, welcomed families that can’t yet go back or have lost everything.

We’ve hosted “lone soldiers” (no family in Israel) with the weight of the country on their shoulders.  I have visited army bases and spoken to IDF soldiers from all over Israel and the world, including Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, UK and France.

I’ve dropped off an exhausted 38-year-old French Israeli IDF reserve soldier with 6- and 8-year-old kids to surprise his family after not being home for 28 days.

I’ve also seen people from all over the world go to the ends of the earth to get IDF soldiers whatever they need from tactical shirts to the latest bullet proof vests, to tents so they can sleep night after night along our borders.

I’ve seen thousands of people holding Israel flags line the streets to the cemetery of my small town waiting to escort the family of a 19 year old IDF fallen soldier to his final resting place.  Watching the IDF Rabbi perform the Jewish tradition of cutting the shirt of the fallen soldier’s father, while his unit, fresh from fighting in Gaza watches on, will be with me forever.  So many Israelis have been to funerals over the last 100 days.

I’ve seen Jews from all over the world drop everything and fly into Israel carrying extra bags filled with donations to do whatever they can to help the country through this time.

My wife and I have worked in the fields to do our small part to save cucumbers, pomegranates and red pepper crops due to a lack of workers during the war.  Our friends have served thousands of free burgers to soldiers in the Golan, delivered supplies for loved ones fighting in the war, donated clothes to families down south that lost everything, raised money for missing equipment and the rest.  Israelis that don’t know each other, but are deeply committed to ensuring the country moves forward, are thrown together week after week without hesitation.

And of course, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women that left their jobs, homes and families to fight. As if right out of our history books, an army of brave Jewish warriors ages 18 to 50 from all backgrounds, motivated only to ensure our right to live here and protect the very families they left.  It is clearly understood that Israel’s future is what we are fighting for and whether it is realized or not, this generation is fighting for the future of all Jews.

I am not alone.  Everyone in Israel and the Diaspora has family or friends that are fighting, currently held hostage or been killed. Everyone.

Now, more than ever, without Israel, the future of the Jewish people is not ensured.  This is precisely why modern-day antisemitism has evolved to target the only Jewish country in the world versus previously targeting the individual Jew.  It is now obvious that if Jews are not safe in Israel, we certainly will not be safe living a Jewish life anywhere in the world.  Israel’s reason for being is clearer than ever and has been crystallized in the wake of Oct 7th.

This has all happened against the backdrop of politics in Israel having reached new lows with deep disappointment and even widespread disgust with the government.  This is not Netanyahu’s war.  Israeli society has taken its own future into its hands by volunteering, fighting, filling in the shortfalls, etc. This is despite the government and not because of it.

It is indescribable to sit around our Shabbat table with an evacuated Jewish family and their young children who can’t go home due to rockets falling. We were complete strangers for a brief moment when they walked in the door. However, in the midst of a war where everyone has family fighting, sitting around the Shabbat table saying prayers together and watching our kids play was a feeling I will never forget.  In the blink of an eye, everything was understood on a human and Jewish level. I realized there are no strangers in Israel these days.

In contrast to this, I am faced with people from the US saying that “Israel looks so bad in the media” and the Jewish US Senator Bernie Sanders calling this war “immoral”.

The disconnect between the courageous and selfless reaction of Israeli society and the world’s reaction is shocking to everyone here.  The question Israelis ask most often is “what exactly does everyone expect us to do in the face of being surrounded by people openly sworn to continue murdering one of the largest and most diverse Jewish communities in the world?”

When people demand a ceasefire, most Israelis hear we should cease to be here as there is simply no way to continue building a Jewish homeland with such evil continuing to threaten us.  We can’t have a Jewish homeland when there are Jewish refugees in Israel and we are unable to destroy the purest form of antisemitism to arise since the Holocaust.

It is a disgrace to overlook or even discount who Hamas is.  The threat they pose to Jews, Palestinians and all Western countries is now undeniable. It is a disgrace to pressure Israel to accept this threat while our hostages are still held, rockets are still falling and over 100K Jews can’t return to their homes within Israel.  This pressure only provides Hamas further international credibility, time and money to attack again.  Bernie Sanders may be a hero to the Progressive Movement, but he is unequivocally a disgrace to the Jewish people.

I often wonder if the people demanding a cease fire would be comfortable sending their daughters to live in a community overlooking Gaza today knowing Hamas is still in power.  Hamas murdered progressives, peace activists, Arabs and Jews.  They are hoping Bernie Sander’s cease fire demands are enforced in order to regroup for the next attack.

To our dismay, the world seems to demand we stop defending ourselves as we fight the pure evil that just slaughtered us and Hamas still hold our women, children, elderly and men in vast underground tunnelsshielded by two million Palestinians.  If we don’t defend our right to simply live in a Jewish homeland, it has become crystal clear that no one else in the world will.

While there is no such thing as a “perfect neat war”, history will show there is a choice between pure evil and good. Such choices don’t require “context” or a policy debate.  While I will never be comfortable with innocent people suffering, including Palestinians, I am comforted knowing I am part of a Jewish generation risking their lives to protect innocents on both sides, while ensuring our homeland for generations to come.

 The UN has been the key partner in providing the funding and political cover for Hamas to carry out the slaughter on Oct 7th. The world has not demanded Hamas leave Gaza, has accepted their open oppression of Palestinians and closed their eyes to the obvious barbarity of using schools, hospitals and religious shrines as their base to fight Israel.  Other than sitting back and waiting to be attacked again, what alternative has the world presented Israel to eliminate twenty thousand antisemitic Hamas terrorists fighting from under 2 million Palestinians?

Israelis don’t see any demands from the international community that Hamas relinquish their brutal oppressive rule over Gaza.  Having brought nothing but disaster upon Gaza, Hamas continues to sacrifice Palestinian’s future in order to satisfy their thirst to kill Jews.  Most of the world still can’t fully bring themselves to condemn what happened on October 7th, including the most well documented sexual assault of our Jewish women.

Conversely, the world wants us to be ashamed for who we are and what we are doing in order for Jews to be able to go home and live safely.  They are blaming us for being slaughtered in our homes, raped and kidnapped.  However, time and time again the world misunderstands the Jewish people.

The opposite has happened.  Israelis, Jews, Israeli Arabs and friends abroad understand clearly why a strong Israel needs to exist and fight right now. They are not ashamed. We are proud of our families and friends fighting for our future and survival. We know first hand that soldiers don’t want to kill innocent civilians, be away from their families, have wives burying husbands or parents burying children.  We also know the soldiers are the absolute best of Israel and the Jewish world. We thank G-d for them and that we have a Jewish army to protect us.  No one else will.  We know they are not perfect, but they are moral, strong, good and not hesitating to defend our right to live safely as Jews in Israel.

They are our greatest Jewish generation and I am honored to be a part of it.

About the Author
Mark Silberstein was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently resides in Zichron Ya'acov, Israel . He studied at Tel Aviv University and worked as a Public Relations Director at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles 1999/2000.
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