I remember an interview with a famous historian (Jewish, of course) whose family got him out of Germany in time. The famous interviewer asked him “What happened to the rest of your family.” The reply: “They were all killed.” What happened next was ten seconds of the coldest silence I’ve ever experienced. The historian stared the interviewer straight in the eye. No morsel of rue or regret for the lost. Just the brutal fact that people were once people. Now they’re all gone.
When history happens, you don’t get to sentimentalize it. With any luck, the savage details (what Stalin apparently called ‘the wet stuff’) disappear beyond the record and you get to awaken from reality’s nightmares, but when it doesn’t, you either stare it straight in the eye or you make bad decisions that just make more wet stuff.
My advice is to leave the sadness for the future, leave the anger for the future. The post traumatic stress will come however you feel now. For the moment, you’re in the thick of it, and the most important thing is to keep your head clear, achieve the objective, and get out. When you hear what happened in Kfar Azza, don’t get angry, don’t get sad, just acclimate yourself. It’s going to happen again, and again, whichever side does it, and eventually you’ll be numb to it until it’s over and the real work begins of coming to terms with the horror you repressed. But that is for down the road.
Political sympathy is cheap and fickle. Nobody should know that better than Jews. It’s personal friendship that’s deep and lasting, and if your gentile friends are your real friends, then whatever they think about Israel, they will listen to your grief and horror and all of it else. Political gains are never won by causeheads baiting people into argument (believe me, I know..) but our friends are there for us to work through our grief and horror in private, and if your friends are truly your friends, then they will either see your logic and come to agree in time, or you will see their logic and come to agree with them, and if you never agree, you will respect the disagreement and not bring up what only causes ugliness.
New generations are always becoming acquainted with tragedy. Thinking we’ve evolved is an occupational hazard of being. Humans are not more generous or tolerant than they used to be. It’s not because humans have always been this brutal, it’s because humans have always been generous and tolerant. Life is a series of moments, and in terrible moments it’s the same people who help those in need who do terrible things. People are not inherently good, they’re not inherently bad, they’re inherently people, and the circumstances of any moment add to the completeness of who we are.
We live in an era that doesn’t like traditional readings of history. Leave aside whether there was ever such a thing as ‘traditional history’, the one truth about history that never changes is that certain events have monumental, overwhelming consequences remembered forever, discussed by normal people for a hundred years and debated by historians for thousands. Certain events are so traumatic that they feel like a bomb went off inside you. Once every twenty years or so, an event insists on itself and their consequences reach out forever.
We don’t know whether the Hamas attack is one of those moments, but it certainly feels like one right now. The world may never be the same after this: not just the Jewish world but the world entire. For eight years, the tensions of an already tense world steadily ramped up without a break: more division, more ideology, more mutual hatred, more disagreement. Whenever a clear world majority decides their disagreements are too important to compromise on, there will be war, and it may be war unlike any the world has ever known.
Is this that moment? I don’t know, but history is not for the feint of heart, and we all live in it. For the moment, I categorically refuse to make any demonstration of my Israeli patriotism, even as every chamber of my heart beats blue and white. Yet again, Jews find themselves at history’s epicenter, and what’s at stake is so much larger than two peoples. What the heart wants at the moment is so much less important than figuring out how to minimize life lost in an impossible situation that, if it’s one of those historical nodes, could claim billions.