Karen Reiss Medwed

Nine Months and the Blessings of AI Continue

Nine months have passed since I last wrote a piece for TOI. A nine month pause in creating, a nine month pause for advocacy for the hostages, for anguish and angst. During these nine months I have found myself, like so many, paralyzed from writing, from imagining, what the day after October 7th might look like. Each time I put finger to keyboard, I contemplated how stale the piece might read “if only…something happened” between publishing and the next day.  

Yet it is not only nine months of a pause on writing. It has been a pause on so much, at least for our community here at Midway Jewish Center. On October 7th, our congregational member, one of our local heroes, Omer Neutra, was kidnapped while on duty protecting Israel on its Southern boarder. Our rabbi has spent endless hours leading everyone in our community, in our synagogue and beyond, in the efforts to support the Neutra family, support the families of all the hostages and support their return home.  

Nine months in, and we are asking ourselves, how do we remain passionately laser focused on this effort, on this ultimate mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming the captives, and at the same time, release ourselves from some paralysis to look at the world around us that continues to grow and develop and create.

Looking back at the work we were doing through October 6th, I found myself reflecting upon the work on Artificial Intelligence which had been our foci for a year of education and programming. With a generous gift from Sinai and Synapses, we had hosted lectures, adult education sessions, teen education sessions and a parent class, all on the topic of AI in our lives. How fortuitous we spent the time immersed in contemplating the blessings of AI during the previous year. As the events and implications of October 7th unfolded, we found ourselves in so many spaces relying on the goodness of AI to help us get through and organize to survive the upheaval.  

In the early days it was AI that helped the volunteers at Achim LaNeshek create the lists of missing, survivors and dead. It was AI that allowed the projections for the early duffel bag efforts to ensure supplies for those relocated and those on the front lines. And it is AI that is being employed on the front lines of the war on antisemitism and to help tell the stories of survivors to the world.  

As anticipated, AI has also been a partner to activities that put important critical ethical questions in front of us. Painfully, it was AI that assisted the IDF in seeking to fight a war with fewer innocent civilian victims than imagined possible in past incursions of densely populated areas. Some have found this activity a distasteful use of AI, while others find in it the goodness of acting in the best possible way during an unavoidable war. For our community, having had the conversations in the previous year on the ethics of AI helped us dialogue through the incongruence passionately but civilly. More hurtful have been the encounters with AI falsifying antisemitic narratives, and the easily identifiable mistakes (six fingers on a child’s hand) that accompany them. And yet, it is because of our own communities’ engagement with AI that we have had the sophisticated wherewithal to pause when faced with challenging photo “evidence” and ask ourselves if we were looking at real of falsified information and then seek out proof of the AI footprint in them. That empowering gift from our learning together was priceless in a time we felt so helpless and hopeless. 

That is how I am choosing to mark this inconceivable date of nine months since October 7th, with 120 hostages from over 13 countries and over 7 religions being held by Hamas in Gaza. It is a moment to mark movement from inability to act to the compelling requirement to keep on doing and being and creating. It is a time when now, more than ever, we must heed the calls of the families of the hostages; we must care for the widows and orphans; and we must be part of answers and forward movement. AI as a tool has been accompanying us on – both as a tool to answer the challenges of the moment and as an important means to tell its story.  And in that sense, the blessings of AI in our lives can be counted, even at a time when we feel our blessings are few and far between while we wait for Omer, Hersh, Romi and all the other hostages to be released and brought home. B’sorot Tovot!

About the Author
Rabbi Karen G Reiss Medwed, Ph.D. is Teaching Professor Emerita at Northeastern University. The the only certified practicing female identifying mesadder gittin in the Conservative movement, she is an appointed member of the Joint Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly, a member of the CJLS and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly executive council.
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