Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

On the Road: Unpacking the Questions, Hearing the Concerns, Managing the Needs

Over these difficult weeks, I had occasion to address several audiences in connection with the events unfolding in Israel. Posted below are some of the  reactions that I have received. They reflect both the diversity and complexity that one finds at this moment within our community:

  • Well, I am not a Zionist, so we raise our kids to understand that there are ‘truths’ on both sides of the issue.
  • We were scared to send our kids to school on Friday, the (October) 13th, so we didn’t.
  • We have removed all outward Judaica objects, so no Chai, Star of David or Kipah in public settings.
  • How do you help your kids understand what has happened, what it means and how can we make them feel on the one hand connected to this story but on the other safe?
  • We are not coming to Jewish buildings any longer, too much security around them and too many threats directed against them.
  • Where should you give your money, as there are so many requests?
  • As a Holocaust survivor, I am feeling as if we are experiencing the 1930’s all over again, as we saw the images of genocide committed against Jews on October 7th.
  • A person who attended a rally for peace noted how she was denounced in the Jewish community for not being loyal and supportive of Israel. Some called her self-hating. She walked away devastated concerning the amount of hate she encountered.
  • One person, seated in a restaurant, overheard three Arab gentlemen carrying on a conversation, partially in English and Arabic. What he took away a deep and abiding hatred of Jews, as controlling and powerful.
  • I have never been as frightened for my family both here and in Israel, as I am now.
  • From a rabbi, I thought I would never say this, but I worry about Israel’s future existence as a Jewish state. This really scares me. 
  • From an Israeli, this is 1948 and am wondering if we will be able to maintain our nation.

 The Questions Before Us:

The questions posted below were central to many of my conversations. No doubt, these issues are also important to all of us.

  • Explaining the Crisis: Who is Hamas and What does it represent? What is the history of the Gaza Strip? Sharing the facts becomes a center piece of our advocacy role.
  • How Could this Have Happened and Why Now? An analysis of what Hamas’ and Iran’s objectives should be understood. No doubt, one of the core goals involves an attempt to distrupt diplomatic initiatives now underway between Saudia Arabia and Israel; such a breakthrough must be seen as problematic to Tehran and its geo-political interests. Helping audiences understand the complexity of the Middle East and the numerous players connected with this conflict.
  • Helping our Kids: How do we speak with our very young children? What can we provide to our high school and college kids? How do we deal with our kids who say that they no longer wish to be Jewish?
  • Understanding Hate: How do I explain why these unfolding events are accompanied by anti-Semitism? We are all having a particular difficult time in both understanding and managing the degree and intensity of hate directed against Israel and the Jewish people.
  • The UN and Israel: Helping audiences understand the context to the complex and problematic relationship that the State of Israel has had with the United Nations and its various agencies serving the Middle East can be especially useful.
  • Donor Questions: It is important to provide a guide for those inquiring where to provide funds. 
  • The Dissenters: How do we understand those Jews who even after the events of October 7th oppose Israel?
  • Beyond Gaza: Many folks wanted a better understanding of the layer of the land, that is what are the other security and defense challenges facing the Jewish State.
  • Where Do We Turn for Information? Helping individuals find websites, organizations and publications that are providing responsible, trustworthy information.

Each of these inquiries deserves our answers and require us to be prepared collectively to assist audiences with what are their primary needs and concerns.

What do all these expressions represent?  While is no uniformity of feeling or a shared opinion, they do reflect the state of unsettledness with which we find ourselves. The power of the moment is represented by the profound level of care and concern, and even fear that is present.

Beyond these conversations and questions, there are pressing issues that we as a community will need to address:

  • The Battle Over Ideas and Loyalty: How Israel plays to Gen Z and Millennials. As noted above, our kids and even some of us are struggling with how to best interpret and defend Israel, better understand the political complexities, and manage the “wars” on college campuses and elsewhere that are exploding around us.
  • The New anti-Semitism: How do we build a response when there is a concerted effort to link historic anti-Semitic tropes to Israel? For many of our Jewish students and for some of us, the onslaught of hate is particularly challenging. We want to understand where this anti-Jewish sentiment is based and how best to  effectively respond to it.
  • Israel Education: We will need to make certain that the educational resources are available to all the key constituencies seeking such material, as we find many unfamiliar with the history of the Middle East or the details connected to the evolution of the State of Israel.

Over time and with the evolution of events, some of these themes will change, while others will become more pronounced. These issues, and more, will be framing our future.

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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