Alexander Branover

Our Darkest Hour

I hoped to write a column for the Times of Israel about a summer visit to SHUM (Speyer, Worms, and Mainz), a beautiful triangle along the Rhine River in the southwestern part of Germany. This area is one of the main tourist attractions in Germany, primarily due to breathtaking views, multiple wineries producing world-known Riesling, and small medieval towns spread around this region. SHUM is also recognized as the cradle of Ashkenazi Jewry. Reaching this area along the trade winds, in the dawn times of the Roman Empire, Ashkenazi Jews slowly but steadily moved eastward to Poland, Galicia, and other Eastern lands. A few hundred years of Jewish presence in the Rhineland have seen ups and downs. This region brought into life the finest rabbinic schools and scholars (Rashi and Rabeinu Tam among them), as well as multiple expulsions and slender-induced bloodshed. But instead of immersing myself in the historical and philosophical analysis of this distant past, I felt compelled to write about one of the darkest days of my people – October 7th, 2023.

Back in 1990, the year of my Aliyah to Israel, I was quite surprised to discover that Kishinev, the town of my birth, was known by almost everyone, disproportionately to its modest size or historical significance. Why would this godforsaken place on the Bessarabian outskirts of the Russian Empire be so well-known? This wasn’t because this place served as an exile venue for the freethinkers of 19th-century Tsarist Russia, and certainly not because of its linguistic and somewhat spiritual proximity to the South European countries. Kishinev was widely known because of the Pogrom of 1903 – or rather two pogroms: 1903 and 1905 (to be historically accurate) – committed by the Black Hundred (“Chernosotentsy”) gang. In the aftermath of the Kishinev pogrom, Haim Nahman Bialik went to explore the massacre that left forty-nine Jews murdered in April 1903 and composed his renowned poetic work “In the City of Slaughter.” The 1903 Kishinev massacre also inspired Theodor Herzl to step up Zionist efforts in finding a permanent solution for the aspirations of millions of Jews scattered around the world.

In the early hours of October 7th, 2023, the Hebrew words, “This is Kishinev all over again,” heavily resonated in my conscience on all possible levels. As the gruesome reality of what happened started to unfold, it became terrifyingly clear that the massacre of October 7th made the Kishinev pogrom look like a JV league training.

Jewish history is marred by massacres, expulsions, pogroms, and mass executions. Over two thousand years, from the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (with 10 out of 12 tribes expelled) up to the Holocaust, it has been stained by the shedding of Jewish blood and forced conversions. Crusaders slaughtered European Jewish communities, including the SHUM community, on their way to and from the Holy Land, regardless of the success of their mission. Cossack gangs led by Khmelnitsky massacred hundreds of thousands of Jews in their exuberant excitement to unite with the Russian Tsar. The Holy Inquisition persecuted Jewish converts in distant lands such as Mexico, Brazil, or Barbados. Arab gangs incited by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, who is primarily known for his close collaboration with the Nazis, killed sixty-nine Jews in Hebron and other places, leaving scores maimed or raped. Frustrated with Israel’s alignment with the path of liberal democracy, Kremlin apparatchiks have adopted a Goebbels-style propaganda machine, demonizing Israeli Jews. They have also become primary funders of terrorist activities and military assaults against the state, whether directly or through their proxy regimes.

For over two thousand years, Jews have been unjustly blamed for unimaginable libels, affiliations, or non-affiliations, for cosmopolitanism, or for a strong desire to return to their homeland. They’ve been stigmatized as filthy laymen (with a stereotypical garlic smell) or accused of being excessively wealthy and oppressing others. In the last couple of decades, Jews have been wrongly labeled as unwilling to blindly commit to the “peace process” and instead being selective and thoughtful in establishing the framework for genuine peace. Regrettably, these accusations have led to massacres, with October 7th being the most recent and the worst since the Holocaust.

October 7th, 2023 (22 Tishrei 5784) has become yet another landmark in the blood-soaked annals of Jewish history. On this day, hordes of Hamas terrorists, aided and guided by the Iranian regime, committed a barbaric and unfathomably cruel onslaught. Not only did they perpetrate this atrocity, but they were also exuberantly greeted by thousands of Gazans, as well as millions of brainwashed individuals who had been indoctrinated with hatred for Jews worldwide. Thousands of “enlightened” Ivy League students, supported by professors who endorsed so-called “righteous resistance” and openly harbored anti-Semitic sentiments, were despicable in their mockery of Jewish students by displaying the number of Jews killed, raped, maimed, decapitated, and burned alive in this massacre.

Make no mistake – this post is not about the origins of the phenomenon of antisemitism, which I genuinely believe has never been exhaustively examined on a human or theological level. While I think that antisemitism plays a role in solidifying our spiritual ascension, this short column does not attempt to delve into that analysis.

More than three thousand years of Jewish history are marked by dark hours, yet each dark hour has been followed by a moment of light. King Solomon’s wisdom, encapsulated in the phrase “Gam Ze Ya’avor” – This, Too, Shall Pass, is intrinsically embedded in our story and DNA. Perhaps it is a reflection of Jewish opportunism, but as a people, we rarely fail to capitalize on moments of our own destruction. The devastating time of the Khmelnitsky massacres gave birth to the Hasidut teaching, which not only revitalized thousands of unrooted communities in Eastern Europe but eventually became the foundation of the Chabad movement, a driving force behind communal Jewish life worldwide. The Kishinev pogrom prompted Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement to actively seek a permanent solution. While Herzl himself was open to the Uganda option, it’s noteworthy that the Kishinev delegation courageously insisted that our ancestral land would become the future home of the Jewish nation. The ashes of the Holocaust ushered in the realization of the Zionist dream, culminating in the rebirth of the Jewish State on the same strip of land where Jewish communities, prophets, judges, and kingdoms flourished for two thousand years. In this piece of land, the Jewish people have transformed deserts and swamps into a thriving state and a beacon of true liberal democracy for all inhabitants, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

The massacre of October 7th, 2023 forced us to relive a cataclysm of biblical proportions, yet it also forged a genuine brotherhood and unity in our struggle for survival. A nation in the midst of an internal rift instantaneously shifted perspective. A profound understanding of the importance of the State of Israel has permeated our hearts and minds, spurring us to act at a level we couldn’t have imagined just two weeks ago. I firmly believe that our three-thousand-year history of resilience and courage will enable us to prevail in this battle against Amalek and its barbaric sympathizers, regardless of how long this battle may endure.

While moving forward, we need to rationally reflect on some decisions we have made over the last 30 years. We need to internalize that any attempts to engineer a new state with people lacking basic principles or foundations for governing or development are futile, dangerous, and likely to backfire. Gaza was given an opportunity first in 1993 and finally in 2005 to develop into a prosperous place alongside Israel. Yet, Gazans chose to elect a murderous Hamas regime that has stolen resources and capped any real development in the region. Similar attempts in Judea and Samaria could lead to another failed state, inevitably under the influence of Iranian ayatollahs or another state or entity sponsoring terrorism. The notion of “two states for two people,” which has been prophesied by pundits and dreamers for decades, is destined for failure. Albert Einstein aptly described such persistence as insanity—repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The Abraham Accords have introduced a new paradigm for addressing this seemingly intractable problem, and as one people, we should strive to find a solution for the Arab population living in Judea and Samaria. However, the answer may indeed be found within the domain of existing and well-established Arab states in the region – again a topic for another time.

The Jewish people have paid an agonizing cost and endured immeasurable pain for the privilege of unity. My sincere hope is that this unity helps us rekindle the light that can once again make us the “People of Destiny,” as our great sage Rabbi Akiva prophesied about our future in 136 CE.

In October 2023, we are united at an unprecedented level among ourselves and in our support for the State of Israel and the fighters of the Israeli Defense Force. With our backs against the wall, we must win this war, no matter how long it takes.

About the Author
Alex Branover is a father of two, residing just outside Boston, MA. Professionally, he serves as a Senior Fellow at AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Alex holds a Master's degree in Computer Engineering from the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion). Beyond his professional endeavors, Alex is a co-founder of the Torah Lovers Club of Greater Boston, dedicated to promoting Jewish education and thought within the community. He contributes blogs and columns to the online editions of the Times of Israel and IsraelHayom. In his leisure time, Alex is an avid skier.
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