Yonatan Birnbaum

Oy Vey! I knew it!!

Fortune cookie. Image credited to

“Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given, and with goodness the world is judged. And all is in accordance to the majority of the deed.” (Rabbi Akiva, Pirkei Avot  3:19)

It’s the early 1970’s. The United States faced decades of ideological conflict and diplomatic isolation with the People’s Republic of China, leading to a deep-seated animosity between the two nations. However, against this backdrop of distrust and suspicion, a remarkable shift was about to occur. President Richard Nixon was about to embark on his historic visit to China, surprising the American public but drawing a palpable sense of anticipation and intrigue that swept across the country. The prospect of such an unprecedented diplomatic breakthrough from a leader so hawkishly opposed to Communism stirred a complex mix of hope, skepticism, frustration and curiosity among the American populace. For some, Nixon’s impending visit  represented not only a pivotal moment in Cold War politics but also a potential catalyst for reshaping global alliances and fostering a new era of engagement with one of the world’s most enigmatic powers. For others, it was all a show.

In the meantime, something else was brewing, and this time at two Israeli university campuses (no, not college riots…). Psychologists, Ruth Beyth and Baruch Fischhoff, students of the recently deceased Daniel Kahneman, were working to uncover a new theory called the “hindsight bias,” the idea that people tend to view events as more predictable than they really are. With so many emotions and opinions circulating in the US prior to President Nixon’s visit to Beijing, this seemed like the perfect setup to test the theory. Participants were gathered for the study, and were asked to judge the likelihood of several outcomes of President Nixon’s upcoming trip and then later recall the probability they assigned to the outcomes after the visit. 

There was a lot of initial suspicion and doubt among many that anything constructive would come out from this, especially between two leaders who were so diametrically opposed to the other’s ideology. And yet, despite the scope of possible scenarios, once the news came out at the end of President Nixon’s visit that it was actually a success, the majority of respondents now tended to overestimate its likelihood. Suddenly, few were surprised of the initially volatile outcome of the mission; by the “week that changed the world.”

October 7th was shocking in the most serious and deepest of ways. I had been in Jerusalem at the time, praying at an early minyan when I heard booms in the distance. I went outside and heard from a neighbor that Sderot was under attack. Shortly after, we heard our first sirens. And then another, And then another, Only after shabbat, did I understand the extent of the catastrophe. Just to find each day, that the number of casualties and hostages only went up. There was anger, grief, blame all over the radio. The roads were empty. It was painful to hear what actually transpired on that dark day. It was agonizing, hearing families seeking answers. 

As the government started trying to find the best way to address the fatal mistakes, other voices started increasing their volume. They were sometimes loud and accusatory. Other times, articulate and well-founded. They also came from complete opposite ends of the political spectrum. Yet,  the conclusion was the same;

Oct 7th was predictable.

The very event that bewildered the periphery of Gaza, Israelis, Palestinians, the world, all of a sudden seemed to be obvious. And if only the right decisions were made leading up that horrible, dark day, the tragedy  would have never occurred. 

I want to make a clarification. Oct 7th most certainly could have been avoided. Furthermore, there definitely should be a serious look at those in power as to how something so massive and disastrous could have slipped through our fingers. I certainly bear my own frustrations….just like everyone else in this country who has an opinion. With that said, there is a very bold line between making harsh critiques and being whole-heartedly certain of the future. 

Was there a failure in intelligence? A failure of rationale? An arrogant level of complacency? Most likely, all of the above. Yet…..

No one has the right to say it was inevitable.

Why not? 

First off, because we’re not God. 

Second, because it happened.

In other words, if it was so clear that Hamas was going to attack, actions would have indeed been made to prevent the occurrence. The fact that it did occur means that the factors normally equating to an attack didn’t add up. In the past they have; and therefore it was deflected. Perhaps that’s exactly what the terrorist organization was banking on; that all of what intelligence normally uses to anticipate an attack could be avoided to successfully break into Israel. 

This doesn’t just apply to Israel. It applies to pretty much everything that creates a major shift in society. The fact that Israel stands out so much is because it has such a vulnerable nature to it. Yet, practically every major event in history occurred simply  because no one was expecting that much to come out of it in the first place. 

Penicillin grew on plenty of other things before Fleming took notice, the Nazi party was just another breakaway party after WWI and other leaders had taken a stab at international diplomacy prior to Nixon. Yet, only when the circumstances allowed it did the world drastically change, for better or for worse. 

What I am ultimately trying to say is the following: 

  1. Don’t feed into dogmatism. No one knows what the future holds, even when those fostering these feelings will tell you otherwise.
  2. Patience!! Nothing that Israel wants can realistically be attained within the next 10 years. Any extreme decision may get what we wish in the short-term, but will have devouring effects in the long.  
  3. Have empathy. 

Empathy for the hostages and their families. Empathy for our soldiers. Empathy for those living in Gaza. Empathy for the world that just wants to go back to hearing about inflation and GenAI. 

Over 50 years ago, President Nixon and the People’s Republic of China decided to conduct diplomatic relations and begin opening the doors for trade and commerce. Only after the fact did it seem that this was just the most obvious of historical courses. Would anyone have anticipated that in our current time, the two countries would be bickering once again because of TikTok and Chinese-owned cars being imported from Mexico?

Israel will remain as a country where Jews can continue to achieve self-determination. That I know for sure. The question is how do we wish to look back on ourselves when the dust finally settles.

About the Author
Raised in Baltimore and an oleh since 2008, I now work for a yeshiva in the old city. Aside from being a dedicated husband and father, I spend my free time biking throughout Jlem and practicing Capoeira.
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