Francine M. Gordon
Proud Partner in the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement

Pre-Pesach Report from Two of the Six Fronts

Like so many of us, I am having an exceptionally difficult time getting into a “Pesach mood.” While I am very content to be spending this Hag with friends here in the New York area, I sense that the week ahead is going to be quite fraught. It is already fraught. I live a mere two blocks from Columbia University which puts me, once again, on the front lines of Jewish history in the making.

Back in October, Tom Friedman wrote a piece entitled “First Came the Six-Day War. Now It’s the Six-Front War.” The essay described and discussed the 6 different fronts of the war that  Hamas started on October 7, “nonstate actors, nation-states, social networks, ideological movements, West Bank communities and Israeli political factions.”  So it is that I write from a place where two of those six fronts, social networks and ideological movements, have intersected and activated an uninformed and ignorant crowd of activists at the corner of Broadway and 108th St.

While there have been kaffiyehs in the neighborhood since the beginning of the war, the proliferation of “checkered support” for the cause has sprung up just like the grass upon which the protesters pitched their tents. In their youthful enthusiasm, they probably didn’t ask themselves if Hamas spent money on green spaces in Gaza. Or why so much of the concrete was diverted to the terrorist tunnel system. Did they even know where Gaza was before they got caught up in the cause? What they do know is that something seems very wrong and they need to be heard to make sure that the Oppressor stops oppressing the Oppressed. If only they would get their facts before making assumptions about My People and My State. But the truth is, and we know it, the State of Israel has never been very good at telling our story to the world. While I am in a state of utter despair and dismay at the current state of political affairs in the Jewish State, I know in my bones that once we get through this horribly dark period, we will be stronger. But in the meantime, there is a war to fight and I am right in the middle of the two of the six fronts.

Having resided in Jerusalem for 19 years, I know the visceral nature of the anxiety that arises when one senses there is a clear and present danger and I, like way too many of us, have my own type of PTSD. Being surrounded by a sea of pro-Palestinian protesters wearing scarfs that signal their allegiance to the cause of the Palestinian people is triggering that PTSD in a major way. The mob of “useful idiots,” to use Noa Tishby’s phrase, is getting larger and angrier and more hostile. The tragic alignment between our Text and these Times is animated by the enraged mob of TikTok educated, overindulged, overpowered and arrogant Ivy League students who think they are protesting for a just cause. And it is never good for the Jewish People when the daughter of an American Congresswoman gets arrested for protesting on behalf of the Palestinian People, even if in fact, she did break the rules. That is the essential nature of civil disobedience.

So, how is this artist/activist, the granddaughter of a Palestinian who describes herself as a Geopolitical Zionist, whose entire identity is wrapped up in the mission of the Jewish People and the Jewish State, handling these facts and circumstances that are the on the ground right in the neighborhood?

Not well but managing.

By nature, I cannot keep quiet. Pop, my favorite Palestinian, often annoyed by his loquacious granddaughter, would call me Miss Pisk, using the Yiddish term for mouth to call me a big mouth. Not nice but true. In fact, there are a lot of pieces of history that are not nice but true. And so it is that I have made it my business to take the opportunity to teach just a bit of history to the scarf wearing activists who want to make life better for the Palestinians who reside in the Holy Land. Since I’ve invested my entire being, not to mention my wealth, willingness and wisdom, in creating a better future for everyone in the Holy Land, I take the opportunity to teach when I can.

I start with praise for being an activist. I am too. Then I share that my grandfather was born in Palestine. Next, I share my respect for Marwan Barghouti and assume they know who he is which of course they don’t. Then I tell the young person I’ve been to Jenin and ask them if they know about the Seven Cities of the Palestine in Waiting which of course they don’t. If I get to the third question it is to ask if they know that Israel left Gaza in 2005. By then the young activist is on to me and sees that I am trying to educate them with some historical context. If I could get to the fourth question, it would be “Do you really think that Hamas cares about the health and welfare of the Palestinian People?” But, I’ve yet to get to four and frankly, I’m not sure I want to right now.

Truth hurts sometimes when it deflates the narrative that you have been taught. From my point of view, this applies across the spectrum of faith based ideological belief systems. Looking back at my teachers, I want to thank my dear friend Lifsa Schachter who was my friend and mentor in Cleveland and continues to be from her apartment in Jerusalem. Her laser focus on education opened my eyes to the importance of what we put into our children’s heads and hearts from an early age.  It concerns me when a three year old thinks a “mitzvah” is “tzitzit” and not what the strings represent which is a reminder to do those good deeds.  In every generation it is the job of Jewish parents and educators to be mindful of what foundational beliefs are being etched in our children’s souls. What core concepts do we instill around our Next Generation at our seder tables, especially this year?

This the essence of the Seder. Pesach is supposed to be the ultimate teaching tool of the Jewish People. If so, how is it that we have so utterly failed to teach so many of our Next Generation what our true message is? Does the established, institutionalized, moneyed Jewish leadership have any idea how many Jewish kids only see the distorted view of who we are? If only all those Birthright trips sponsored by Hillel International had been brave enough to let curious Jewish kids see that others have a birthright to the Holy Land as well and resolving those claims will require clarity of thought and action.  Perhaps the conversation and resulting activism would be more nuanced and pragmatic and not so angry and distorted.

So, as I prepare to take Sammy out for his walk and then do errands before heading out to Great Neck for the first Seder, I also prepare to be triggered by a scarf. The atmosphere against us is really bad out there in my neighborhood. But at least I don’t need to worry about Iran or one of it’s proxies using  firepower to hurt or kill me or someone I love. And, unlike a lot of my Israeli friends, I still have trust in my government to keep me safe in my bed. And while I’m not with my children this holiday, I know where they are and that they are safe, unlike the mothers of the hostages. Yet, never have I felt the brick walls of Ansche Chesed at the corner of West End Avenue and W. 100th to be a sanctuary in such a visceral and physical way. And that is the report from two of the six  fronts of this horrific Six-Front War. Hag Sameach.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist, originally from Northeast Ohio, now based in New York City with deep roots in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. In light of current events, she is once again raising her voice in Concern, using spoken work and song to express love, support and concern for the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel. Since moving to New York City, Ms. Gordon has become part of the UJA-Federation of New York circle of Israel activists. Fulfilling her lifelong dream, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song. As a member of Congregation Ansche Chesed on the UWS, she lives as a loud and proud Masorti/Conservative Jew immersed in soul, service and song. Finally, Fran has just completed her first year as a mezzo soprano in the Shireinu Choir of Long Island - the loudest and proudest Jewish community chorus in the land!
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