Elliott Malamet

Psalm 20 – A Modest Proposal

Songs of Praise – A War Diary

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

“May God answer you when you are in distress;
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May God send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May God grant all your requests…Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Hashem our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Hashem, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!”

“May God grant all your requests.” I assume that you don’t mean all of my requests, just the ones that are morally acceptable or even better, will lead to victory. There are many people on both sides of this war who have a lengthy list, David, if He is still open for business.

1) Bring Them Home.

It is hard to classify this as a request, as much as a plea, a strangled cry in the dark, the gurgling sound just before you drown. The human powers that be on both sides seem unable to bring this to fruition. Would the Granter of Requests choose to intervene, and bring all of the hostages home, dead or alive, to ensure if not happiness, then at least a sense of closure? Or has He gotten used to Divine Silence as the mode du jour?

2) Ceasefire Now

The rhetoric and tone behind this request alters depending on the landscape. At certain rallies, the refugees from Woodstock and the sixties have found their spirit again, a sense of purpose that had been buried beneath decades of messianic tech and 401ks. In many places it is rhythmically chanted in a rage that draws upon a different musical era, the mosh pit and the  punk buzzsaw, a stylized form of anger.

David, I can’t help but think that for a number of these folks indignantly manning the barricades, were an actual and permanent ceasefire to emerge, they would be left with an emptiness tilting towards desperation. What can I scream about now? Like the ancient afikomen, less a piece of matzah and more a hopping from party to party. Where are we off to now? Alas, it may not be as much fun if there are no Jews involved. Getting what you say you want, can often precipitate a crisis.

3) Stop the Genocide

Raphael Lemkin was a Polish Jewish lawyer who coined the term genocide in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,  a hybrid of a Greek word  (genos, “race, people”) and a Latin suffix caedo (“act of killing”). Lemkin defined genocide as the total destruction of a nation or an ethnic collective. It was intended to denote the aim of annihilating a particular group. Forgive my confusion, but in our present conflict, which side constitutes the intended target for genocide?

4) Total Victory

I have heard this phrase used many times since October 7, but if Total Victory walked down the street and crashed into me and sent me sprawling across the pavement, and then rushed up and leaned over and stared at my bruised and shaken face, I don’t think I would recognize it a minute later. Who and where is this entity, total victory? Why is she so elusive?

Unless of course it does not really exist, a mirage conjured up to keep our attention distracted, a shell game to dangle the eager and exhausted on an endless string. Were Orwell in Jerusalem, he would have none of it, as his words here indicate:

“It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer…A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.”

Orwell spent his life chronicling the political malevolence of linguistic reinvention, and yet, even he thought it was reversible. But that would need to be preceded by goodwill, a desire to reform our moral and political sloppiness, to employ a euphemism. And so, a modest proposal.

I wish for nothing so grandiose as political change or ideological retraction. Let’s just use our words clearly, without dissembling, and with a careful nod to the facts. And hopefully, at a low decibel level, and–if it’s not too much to ask–with some room and even respect for a response or two, a different point of view, before the yelling resumes.

About the Author
Dr. Elliott Malamet is a Jewish educator living in Jerusalem. He has a doctorate in English literature and teaches Jewish Ethics and Philosophy at various Israeli institutions, including Yeshivat Machanaim, Pardes, and the Schechter Institute.