Gefen Bar-On Santor



Rejoice—calls out Handel’s Messiah, elevating us from the mundane and stimulating us to reach for our spiritual potential:

Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice greatly
Rejoice O daughter of Zion
O daughter of Zion
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice

O daughter of Zion
Rejoice greatly
Shout, o daughter of Jerusalem
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee
Cometh unto thee

He is the righteous Saviour
And He shall speak
Peace unto the heathen
He shall speak peace
He shall speak peace
He shall speak peace
Unto the heathen

The possibility of feeling joy—how natural and real these beautifully sung words make it appear to be.

But just as a singer must rigorously train her voice so that, with apparent effortlessness, she may transport us into a place of contact with the transcendental, so must we train our hearts when it comes to how to rejoice—and what to rejoice about.

Jesus’s last meal was likely the Passover Seder.

On the first Passover, the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt.  God miraculously parted the Sea of Reeds to let the liberated slaves pass on dry land—but he closed the sea on Pharoah’s chariots that pursued the Israelites. The Midrash tells us about an angel who rejoiced as the Egyptians were drowning in the sea.  But God reprimanded the angel harshly.  It is forbidden to rejoice at the suffering of the enemy.  Many ordinary Egyptians had no choice but to follow Pharoah—and inevitably suffered as a result.  We should not enjoy the drowning of human beings entrapped in the service of a tyrant.

During the seder, the Passover meal, we diminish the wine in our cups of joy to remember the suffering of the Egyptians.

In the reading of the Haggadah, as each plague inflicted upon the Egyptians by God to pressure Pharoh to let the Israelites go is named—blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn—we ritualistically remove a drop of wine from our cups. With the spilt wine, we acknowledge the misfortune of the Egyptians.

There have been reports that October 7 was supposed to have happened on the eve of Passover, the day of the Seder: April 5, 2023.  However, the IDF discovered the preparations for the attack, and the Hamas cancelled it.  The cancelled attack was then misinterpreted by Israel as a false alarm—and the optimistic narrative that the Hamas has no capabilities to carry out such a pogrom ultimately contributed to the lack of preparedness on the holiday of Simchat Torah—October 7, 2023.

Rejoice, screamed Satan.

As soon as word of the murders, rapes, torture and kidnapping of October 7 made it out—and before Israel’s military response began—some around the world openly rejoiced (while many others waited quietly for Israel’s military response to begin so that they could “criticize Israel”).

Rejoiced at what?  The October 7 genocidal catastrophe was no liberation for the people of Gaza, no exodus from oppression to freedom.  The Hamas knew very well that a military response from Israel would soon follow, which is bad news to the civilians the Hamas falsely claims to care about.  But the thrill of raping, torturing, burning, mutilating, murdering and kidnapping Jews and other people was intoxicating.  The sense of purpose was to humiliate Israel—never mind that what Israelis felt was not humiliation but horror and pity for the victims—and for those still kidnapped in Gaza today.

In recent weeks, some people have been lecturing at some of those who love Israel, diagnosing us as creatures who have lost our humanity because we are not condemning Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas.

I hate war, but I do not have a better idea for how to deal with the persistent and passionate fantasy to destroy Israel—a fantasy that has for decades thrived on too much overt and covert support from around the world.  I wake up pretty much every day with a heavy heart, and I go to sleep pretty much every day with a heavy heart—and in between I often have a heavy heart—but a heart that is very much human and has the need to experience joy and meaning.

Perhaps what haters sense is not so much that I have lost my humanity but that I am (hopefully) in the process of losing an unhealthy desire to excessively please and to accommodate cruelty.  Some Jewish people like to feel that we are living our lives purposefully at the cutting edge of intelligence and morality—and this can lead us to strange places when it comes to “understanding” and intellectually engaging with people who wish for us to be tortured, burnt, raped or murdered.

I prefer to be in a simpler place in which murderous hate has consequences—a place in which free speech also means the right to be silent and to not engage with hate or with addiction to Jew hate.  As imperfect human beings, it is our moral duty to forgive and to accommodate flaws and failings in each other—of which I myself have many. But the cruelty of the Hamas is not a failing.  It is a destructive force that cannot be accommodated or rationalized.

The kibbutzim and villages around Gaza that were massacred and destroyed by the Hamas had been the home of a predominantly left-wing-leaning population, with many peace activists among the tortured, burnt, raped, murdered or kidnapped residents.  I am likely not the only person who grew up in Israel who feels a vicarious sense of “me too” when I listen to Irit Lahav from Kibbutz Nir Oz speaking about her spiritual journey since October 7:

Into the pseudo-intellectual kingdom of covert Jew hate, where free speech is exploited and distorted, fewer Jewish souls may now be willing to enter in the name of intellectualism and fair-mindedness to take on the role of “the Jewish friend who agrees with my criticism of Israel.”  I want to “take on the role” of who I really am—the Jewish person who feels horrified, scared, dehumanized and alone when I encounter covert Jew hate and who asserts my right to focus on what is meaningful and true to me.

And when we lose our willingness to go along with distorting and obsessive criticism of Israel—this is where we find—not lose—our humanity.  For to be human is to live in a world in which actions have moral significance and consequences—a world in which morality is about both giving and receiving, not about one-sided pretensions of moral or intellectual superiority.

Jew haters—overt and covert—want to live in a world in which, from the comfort of social media, they can get a free supply of the Jew-hate drug by “criticizing Israel”—with no consequences.  In the post-October-7 world, they have to look at themselves in the mirror and understand that their attitudes have helped to embolden the fantasy of destroying Israel.  Many people who call themselves “pro Palestinian” have a spiritual journey ahead: they have to understand that the Palestinians could have lived in peace, stability and greater prosperity had the word demanded all along that they accept Israel.  Instead, for decades, Israel haters around the world have fetishized the Palestinians as idealized victims and emboldened their leaders to behave destructively. This has only harmed the Palestinian people, most of whom want to live normal peaceful lives—and can still do so if they give rise to a leadership that accepts Israel.

Will people addicted to Jew hate find the strength within themselves to stop seeking the mood-altering effects of “criticizing Israel” and instead give Palestinians the only message that is truly pro Palestinian—the message that peaceful co-existence with Israel is the way forward?  Such a courageous spiritual transformation would be a true reason to rejoice.

“Jesus was a Palestinian!  Free Free Free Palestine!” Screamed protesters in a shopping mall not far from my home:

Jesus was a Jew.  Free, free, free Palestine means the murder, rape and torture of Jews.  And protests inside shopping malls are against the law in Canada.

But I would be okay with people thinking that Jesus was a Palestinian if this fantasy also went along with asking Palestinian leaders to learn something from Jesus.

Jesus was born in a manger—far from ideal conditions—and was persecuted by King Herod as a baby, which forced his family to become refugees in Egypt before returning to Nazareth.  As a grown man, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.  The message he left to the world is one of peace that is decidedly not obsessed with the possession of land.  In Christianity, concepts such as “Jerusalem,” “Zion” and “king of Israel” have spiritual rather than territorial meanings.  “Peace in Zion” can be carried in the hearts of believers and generate joy regardless of nationality or location.

Christianity took what was best in ancient Israel—a nation that Jesus both loved and lovingly criticized, as most Jews do—and universalized that precious essence.  Today, if the Palestinian leadership accepts Israel and abandons an obsession with conquering land that will never be conquered, then, in their own way, they will do what Jesus did—take the best out of Israel and use it to create peace worthy of rejoicing.

About the Author
Gefen Bar-On Santor teaches English at the University of Ottawa, as well as adult-education literature courses at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa, Canada. She is an enthusiastic believer in life-long learning and in the relevance of fiction to our lives. She also writes at
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