David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness 42

When I was sixteen years old, on a hot summer night in the suburbs of Detroit where I grew up, my parents let me use their new car to see a friend visiting from out of town. The plan was to pick him up at the hotel he and his family were staying, and to play a game of pick-up basketball, as we teenagers often did.

I parked the car in the lot outside the hotel, locked the door, hugged my friend and we headed back to the car except, it was not there. I was questioning my memory. I was sure I parked it in this spot. I did not see it.  I walked up and down the lot and could not find the car. The keys were still in my hand.

I looked down and saw a large pile of broken glass where I remembered parking the car and it struck me. The car was stolen. Someone knocked out the window and took my parents’ car.

Following police reports and my parents coming to pick me up, I got home to find officers parked outside our home.

My mother explained with the garage door opener was on the visor of the car. The police wanted to be extra sure we are safe, and no one comes to do further harm.

I did not sleep that night. I did nothing wrong. I drove safely and within the speed limit. I locked the doors. I used the car with permission. Still, I was violated.  My sense of security that I had taken for granted was defiled. It inhibited me from sleeping soundly and feeling safe in my suburban, upper-middle-class neighborhood in Michigan. My sense of safety security was violently assaulted, and I felt it.

A speaker we shared breakfast with while in Israel this week, who allowed me to quote his remarks without attribution, explained that for the first time in its existence, Israel lost its sovereignty over the land. The country is coming to grips with the violation of its sense of security, safety and loss of sovereignty.

For almost three full days, Hamas had control of the towns, Kibbutzim and villages in the Gaza envelope. Terrorists were walking freely and plucking food from people’s refrigerators like they owned the property. They walked unreservedly throughout these villages as if they were taking a leisurely stroll. They ruled the area for days. Hamas’ feet were on the coffee tables. One terrorist was found hiding in a home six days after the breach.

Israel most decidedly lost its sovereignty. Yes, we do control the area now and there is a strong and noticeable police and army presence blanketing the region. Still, I worry about how we gain our sense of security after losing our sovereignty – and in such a violent manner – ever again.

Was not Israel established in the smoke of the Holocaust so that sense of insecurity and vulnerability could never come to light? Was not the unspoken credo of Israel that if any Jew faces antisemitism, hatred or violence, they can come to Israel where they will be safe. That contract was broken. The sense of safety dissolved suddenly.  Israel lost its credibility to speak or imply those sentiments again.

I do not remember when it was that I could sleep soundly again after my car was stolen. It took a while. The feeling of violation reverberated for years. I predict that the raping of our sovereignty and freedoms will take generations to rebuild. For those of us loving Israel from near and far, we are going to need kid gloves and to tread gingerly as this sense of security and trust is slowly reclaimed.

My teenage son asked me today, in a hopeful tone, “Dad, if all of the hostages are returned tomorrow, will that mean the war is over?”

It is a good question. From his perspective, we are fighting the war to get the hostages back. I agree with him, kind of. But it is deeper than that.

The hostages complicate the strategy in this war. In fact, they make it counter-intuitive, and I am positive Hamas was not expecting our ferocious response.

When Gilad Shalit was held captive, we did not send in a force to rescue him. We negotiated. And we traded over 1,000 prisoners for his safe return. At the time, I thought it was the greatest decision Israel could make. I celebrated Shalit’s reunification with his family and nation. We have now learned, the problem with negotiating with terrorists is it gives a road map to our weakest nerves and a license to do the same behaviors again.

Hamas must have surmised 250 hostages would yield EVERY Palestinian in Israeli prison would be set free in exchange for these civilians’ lives. Hamas must have figured Israel would pay any price for their safe return. I think that is true. We would give them all the prisoners for the hostages, if we had faith that would happen. But Hamas did not think – to borrow a concept from Yitzchak Rabin, obm, – that we would wage war like there are no hostages and that we would negotiate for the hostages release like there is no war.

I said to my son, that while I would dance and cry at the release of every hostage and the return of all bodies of Jews or those taken from Israel, it will not be the end of this war. We must keep going. We must eradicate Hamas.

It is true tactically; the war might change if we repatriated every hostage.  Nonetheless, our goal must be to continue until Hamas and those connected to them are destroyed.

A few days ago, on our way to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, our phones went off with red alerts. Instantly,  we heard the sirens blaring while aboard a chartered bus. Our driver quickly pulled to the side of the road, and we all ran for cover against a concrete wall. We saw the smoke trail from the Kassam fired in Gaza and then saw and heard the Iron Dome interceptors. The Dome shot down most of the rockets but two fell in Ashkelon. Thankfully, no one was injured.

In a crouched position next to that concrete wall, covering my head next to 14 of my rabbinic colleagues, I yelled out, “How in the EXPLETIVE do they still have rockets???!!” I meant it. More than 11,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza in the past five weeks.  I know we said there would be no math in these Streams – so the  average over 42 days of war is 261 rockets a day!

That is when I realized that this war will be over when no rocket is launched. Ever again.

If three months from now or twelve months from now or five years from now, one lone rocket is launched from Gaza into Israel, even if Iron Dome can intercept it, this war will be deemed a failure. We will have botched our role to make it safe for the people living in the South of Israel. Once one rocket can launch, regardless of its accuracy or potency, even if some sophisticated system can shoot it down, it brings the people living in Israel to a stark reminder of what was and what will be. That is unacceptable.

In the Jewish understanding of repentance, a person must do three things to fulfill the role of Teshuva. First, they recognize that which they did wrong. Second, they fix the wrong as best as possible. And third, they vow to never do it again. The entire time they continue to not do the act again, they are considered in the process of repentance, or Teshuva in Hebrew.

You can liken it to a person claiming to be a recovering alcoholic. She might say she has not touched alcohol in 34 years. From her vantage point though, she is still recovering and, in that process forever. There is no time limit for her to claim she is healed. The process is ongoing and never ending.

I am not applying this metaphor in some naïve attempt to offer Hamas a chance to amend their ways. They are a lost cause.

I am however sharing this idea that if Gaza remains rocket free, so to speak, and terrorist free, then we will be in the process of regaining our sovereignty and in the process of ending the war. We will not be done with this war until that happens. It will be ongoing and next impossible to qualify, except in reverse.

The old idea of dealing with rockets sporadically and sleeping under the blanket of Iron Dome can no longer be our way of existence. We know where that leads to. It is an appetizer in a terrorist’s menu of horror and carnage.

We can also no longer to accept Israel “mowing the lawn.” That was the phrase used by Knesset and IDF leadership that every few years, we would bomb Gaza and weaken Hamas and their abilities. The grass keeps growing back. This time, the weeds took over the yard.

How do I explain to my son that we will only know the war has ended and was successful if we can look back forty years from now and know there have been no rockets and no infiltrations. That is a backwards and unconventional standard to know of success.

In Judaism, we are used to backwards systems to determine progress.

When I ask people about their Jewish lineage, most can rattle off that their parents are Jewish and grandparents are Jewish, and trace back a few generations of history.

What I usually reply though, is to tell if someone did Jewish right, is for a grandparent to see if their grandchild is actively engaged in their Jewish identity. Then they know that they are Jewish, and they did Jewish, right. We do not look backwards, we look forward to know if we were behaving Jewishly.

So too, we are going to have to look backwards a long time from now, in a quiet and rocket free zone, to realize that we indeed were victorious in this war. I hope we are up for the wait.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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