Streams of Anxious Consciousness IX

The sheer confusion for so many educated people about if and how they can take a stand on this issue, is mind blowing. We are not adding integers here. This is good versus bad, evil versus noble, kind versus cruel. And some need time to consider it? It is not hard.

To be fair, there is a lot of congestion and traffic at the intersection of Israel, progressive, terror, history and liberal. A first-time traveler can get easily honked at and even lost.

For example, LGBTQ+ advocates usually are categorized as liberal. Many Progressive Jews are fierce LGBTQ+ advocates. Many liberals are opposed to Israel’s occupation of Gaza. Thus, many LGBTQ+ advocates are siding with Hamas and against Israel because it is where their traffic is flowing.

The ridiculousness of the above sentence is beyond description. Hamas believes that every gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and lesbian person should be tortured, mutilated, and then killed. Every. Single. One. Yet, they stupidly stand with Hamas because that is how their social commerce flows.

The kinder and more deferential side of me says that people in these liberal groups are myopic. They think in a linear fashion. Black and white. One side or another. And at the risk of writing in sweeping generalizations, the liberal side, at least for the past 25 years, has been sternly anti-Israel. Thus, when there are two sides against each other, and one is Israel and the other Palestinian, we know where too many of them land.

The more cynical side of me responds to these groups with screams of, ‘Grow up! Wake up! It is not that complicated. If you claim to be smart, nuance does not need to be paralyzing.”

I use one knife to spread cream cheese and another to slice brisket. So too, can we use different parts of our brains to deal with different realities and complexities. It is not that hard to call on varying degrees of sharpness.

But, for whatever reason, Twitter (not literally) has dumbed society down to a few characters. It has made us run away from semicolons. It pines for simplicity and either-or-isms. Israel has been a hard topic at times. Indeed, Israel can be complicated. Why should that keep us at bay?

Marriage is hard. It has not stopped me from loving. Religion is complicated. It has not inhibited my devotion. Support for America is involved. It has not suppressed my patriotism. Why do we think that the realities and complexities of the Middle East require us to disengage at best and to demonize Israel at worst?

One of the places where this simplicity is on full display is the American college campus. Higher educational institutions have long been places of liberal and independent thinking. That is great. But while one goes to college to gain IQ, they should not be squandering EQ in the process. Some of these schools are demonstrating you need to do well on tests to get in, but you do not have to be wise. If only students could enroll in Common Sense, 101.

Since when is Hamas worth rallying for? Since when is killing innocent elderly people, raping women and beheading babies part of the liberal agenda? Since when do we support Hamas and persecute Israel on the very campuses that founded movements like Take Back the Night and were at the vanguard of racial equality?

And if kids are learning sophisticated concepts on the campus of Columbia, Penn, Harvard, Yale and Indiana, Emory, Syracuse, Miami, Tulane, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Michigan, and USC, to name a few, then they can surely learn to hold two truths.

It is true that Israel can and should do better in many ways for their shared future with the Palestinian people.
It is also true, that there is no justification for murder, rape and kidnapping the likes of what took place on October 7th.

One can be a proud liberal and support Israel. They are not exclusive of one another. We need to break this myth, now.

A few years back on the campus of University of California, Berkley, a social science experiment had someone wave an Israeli flag on campus. The student was ridiculed, yelled at, called terrible names, spit on and threatened. All in 90 minutes. Later, the same student waved an ISIS flag. Not a word was said.

A vocal population that is wildly uneducated is a dangerous combination.

One area that does not need to wait to be addressed is education. Zionist history and instruction are lacking in America and American Jewry, in particular. It is time to increase our knowledge which will organically lead to the deepening of connections. We are bigger and better than 140 characters, memes and sound bites.

Now that we are 10 days into this nightmare, I am thinking about the Israeli needs of tomorrow. Beyond the field hospitals and warm socks for soldiers, the necessity for serious emotional and mental triage for the Israeli populace will be overwhelming. Whether one lived in the Gaza envelope, survived the attacks, had a relative killed or abducted, was a first responder and witnessed the carnage, or even if one lives 100 miles way, the ripple of emotional pain and suffering will be unparalleled. We have a responsibility to support and address this growing need for emotional care today and tomorrow.

Most of the organizations and institutions that will deal with this problem in the coming 24 months were conceived on October 8, 2023, and after. They will be born through the generosity of communities like ours and others that rise to the moment and offer bricks, mortar, personnel, outlets, and resources.

This level of trauma will not be contained to the borders of Israel. Jews worldwide are dealing with shock and many painful awakenings that will need similar levels of mental and emotional support. Sadly, post COVID, the world was already suffering a serious shortage of qualified therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. This moment will increase the need exponentially and emphasize the shortage.

When we say the prayer for healing each Shabbat, we request a healing of body and soul. We cannot forget the need for the emotional care our collective people and communities will need immediately and after. This will be ongoing and will not get better, anytime soon.

I heard that President Biden is going to Israel this week.

I think that is wonderful.
I also think it is terrible.

It is wonderful because the U.S. President standing IN Israel is even more powerful than saying he stands WITH Israel. Biden’s presence will be an unmistakable statement to any country that is scratching its head, wondering if Israel is weak, compromised, or which country has Israel’s back. In case the two aircraft carriers off the coast of Haifa were not enough to deter Hizballah and Iran to not even contemplate engaging in this war, Biden’s presence will make that even clearer. It also speaks to Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain that peace with Israel – some recently established and some yet to be – is also reinforcing peace with America.

Love Biden or loathe him, he has been pitch-perfect in his full throated and resolute support, to date. His team, including Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, have been masterful and reassuring. The Israeli people will be galvanized by his visit. American families who have been captured or killed will appreciate his presence and empathy. Moments like these prove that years of collaboration and investments offer dividends when we need them most.

I hate Biden’s visit now because a U.S. President coming to Israel during a time of peace and quiet is paralyzing to the country. Entire cities shut down. Air spaces are closed. Security forces are quadrupled and thousands of personnel scope out each inch of travel and rest and meeting space. The security forces are already spread thin. The country is already paralyzed in suffering and fear. This will pull at much needed resources and make a hard time, harder.

Further, the photo ops might turn into political theater.

Courting the Jewish vote has always been critical to an election. The Jewish demographic in 2024 will be no different. This is not a time for partisanship or to take advantage of Biden’s strong, thoughtful, and supportive response to Israel’s national tragedy. Closer to the election, Biden can use his successes in advertisements, debates and talking points. This is not the time.

His visit does not chip away at my gratitude for his leadership or my unwavering support for his candidacy.

Each night I go to bed, hoping that I will wake up to what was a terrible dream. It has yet to happen. Maybe tonight?!

Until then, stay safe.

God, look after the IDF and help them protect our homeland. May they know of our love and embrace, always.

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.
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