David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness VII

The Shabbat has come and gone. With the sun setting, a new moon has waxed. It is called a bitter moon because of the deflation we experience after the holiday barrage. Today its bitterness has added meaning.

When we gathered in the synagogue, I shared with the congregation a few thoughts.

First, I felt like an Onen. This is a unique category of a person who has learned of a death of a relative but has not yet buried said person. Jewish law says that an Onen is free from any positive Jewish commandment or precept. They cannot eat a cheeseburger, since that is a negative command. But they are not required to put on Tefillin, Tallit, utter daily prayers, learn Torah or anything of the like. The main reason is we are supposed to be preoccupied with the needs of burying the dead. The second reason, less discussed, is we are in no head space to talk to God.

The latter is exactly how I feel. I have little to say to God right now.

But, I did crave being with my congregational family. Seeing faces and hugging bodies soothed me, even if just a little bit.

Sitting on the Bima each week, I get a unique perch to see the goings-on of the congregation. Who comes in and who leaves, and when and with whom.

I noticed as people were filing in to Friday night services, many familiar faces that had resigned from the synagogue over the past handful of years were in the crowd. They did not leave in any brouhaha or upset, just as a means to save money and because they were not using the Temple’s resources. Yet, this tragedy brought them back. To me, this underscored the need for community and the value it offers in times of peace and turmoil.

Next, I have been fixated on a video that has been circulating over the past days. It was taken on a random passer-by cell phone. It is of a Knesset Minister who *tried* to visit the wounded in an Israel hospital. Family members loudly rebuked her at the door and told her she is not welcome. Then a young doctor (assuming by his scrubs) screamed at her and told her that “You and your government created this. We do not want you here. Leave! We will govern this land. Not you!” He screamed in tears.

That moment to me was a first salvo of what will surely come. There will be a huge political reckoning. Not now.

Like a person being wheeled into the Emergency Room for a heart attack, this is NOT the moment for a lecture on poor eating habits. But that lesson will come in time.

For the past forty weeks, Israelis have been protesting the government. The majority of Israel’s citizens were upset with the composite of the government and the agenda they were shoving down the throats of the country. Israelis would not stand for it. At least not without a fight.

A valuable lesson was learned. You can add or remove some laws, change doctrines, move coordinates, but never flirt with the soul of a nation.

While this grandstanding and swagger was happening by leadership, the most important job the Knesset were tasked with fell by the wayside; protecting its citizens. The bluster of Ben Gvir and obtuseness of Levin and naivety of Smotrich and haughtiness of Bibi are a memory now, that will come back to center for a proper reckoning in due time.

What that short video clip demonstrated to me was a burp. A prelude of what will undoubtedly be a vomiting out of the bile that was this Knesset. Like when we eat bad food, our bellies hurt with gastroenteritis. The miracle of the human body is our bodies know to evacuate the toxins.

After this war, the moral center of Israeli society will spit out these toxins and the people that caused us to take our eye of the ball. And while it will add to the pain and messiness of this chapter, I am confident that a grassroots and purer form of leadership will rise from the despair to lead a post October 7, Israel and the its next generations.

This is what countries must do. I thought this would happen in America on January 7th, 2021. It started to and got stopped. It still might. But we need to remove the bile that builds up and allow new and cleaner and more wholesome and organic leaders to nourish our country.

What has flummoxed me, though is, with Gaza in ruins and this just the very beginning, where is the vomit of the innocent people of Gaza? Where are the masses claiming to Hamas, “You did this to us. You caused our homes to be in rubble. You made this suffering. You caused our children to die. No more!” Where are their voices?

If we dare claim that they cannot use their voice for revolt against Hamas, how in the hell are they able to use it to call for help? To decry the humanitarian crisis? To beg for days of rage?

Could they not use that voice to say to Hamas, return the hostages so water and electricity can flow again? Stop this siege so we can live? I mean, who is the real oppressor here?

There comes a point where the red line is defined and all can stand on the right or wrong side of morality. No ambiguity or equivocation can exist. This is such a time.

And any people that stand with Hamas are on the wrong moral and ethical side of history and humanity. One cannot claim to want to aid the civilians of Gaza and ignore the blockade and cruel conditions Hamas has inflicted on its people. You cannot blame Israel for strikes and ignore the atrocities Hamas has inflicted on its citizens. You cannot ask for humanitarian intervention of the innocents of Gaza and ignore the humanitarian catastrophe of the Israeli hostages in Gaza.

To blame Israel for the reality of Palestinians in Gaza is a cop-out at best and Anti-Semitism at worst. To turn a blind eye to Hamas cruelty and attempt to fabricate Israel’s is a cop out at best and Anti-Semitism at worst. For the world to beg for intervention for Gaza today and ignore them yesterday and tomorrow is a cop-out at best and Anti-Semitism at worst. The stench of the hypocrisy is overwhelming.

The people of Gaza have a voice to call for water, food, safe passage and to blame Israel for their fate. Why can they not band together and topple the true culprit who has created this painful life for them? Why are their amplifiers squelched for that message?

The coming days will have all soldiers cross the threshold. Some on the dusty battlefield of Gaza, others on the border with Lebanon, and those fighting bias media and hatred on social streams.

This moment calls for focused messaging that is succinct, impactful and collectively shared.

I have drafted three statements that all can and should say, EVERY Jewish organization should subscribe to, and every supporter should share:

• There is no equivocation or justification that can excuse the brutality and heinous murder of innocent civilians committed by Hamas.

• Israel has every right – indeed an obligation – to defend itself, its citizens and to ensure that this terror can never happen on its soil again.

• Hamas is responsible for the death and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. The Jewish people do not celebrate the plight of Gazans subject to the chokehold and terror of Hamas. The civilized world must hold Hamas responsible for this sad reality.

Further, when defending the plight of 1.2M Palestinians looking for safe refuge in Gaza, I would recommend the following responses:

1 Gaza shares a border with Egypt. Concerned citizens should demand Egypt let Gazans in. Or any other Arab country marching for Palestinians today could open their borders. It is no accident that they do not.

2 Iran funds terror in Gaza. Billions of dollars a year. Let them fund the safe passage of innocent civilians in Gaza.

3 When the Israeli army tells innocent people to evacuate and Hamas tells them to stay and literally blocks their egress – which one is committing the war crimes?

4 To decry the humanitarian plight of Gazans and ignore the welfare and wellbeing of the untold number of hostages held by Hamas IN Gaza is hypocrisy and anti-Semitic.

We need to be unified not only in our outrage but in our response. Our fight is sadly, just beginning.

Lastly, the biblical plague of darkness that we learn about in the Passover story was so intense that the Midrash explains one could not see their spouse or neighbor, even if standing directly in front of them.

This moment has made me feel that I am living through another plague of darkness.

But as we extend our hands to feel around, we can sense another human. Our fingers touch, our hands grasp one another and we hold on tightly. In unspoken words, we are reminded, we are not alone.

A story to illustrate that touch.

Marciel is our family and Temple landscaper. The name of his company is GB Landscapers. He is a son, husband, father, brother and a devout Christian and a special soul. We adore him and his family.

Since October 7, he has texted me daily to check on my family’s emotional well being and and the physical safety of our family in Israel. On Friday, Marciel came to the Temple. I hugged him tightly. He dropped off a generous check to support Israel. I said he did not need to do that. Hey told me that he wanted to let us know we are not alone. It was the first time I cried throughout this nightmare.

The world is full of people like Marciel. Good souls. Kind people. Religious followers who can delineate good from bad, right from wrong, and love from hatred. His hand touched mine in the darkness and I was reminded we are not alone.

If you see Marciel or any of his trucks on the road, honk and wave and thank them for standing with Israel and for their warm touch during this cold time. It helps more than words could ever describe. Do the same for the thousands of “Marciels” that are out there.

May we all stay safe and healthy. We have a dark road ahead and thankfully, many hands that we can hold onto to help find our way.

Shavua Tov.

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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