David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XIX

These streams of anxious consciousness are really an expression of my feelings. They are raw, sometimes undigested, but sincere and authentic.

I start with that preamble today because I am feeling frustrated and discouraged.

My morning began early, with a radio show dialogue between me and an Imam based in Brooklyn. This is NOT the same Imam that I had breakfast with earlier in the week, which was the source of pain and frustration.

I hate that I need to state for the record that Islam is a beautiful religion, based on peace, love, tolerance and goodness. What a sad reality of the need to lead with such a declaration. My beef is not with Islam. It is not with Arabs. It is not with Palestinians. It is with Hamas and its supporters, its enablers and enthusiasts. How can anyone conflate the two?!

The dialogue began when this Brooklyn based Imam refused to condemn the atrocities of October 7th. This is the second Imam in less than three days that I personally encountered, who refused to condemn the murder of Jews. I was very tempted to leave the interview right then and there. How can I have a meaningful conversation with someone who is not well meaning? I do not want to hold space or dialogue with any person who cannot mourn the death of my people. At the same time, if I left the room, then the listeners would only hear one side, a false and biased one. Thus, I stayed. I might regret that decision.

The discussion – if you call it that – was downhill from there.

When someone lies and makes accusations, we spend more time repudiating their lies than we do disseminating the truth. It is exhausting and futile, especially from people that are divorced from reality, detached from facts and disconnected from truth. It is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

This Imam asserted I support ethnic cleansing and called Israel a genocidal country four times in a matter of minutes. That cooked my grits!

I do not tell black people what racism feels like. I do not try and mansplain gender equality to women or simplify sexual orientation to the gay community. Do not call me genocidal! My people know about ethnic cleansing, expulsion and genocide. 1/3 of my people, 6 Million Jewish souls, were exterminated not so long ago. Stay in your lane, Imam.

Further, the hypocrisy is too thick.

‘From the River to the Sea’ is a genocidal chant. It is echoing Nasser, who proclaimed in Egypt that he would drive the Jews and the Jewish State into the Sea. The chant is about making the land, Juden Rein – Jew-free. It most certainly is not about two-states for two-people. Murder of kids at a concert, because they are Jewish, male or female, white or black, religious or secular is the very definition of genocide.

Rallies in Dallas, Englewood, Chicago, New York and elsewhere that gather people waving Palestinian flags and swastikas, chanting ‘Gas the Jews.’ ‘Hitler was right’ is what genocide is about.

Sadly, I predict that most people chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’ could not tell you the name or location of the river or the sea of which they are singing about. Proving it is more about hatred than a value set. How pathetic.

Don’t assert ‘humanitarian crisis’ to me. Thousands of Jews in the north and south of Israel have been forced from their homes and displaced for who knows how long? Israeli kids are coming to the States to enroll in school and get a small taste of normalcy. Do not talk to me about food insecurity and crippled economies when most of Israel, including its places of education, have been shuttered for 3 weeks and will for months more. Families are broken apart by members called to service. I also know of a humanitarian crisis happening.

Gaza does not own the narrative on victimhood.

Lately, I have been realizing how wrong I was about many things.

Recently, I wrote that I thought Biden’s solidarity mission to Israel was a bad idea. I was totally wrong. In hindsight, it was brilliant, necessary and game-changing. I also legitimized Israel’s fence sitting when it came to the war between Ukraine and Russia. Huge mistake!

Russia controls Syria. Israel tried to appease Russia by not picking a side, at least not publicly and keeping Syria and its border, quiet. Many in the Diaspora were embarrassed by Israel’s mollification of Russia. But I claimed that those people did not understand the geopolitical realities of Israel’s choice and its need for safety.

I was wrong. Again. Morality matters. We need to stand with ethical and decent partners and those that demonstrate a moral code aligned with ours, and be less worried about those with no morality.

Today, Russia hosted leaders from Qatar, Iran and senior leadership of Hamas. They were literally given a red-carpet welcome. They had an audience with Putin. These are birds of a feather. The new axis of evil, North Korea, Russia, Iran are the very entities supporting Hamas, Isis and Al Qaeda and demonizing America and her allies, namely Israel.

Israel tried to stay neutral on the Russia – Ukraine war front. Lot of good that did?!

This was a wake-up moment for me that there are no “sides” to consider when it comes to sovereignty, safety and morality. We stuck up for the bad guys. We were silent about the good guys when they needed us most. Now the bad guys open Moscow for evil summits and embrace the masterminds of murder.  What a colossal blunder.

There is no substitute for morality. Ever.  Lesson learned.

For the past two weeks, I have been wrestling with the Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburgh and October 7th and the wicked divide between local and world response.

Only five years ago this weekend, a gunman targeted and killed Jews praying in a synagogue. It was chilling and scary. It created a sense of profound dissonance for me.

On one hand, Jews were targeted in their places of worship for the crime of being Jewish. The dead were Holocaust survivors, the elderly, people with special needs, and those who could not defend themselves. It was a moment of helplessness. A remix of a familiar song.

At the same time, the faith-based world came out in a wide embrace of Jews in our moment of agony and fear. The Pittsburgh Steelers team attended the funeral of Cecil and David Rosenthal and added Jewish Stars to their cleats in solidarity with the victims and the global Jewish community. The cover of the Pittsburgh Gazette printed the first two words of the Kaddish prayer in Hebrew font, Yitgadel Veyitkadash on the cover of its paper.  It earned the journal a Pulitzer Prize.

We were targeted, and yet embraced. Victims of one person yet, healed by the greater community. We were equal to George Floyd, of sorts, where are lineage made us targets and our death enraged the good and moral people of the community to stand with us in unity, faith, friendship, love and harmony.

What changed in those five years?

The number of dead was 130-fold in Israel. The enemies were many, as opposed to one. The murder gorier and more gruesome than imaginable. But condemnation was slow, if at all. Empathy was weak, if at all. Support for Israel’s right to defend itself was tepid, if at all. Corporate and University denunciation of anti-Semitism was feeble, if at all?

What differentiated Tree of Life from October 7th?

For me, as a Jew, nothing. It was another remix of that same song of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. It was another target, this time louder, more painful than ever in my lifetime. Both sets of victims were innocent. Both groups were in their safe spaces. Both groups did nothing wrong, except being Jewish.

But for the rest of the world these two terrors were different.

Why? What made the difference? Is it Israel? An attitude change on Jews? A world stage versus a U.S. one?

I am trying so desperately to solve this riddle. Mainly because if I can learn what captured empathy in Pittsburgh or what repelled it on the 7th, well than I can utilize those findings to get a better result. That is the social scientist, alpha-male in me who is constantly trying to fix everything broken. I know deep down it will not be simple. But perhaps, we can all ask ourselves the same question and come to a collective answer.

Last point.
I wrote my very own meme today and flooded social media with it. I was proud of my cleverness.

The meme was about the shooting in Maine last night and the manhunt to find the shooter.

It read:

·      I will not condemn the shooter unless we can condemn those he killed too.
·      The shooter was under occupation for years.
·      These victims deserved it.
·      The manhunt that is happening to remove this shooter is unjustified. It is infringing on the civil rights of all Maine residents. It is genocidal. For shame!
·      The shooters acts are justified. Maine and the people of the bowling alley are the real terrorists.
·      Both the shooter and the state of Maine are equally to blame for this.
·      This shooting did not happen in a vacuum.
·      From the Atlantic to the St Lawrence, Maine will be free.

Read these statements and realize how ridiculous it sounds – until of course you are talking about Jews.

For some in my community it did not land right. It came across as harsh, insensitive and not the tone we want to take regarding a mass shooting and another people’s tragedy.

For those it landed wrong with, I am sincerely sorry. I had no intention of being inconsiderate of the death and horror the citizens of Maine are dealing with today.

What this meme and the response from some highlights, are the spectrum of emotions and feelings our community is experiencing.

For me, today, I am feeling angry, snarky and fed up with the hypocrisy. I wanted to point out the absurdity of comments made, in a context that could highlight our feelings. That is where I am today.  It was different yesterday and will be different tomorrow.

That is what grief and tragedy do to people. They take us on a roller coaster of emotions and none of them are wrong, per se.

For one of the congregants who I spoke with today (and mind you, she could offer a clinic on how to disagree with respect, kindness and love) her worry was that memes like this are devoid of the empathy that this shooting in Maine demands of the Jews. The subtext of her comments to me was, are we no longer empathetic, kind, compassionate people? Are we no longer going to lead with our values? Does our pain permit our snark?

It is a legitimate worry and one that I think is rooted in the fear that our identities might be changing.

We bristle at change. Yet, this moment is more powerful than our will to stand firm. October 7th will undoubtedly change us. How? Will it sway our moral code? Will it recalibrate our responses to tragedy? Will we analyze if one group abandoned us if we should do the same to them, (which was NOT the intention of my meme)?

I sure hope not. I wrote when this trauma first hit that being left alone by those I thought were allies has been a deep cut. But it never means that I will stop advocating for what I believe is morally right.

At the very same time, we cannot be passive about hypocrisy, silent in the face of anti-Semitism or hushed when facing equivocations. We now have battle fatigues on. And it is hard for many to wear them, yet alone engage in combat. It is a new frontier. A sad and lonely one.

My meme was an attempt, perhaps a poor one, at fighting hypocrisy and tackling double standards. My empathy, or lack thereof, was the casualty.

I am still learning how to manage both simultaneously.  We all are.

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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