David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XVI

I try and write these Streams of Anxious Consciousness each day. I do not use canned materials or pen them days in advance. Like a good chef, I want to serve up what is fresh on my mind, and not pull things out of the freezer. That is why these streams are an amalgam of the events of the day, the news cycle and where I am emotionally.

Today was a really hard day for me.

In July of 1981, I was 8 years old. Adam Walsh was just a year younger than I and had gone missing a couple hundred miles away from where I was living in Florida.

His poster was plastered all over the schools and ice cream parlors that I would ride bikes to with my friends.

I was petrified.

A boy my age taken away from his parents was more than my 8-year-old mind could handle. I spent at least a week sleeping in my parents’ bed and was frightened that every stranger I saw could abduct me. I am not sure when my fears dissipated or if I just absorbed them into my being.

This morning, I met with people from Israel who survived the attacks on the 7th of October and/or have loved ones that are being held captive by Hamas. I cannot imagine a worse nightmare. Except, now, as an adult, I can see it from both sides; from the side of being abducted, and the terror of living with the reality of your loved one being abducted.

Knowing of the barbaric behavior of the Hamas infiltrators, I tremble to let my mind wander as to what might happen to those we love.

A story I heard about a man who was relieved that his 9-year-old daughter was found dead shocked me without surprising me. His story has gone viral. No one is relieved, so to speak, that their loved one is dead, even more so, a nine-year-old child. But to think they are alive and being held by Hamas, death is a more welcome consideration, and thus his reaction was understood.

I have suffered through the pain of having my kids hospitalized. It was during those times, I made serious negotiations and concessions with God. I know what it feels like when Life 360 stops transpoding my kids’ whereabouts for an hour or what happens to my heart when they fail to check in at a given time. Whenever this occurs, it causes unbridled anxiety. I cannot begin to imagine what each of these humans whose loved ones are captured are dealing with. It is beyond words and comprehension.

My frustration grows hourly at the barrel Hamas has Israel over. They are holding the entire country hostage. They are pussy footing with hostages and flirting with their release and stopping a full-on ground invasion. It is all psychological warfare and a continuation of Hamas’ manipulation. Two more hostages were released today. Two more. Less than 1% of those who are being held. The choice Israel is faced with of what to do next makes Sophie Zawistowski envious.

I understand America trying at all costs to get the hostages back alive. I really do. Were my loved one there, I would do the same. If my son or brother were Gilad Shalit, I would have released 2000 prisoners! There is no price tag too large for my parent, or child or spouse.

Hamas has a firm grip on our most sensitive and vital nerve. It only adds to their ruthless criminality.

To green light the ground invasion and let the tanks roll into Gaza, would be tantamount to signing a death warrant for each hostage. Each hour lost for the ground invasion allows Hamas terrorists another day to live, breathe, see the sunrise and contemplate their defense. The conundrum is a continuation of cruelty and injustice that has not ceased since the 7th.

The second event that winded my soul today was a clergy meeting where only one Imam in our local community agreed to attend. The other 3 Imams refused to come, out of protest. And at the clergy meeting, the Protestant ministers could not condemn Hamas without equally condemning Israel. I was flabbergasted.

For the record, the Protestant ministers and Pastors upset me less, but still caused major frustration. They equated Israel and Hamas because they lacked the vocabulary and history to be conversant in the matter and assumed they were equal. If being foolish was a crime, we would have WAYYY more overcrowding in our prisons.

In my world, I know what I know, and I also know what I do not know. If I were convened for a meeting to discuss the ongoing tensions between China and Taiwan, I would sit, listen and learn. But I would hope to shut-up because I am not well versed on the topic.

I do not fault my fellow clergy for knowing less than Jewish clergy about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I hold them in contempt for speaking and acting on topics they do not know well. Our process of learning begins with not knowing.

I was gut punched at this meeting by the local clergy member of the Muslim faith who could not muster the courage to condemn Hamas – in front of me or for his congregation – and insisted that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. He argued the years of oppression by Israel led to the events of October 7th and justified those heinous acts. For a tribe that bandies the words “proportionality” around a lot, I struggle with the occupational proportionalism that allowed the barbarism of October 7th.

I along with my fellow Jewish clergy member were relentless in breaking down any form of equivocation or condonation to the entire group. We did not give up. We asked in what name could we allow the brutality that took place on innocent people? What religion permits that? What God allows that? Which liturgy chants those terrible things?

Each statement we made was rebutted with what about-isms, buts, and faulty reasoning. Each statement was an equal condonation of innocent people on both sides, with an insistence that more Gazans are dying right now than Israelis. Exact statistics of how many bombs have been dropped by Israel were provided but ignorance prevailed on how many rockets have been lobbed over from Gaza. Assertions of occupation by Israel in Gaza were maintained but ignoring Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005 were glossed over. Facts were used conveniently but not universally.

We two Jewish clergy were chasing our tails. We were never going to get this Imam to accept reason. I mean, how do we reason with the unreasonable? How do we converse with the irrational? It is as impossible for us as it is to expect Israel to have exchange with Hamas. To do so, is to legitimate them. To ignore them is to leave the hostages in peril. And what is most frightening is this religious leader has the ear of so many people in his community. What scares me most is, I am afraid he was measured for our meeting.

The other maddening moment in our clergy meeting today was when this Imam was fine spewing untruths. He asserted that he is positive with verifiable proof that the hospital bombing came from Israel. He was hesitant to show that proof, but of course, he had it. He asserted that Israel is specifically targeting civilians. That Israel is carpet bombing all of Gaza. That Israel is targeting mosques and schools to kill babies, by design. That Israel tells people to evacuate and then kills them while they are fleeing. He went on and on. He joins a long line of those in the Muslim faith right now that pile on about Israel and defend the indefensible from their own ranks. These are old fashioned blood libels. Nothing new. It is shocking to see one up close, and personal, though.

My daughter received some emails and texts from her friends who are Palestinian in Israel, days after the tragedy. Some were full of condolence and lamenting the terrible turn their global relationship has taken. Others were more pointed and blaming Israel. When my daughter claimed that Hamas raped women and beheaded babies and asked how that could be condoned, they replied that Islam forbids touching a woman and hurting a baby, so that is a lie and it never happened. I would not have believed her were it not for her showing me these communications AND, me witnessing on my own social media feeds hundreds of hateful trolls claiming Israel was dishonest and those terrible things never happened. That they were disproven. That Israel was deceitful to garner sympathy.

It took about 20 years for Holocaust denial to surface. It took less than two weeks for it to bubble to the top after October 7th.

Israel was compelled to release the dreadful videos, captured from terrorist body cams, to prove the barbarous level of atrocities that happened. Read that sentence again. And then again. And again. Let it sink in.

I doubt the footage will persuade the nay-sayers. They are just haters. Deniers. Enemies. People who would rather blame someone else or excuse them instead of taking any responsibility and owning the truth, regardless of its sting.

What enrages me, though, is most of these truth deniers were the fiercest activists against the Big Lie. They were the same passionate liberals that warned of the dangers of election denial and January 6th and contended against those who said, ‘It was a just a tour of the Capitol by peace loving, patriots.’ They were the loudest to surface climate change awareness and using the facts of science to shut down the opposition. They were the brashest when dealing with flat-earthers. But if the lie advances the Jewish hating narrative, well then by all means, use it. Tell it. Sell it. Share it.

Hypocrisy drives me batty. This duplicity is so damn thick, a chainsaw could not cut through it.

I do not liken this moment to Holocaust denial lightly. The Holocaust has been on my mind all day.

When I heard the accounts of those who survived October 7th and those who did not, and those taken captive, I could not stop thinking to myself, 78 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and these stories are identical. One group wore black and green face masks, the other SS wool uniforms with leather boots but, they had the exact same agenda. Terrorize, brutalize, maim and kill. They were both painfully successful. It was déjà vu.

Whenever someone told me their story of survival from the Shoah, I marveled at how it was 20% cunning and 80% mazal. The same could be said of the cases I heard this morning. And I heard less than .05% of these stories. Like September 11th, for every person who miraculously missed their flight that day, there were those who flew standby and got on the plane they were not scheduled for. There is no one to tell the stories of those who had the cunning but were without mazal on October 7th.

I had a stiff drink tonight. I hope it helps me sleep. There is no pill or concoction that my brothers and sisters in Israel can have to help them sleep. How does the mom who saw a video of her 20-year-old IDF soldier son being abducted from his tank and dragged into Gaza, sleep today, or ever again? What is she praying for? His release or his death?

Even if the miracle comes true and he runs into her embrace again, (please God may it come true) the worry and nightmare will never dissipate in her heart and mind. She can never be whole again.

There is a phrase in Hebrew I said over and over today. Ayn Meelem. There are no words. There just are no words.

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.
Related Topics
Related Posts