David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XVII

The scariest scene in the movie Schindler’s List, for me, was when the Jewish residents of Krakow were forced from their homes with only what they could carry on their backs. They were moving from beautiful and well appointed homes to rodent infested slums in the newly designated Jewish ghetto. These finely dressed people, part of the higher echelons of society, were now full of fear as they marched down the streets to their new living quarters.

The Polish citizens of Krakow lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the Jewish humiliation. Spielberg focuses on a pig tailed, blonde girl who jeers in disgust and satisfaction, “Goodbye Jews. Goodbye Jews. Goodbye Jews.”

Those four seconds were the most haunting part of the entire movie.

The girl did not kill any Jews. She did not vote for legislation to migrate Jews to a ghetto. She did not deny Jews trade or business. What she did represent was a population that was more than a witness. They were accomplices, to a significant degree. Perhaps not in the most grotesque and vulgar ways that Nazis and some Poles were. But they did worse than merely turning away. They lined up for our expulsion like it was a parade and taunted us like we were sports players who let our city down.

The loneliness the Jews of Europe must have felt in moments like those are beyond description.

The two elderly women who were released by Hamas last night, began to tell their stories. These are Savtas, Bubbies, Nanas, Mimis, Gigis. In one glance you can taste the sweetness of cookies they baked and wisdom they shared and the warmth in their embrace. They endured 17 days of a living hell.

One of the released hostages explained that she was beaten as she was taken captive. She then went on to recount that as she was tossed over the back of a motorcycle and driven through the streets of Gaza to a pre-ordained, subterranean hiding spot, passers-by and citizens on the streets slapped her on the head, hit her body with sticks, spat on her and heckled her.

Read that again.

An 85-year-old grandmother, taken hostage from her home on a Shabbat morning, thrown sideways on to a motorcycle, is beaten and hit on the head and spat upon by random citizens of Gaza.

Hearing this, my mind went to the “Goodbye Jews” chant.

I am sensitive and sickened, at the same time, by the comments and concern for the good citizens of Gaza who are subject to Hamas’ evil grip. Sensitive because innocent people are dying in Gaza, and more will surely die. The children of Gaza were born into this reality. They did not choose it. My heart aches for them and the fortune they inherited. Woe to me if I ever lose sympathy for people like these.

I am sickened because not everyone in Gaza is opposed to Hamas. Even the so-called innocent civilians.

If a person walking down the street who claims they are not supportive of Hamas or affiliated with their atrocities, and did not take part in the terrorism of October 7th, yet they slap a Jewish octogenarian on the head while she is abducted, are they fully innocent? Are they really disassociated with Hamas and evil? Do they carry no hate in their heart?

The doctor who checked on the health of these hostages does not fit into the category of an innocent civilian. No more than Mengele was just trying to keep his Hippocratic oath. I’m sure if captured though, that is the claim he will make.

A few years back, during the war of 2014 between Israel and Hamas, I was asked to speak at a large rally before the United Nations. I recited the following lines: “If you wear blue jeans and a t-shirt but carry an AK-47, you are not an innocent civilian, you are a combatant. If you welcome Hamas into your living room to fire off rockets, you are not an innocent civilian, you are a combatant. If you vote for Hamas, aware of their charter and chant to kill Jews and the Jewish state and support their success, you are an accomplice to their terror.”

I was raked over the coals by left-wing, peace-loving folk for those remarks. Ironically, many see me as left wing and peace loving. Sometimes, I like to see myself that way too.

I do not know how anyone can associate with criminals and thugs and cohort with felons and support their crimes, and then claim they are innocent. It is a very thin line that seems to allow for hatred and corruption and criminal activity and protect from prosecution and responsibility at the same time. Kind of like holding a baby and firing a weapon.

In our world, if your pal and you go into a coffee-shop, and that pal pulls out a gun and robs the store and shoots the clerk, you are an accomplice, UNLESS you try and stop them. That is how our legal system works and more importantly, that is how our value system is structured.

This makes the already impossible task of decoding who is on the good team and who on the bad team in Gaza, exponentially harder.

My daughter shared a profound thought yesterday. She has reached that age where she has as much to teach me, as I do her. Bias aside, I am wildly impressed with her depth and thoughtfulness.

She said, “Dad, I am so much angrier with the supporters of Hamas, than Hamas themselves.”

I understood exactly what she meant.

The Hamas terrorists are evil incarnate. They were indoctrinated, lied to and manipulated. They are cruel sheep. They are unchangeable and unforgiveable.

But the people on the sidelines, those chanting, dancing, demonstrating, supporting, equivocating, arguing for, lying and misleading should know better. Should do better. Just as we are soldiers in this war for Israel’s right to exist and Jewish survival, those supporting Hamas are licensing terror and brutalization as acceptable and advocating for barbarism and excusing savagery. How do faith leaders, teachers, physicians, Ivy-League professors and their students along with industry heads condone terror and support anti-Semitism?! It is profoundly non-liberal.

Did anyone condone flying planes into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C.? Blowing up theaters in Paris? Bombing trains in Madrid? Since when is terror acceptable in any Western society? Yet, there are those who dare to defend the indefensible. The disappointment in those people is overwhelming. And the proximity these people share to our communal orbits is terrifying.

Ironically, the majority of Israel supported a Palestinian state. The Settler Movement and the current Knesset are not representative of the nation. The kids shot up at the Nova dance festival were peace-niks. So were the residents on the Kibbutzim along the Gaza border.

Hamas didn’t care. They still don’t. They claimed for years and proved in actions that their enemy is every Jew and the Jewish State, not the right-wing coalition or the conservative settler branch or ultra-liberals and peace advocates.

Most tragically for us and perhaps successfully for Hamas, these events will tilt people rightward. They have to. Defense will be the singular and principal issue for the foreseeable future.

Tal Becker, another one of my rabbis on all issues Israel, regularly says that Israelis and Palestinians are in a perpetual fight for victimhood. This is playing out on every newspaper and television screen today. In fact, much of the airwaves of our Temple WhatsApp group and the bickering between me and the Imam of which I wrote yesterday, is really a contest over suffering and deserved empathy.

My mind keeps going back to the dais of survivors of the 7th I met yesterday. Each story horrid, detailed, tragic and piercing. But, amongst them, there was no worse or better. No one who fought for more sympathy or warranted more compassion. Each person is unenviable.

On the cover of one of the news web pages I subscribe to, was a teenage Gazan boy burying his parents who were killed in an airstrike. My heart hurt for this boy. Even if his parents were part of Hamas or were Hamas sympathizers, he is now alone to fend for himself. His prospects of escaping the clutch of Hamas or PIJ after these events are slim.

Then my mind jumped to a boy I met yesterday. Really a young man. He is a few years older than my son, 19 or 20. He is tall, slender, handsome and soft spoken. I imagine he likes sports, music, has love interests. He struck me as a typical 20-year-old until the events of October 7th.

He retold his horrific story of survival from that day. He lost contact with both of his parents by text. His mom around 9 AM on the 7th and his dad around 11 AM. He does not know their whereabouts, their health, their emotional state. He is pretty sure they were taken over to Gaza and not killed because they have yet to be identified amongst the dead.

I was 49 when my mom died. While painful and sudden for me, she lived a full and beautiful 85 years of life. Entering orphanhood was hard. Anyone who no longer has parents can appreciate of what I am writing. Those who cannot, may you not know for many years.

Just a few days ago, the father of one of our congregants died, peacefully. He was buried with honor. At the shiva, the mourning daughter who is tickling 60 years young cried to me, “I have no parents.” As someone who is also an orphan, I knew the loneliness and pain she was experiencing. She and I had the blessing of many years between the death of our parents. Me, 11 years since my dad died, and her even more from her mom. We both have financial independence, professional stability and maturity, and still its pain is immeasurable.

This poor 19-year-old is without parents. Without maturity. Without independence or financial stability. His pain and fear are beyond comprehension. Yet, I hope, and chances are favorable, that this boy will lean towards peace. What creates that divide between him and his Gazan counterpart?

Don’t feed me occupation. Do not peddle oppression to me. It is bigger than that. It is a mindset. A value system. An ethos and one that I am proud to be part of, even if it paints me as pollyannish and naive.

I have much more to share but there are more things for us to collectively help with in this moment. We have kids from Israel landing soon to live with aunts and uncles and cousins while parents are deployed to war, and school in Israel is cancelled. They need warm clothes for a harsher winter than they are used to, and to be hugged and loved and supported and to know they are with a communal family that loves them. We have local family members whose spouses, siblings and friends have been called up to military duty and are on the Gaza or Lebanese Border. We have simchas to still celebrate and classes to attend. We have so much teaching and advocating for Israel still to do. October 7th was not only proof of Israel’s security failures, but it was also evidence of our failing to equip our most strident supporters and students on college campuses with ways to defend Israel and Jews in word and deed.

The day is short, and the tasks are many! Onward and upward!

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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