David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XVIII

I have spent the last 12 months immersed in feelings of grief and mourning. I had hoped to slowly break away from many of those feelings. Instead, I have been forced to dive deeper into them.

The Jewish world is mourning and grieving on a few levels:
• We are mourning the loss of lives of our Israeli family.
• We are mourning the loss of innocent civilians used as pawns by Hamas.
• We are mourning the loss of reality, which was violently shattered on October 7th.
• We are mourning the loss of relationships of those we thought were allies friends and supporters but have proven they are not, and most painfully, were not.

This is an immense sense of loss that we are all just starting to come to grips with. We will be grieving for a while.

In the most practical way, Israel is still identifying the dead. Not until that honorable process is complete for every person, can each body be properly buried. To date, hundreds have not been interred. A family cannot sit Shiva until that happens. Shloshim doesn’t start until the formal burial occurs. If the identifying process takes a few more weeks, the actual mourning will last for months. The mourning period will go on way longer than 11 months following the 7th of October. It will be generational.

Whenever we are broken, it is hard to imagine that we can ever be whole again. If we can, we struggle with what that wholeness will now look like, feel like, taste like. We are an impatient lot. Only time will tell us how these events will shape us. It is too early to know at this date and place.

I described to someone recently that I feel like I am watching a movie I have never seen before, but I know all the characters and am familiar with the plot and the directions of each scene. It is all original and modern, but nothing is new. It is a surreal and spooky feeling.

The stories of grandparents and warnings of worriers are happening in technicolor. They told us these stories. Now we are seeing them.

There is little more satisfying to me than being able to say, “I told you so.” I know it is childish, but it reaffirms my confidence in my theories and beliefs and my own knowledge, that I often second-guess.

And as satisfying as it is for me to say that line, it is equally annoying for me to hear it said to me.

I hate, (not sure that is strong enough) that this moment has licensed an entire group of people to say to me, “I told you so!” The people saying this are hard liners, right wingers, worry-warts and kvetchers. This moment has validated their beliefs and crazy theories. It has tilted the scales of correct versus incorrect in their favor. It is morally deflating to me and adds to my deep sense of loss.

I can live with defeat. I can even live with being wrong. What hurts so damn much in them being able to say, “I told you so,” is that it proves I was a bad judge of character and situations. I was naïve. Stupid. Simple. It makes me question what else I got wrong and what else they got right. It makes me self-interrogate my judgements.

Further, it creates a pretend ledger where I find people who are supporters on Israel, but who I disagree with on so many other domestic policies. Are we on the same side of the ledger? What else do we share on that ledger? Today, I need those friends to stand with me on that side of the ledger. What happens tomorrow?

When I use my voice in favor of a woman’s right to choose or support government helping those who cannot help themselves, will these people standing with me feel abandoned? Will they jettison their support of Israel? Will it force me to compromise on values that I was before, unwavering on?! What will become of my moral identity and ethical code?

I am feeling abandoned. Alone. Sad. Worried about my identity and my choices.

18 days later and I am still astounded at how otherwise educated people can be so stupid.

Yesterday, I asked our 7th grade Temple students to raise their hands if they love their parents. Every hand shot up. I then asked while their hands were still up, raise your other hand if you have ever been really mad at your parents and even said words like, ‘I hate you’ to your parents. In seconds, each of the 40 something kids had both hands in the air.

Each kid quickly understood that we can love a parent and still have anger toward them. As we mature, we can replace ‘parent’ with ‘spouse’ or ‘child.’

Why is the educated world unable to hold both hands up? Why can they not condemn Hamas and love Palestinians? How are they equivocating the evil of Hamas? How are they falling prey to Hamas and their propaganda and manipulation? And how and why could anyone think that by condemning Hamas, you are against any innocent person – especially children – in Gaza falling victim?

It is not that complicated. Yet, faith leaders cannot raise both hands. University faculty cannot raise both hands. Industry heads cannot raise both hands. Some journalists cannot raise both hands. Many college kids cannot raise both hands.

For years we have been pushing a paradigm that to support one thing is to hate the other. To hate Donald Trump means we love Joe Biden. To root for the Yankees means we despise the Mets. That is a broken paradigm.

Are we not able to hold two truths? Truths do NOT have to be at odds with one another. I can condemn Hamas. I can seek their eradication. I can be hopeful that their extinction provides the best future for Israel and Palestine. I can also support a Palestinian right to sovereignty, safety and a future. I can also be critical of the Israeli government. For me to be right, you do not have to be wrong. That is a faulty structure for any argument.

Still, I do not want to be naïve to the tribal nature of the war that is happening and the imperative to demonstrate solidarity. Of course, I want to save Jews and protect Palestinian civilians. Of course, I want to eradicate Hamas and plant seeds of peace for a future with a prosperous and real neighbor.

But at the very same time, when I run into a burning building, the first person I am looking to pull out will always be my family. My flesh and blood. You would do the same.

When there are two children that need to be saved, but time limits us to only save one, I am saving the Jewish child and I am not apologizing for it. When I must decide if I am shooting the person holding the gun behind the baby and being accused of a crime or being killed, I am taking the shot. I do not relish that decision, but it is the one I am taking. My life will take precedence.

I am still coming to the painful reality that no one else, or at least very few, are standing up to protect me. I must protect myself and my family right now, first.

So too, Israel unapologetically is choosing to save itself, even though that will inherently mean the loss of others and condemnation from many. What matters in the wake of that loss is our mournfulness and not glee. Our relief and satisfaction, not delight and celebration.

Much of life allows us to hold two truths that do not need to compete with one another. We can raise a hand of loving our spouse and raise our other hand they can madden us.

However, there are moments and crossroads where we must make a binary, either/or choice. Today and tomorrow, I am choosing my family, my people, my country, my land, my tribe. And I do not feel any sense of shame or embarrassment for doing so. You should not either.

I think that brings me back to the astonishment of people and the piss-poor choices they are making of neither being able to hold two truths or picking the wrong side of the binary, either/or equation. People who claim to be woke yet condone the murder of Jews. A group that advocates for women but is silent about rape in Israel. A population that marches for human rights and freedoms yet ignores the rights of 222 hostages in Gaza and tears down posters raising awareness to their plight. They seem to be incapable of holding both hands up.

And if they are becoming tribal and choosing one side or the other, they are choosing Hamas even though it defies every one of their liberal, woke and left-leaning values. To me, that sounds more like Jew hatred and Israel bashing than it does standing for a cause that does not line up on your ledger. It sure plays out that way.

I vacillate between hope and despair, energy and exhaustion. Right now, I am smack in the middle of both. Tonight, when I pray, it will be to God to lean with me towards hope, towards energy, towards love and peace. May that fuel me for the morrow.

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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