David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XXI

As I start the 21st episode of Streams of Anxious Consciousness, I have lost track of what I have already said, or maybe I just thought it and never wrote it down, or perhaps I said it at some other class or sermon. My brain is like oatmeal these days. My apologies. If anything is redundant, I hope it either reaffirms the statement or, reminds you of the sentiment.

About 25 years ago, I was at Ben Gurion Airport waiting impatiently at the El Al check in counter. A man was cutting the line, person by person. He was not leapfrogging dozens at once. After one look, each person moved their luggage to the side and allowed this man to pass in front without a word being said and no scene erupting. Israelis can have sharp elbows so seeing this go down without any cuffuffle was strange.

As he got closer, I noticed that this man’s button-down shirt was ripped wide open over his chest, a Jewish sign that this man was a mourner. No one in line knew him. We all knew he was in grief and we responded individually, by allowing him the courtesy of not having to wait longer than necessary.

That moment highlighted the brilliance of the Jewish custom of Kriah – the tearing of clothing or pinning the torn black ribbon that adorns our chest when one of our relatives die. It is an outward sign to the world of what we are feeling inside.

There is no ribbon or tear for this moment. I feel like I am hemorrhaging and people around me are walking by, wishing me a good day, offering unsolicited smiles and cheer. Can’t they see my wounds? My pain? My hurt? My sadness and grief? It feels like such a part of me, but still not visible to the naked eye.

When men or women lose hair on their head and even eyebrows from chemotherapy, it usually is an outward emblem of a tumor that is not visible to the naked eye. It is a sign of a disease that is wreaking havoc inside our body.

This moment feels like a virus has taken over our feelings and controlling our emotions, but there is no tell. No giveaway to the person on the street.

Last night before Shabbat, I attended a vigil with Jews and Zionists from our area. There must have been 5,000 people assembled. Many were wearing shirts that read, “Bring Them Home.” Others assembled were draped in Israeli flags. We held 222 red balloons that were released at the same moment for each hostage. There was a long Shabbat table with a seat and picture for every soul that is being held captive.

That gathering hugged my spirit. It was exactly what my soul needed and exactly when I needed it most. It was a balm to my aching heart because it reminded me, I was not alone. We are not alone. Much like when I drive up and down the local streets or when I frequent shopping centers and I see signs that read, “We Stand with Israel,” I am reminded that it I am not a singular soldier against a mighty battalion. We are many. Those numbers give a boost of strength and invigorate our spirit.

The vigil was also a moment where all gathered could see through the outside layers of the feelings we were experiencing inside. Everyone there was suffering a similar pain. Our shirts and flags we wore on our backs, were figuratively torn. We could see each other’s wounds and taste each other’s agony. We were with those who were able to see our scabs on the outside and know our anguish on the inside.

This Shabbat we read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham begs God not to destroy the town for fear that the good will perish with the bad. He begins to barter and beg God that if Abraham can find 100 upstanding people inhabiting the town, that God will not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. They barter all the way down to ten righteous people. Abraham loses the negotiation and God destroys the corrupt town and the wicked people therein.

This biblical story blasts haunting echoes to our modern world. For those protesting the bombing of Gaza today, giving you the benefit of the doubt, you are like Abraham asking Israel to pull its finger away from the trigger because the righteous and good should not die with the wicked. That is a worthy request and a noble ask. It is consonant with Jewish values and mirrors the expressions of Abraham.

I have great pride being connected to those seeking peace. I am honored to be part of an army that responds surgically to terrorists in response to the indiscriminate butchery they were subject to. I am grateful to support an army that protects its civilians and does not target innocents. I am proud of my people that worries and weeps for guiltless souls.

I am also not naïve enough to purport that the innocent will not be the casualty of Israel’s actions. Some will be. They have already been. Children did nothing to earn death by bombing. My heart cries for them and for the reality that Hamas has subjected them to. It is excruciatingly painful. The protestors and I really disagree at who is to blame for those deaths, not whether their deaths cause us hurt and pain.

A few days before October 7th, Israel was in its 3rd trimester of protesting the current Knesset and the right wing, authoritarian direction it was headed. What many of my Israeli friends expressed to me this summer was that if more tax dollars go to the Ultra-Orthodox who do not serve in the army and who abuse the welfare system, and if we lose the democratic nature of the state, and checks and balances in the regime disappear, that they will leave the country. Officials were afraid of ‘brain drain.’ That is where the best and the brightest realize their potential is maximized elsewhere and they leave Israel. It was a serious concern that lurked prominently during the judicial overhaul protests. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were prepared to pack their bags and no longer live in Israel, serve in the military and pay taxes to a place that does not reflect their ideals.

One month later, and the country is facing a second fear of ‘brain drain’ – though radically different in nature. If Israel cannot respond to Hamas with a devastating blow that will make them wish October 7th was never carried out, and if we do not scare the brazenness out of Hezbollah and Tehran and all its proxies, these very enemies will be emboldened, and Israel will be weaker.

She will become weaker because no one will choose to live and raise their family in a place that is not secure. I would not stay in a hotel, regardless of how many stars it boasted if it was not safe for me to sleep and night. Neither would you. Nor should anyone. Our safety must be paramount. Who would live in a country that has an unprecedented level of evil and savagery at is doorstep and let it continue to live, breathe and exist? Who would ever be able to sleep at night in Israel again, if this threat is not eliminated? We cannot afford to lose one soul more in Israel because of our lack of security. Not only must Hamas and all terrorists be wiped out, but we must remove the element of fear, as best possible, from every Israeli psyche. We do that by not only eliminating Hamas, but by doing so emphatically and painfully to evoke fear in our enemies. That is a language that the Middle East speaks fluently. It is foreign and grotesque to the Western world. Bridging that gap is no easy feat.

I have often wondered if Columbine never happened, would there ever have been a school shooting in America? I think that the second most horrific result of Columbine was emboldening the dozens of copycats that have followed. Uvalde, Parkland, Sandy Hook were all impregnated in the minds of evildoers after Columbine. I worry about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the remnants of ISIS and Al Qaeda who not only celebrate October 7th, but who will use it as a portal to expose the porosity of our vulnerabilities. That is the most compelling reason to eliminate Hamas so damn hard, that those slivers in the portals our enemies salivate over, are closed fiercely and swiftly.

My last thought today is from an ancient fable about a prince who turned 13 years old. For his birthday, his father the King gifted him a horse.

The country folk announced how lovely that the prince now has a horse.
The town sage said, ‘We will see.’

A few weeks later, the boy fell off his horse and broke his leg.
The country folk announced how terrible that the prince was injured.
The town sage said, ‘We will see.’

A few weeks later a war broke out, and all men over 13 with a horse were drafted to the army to wage battle. The boy had a broken leg and could not serve.

The country folk announced how fortunate that the prince’s injury prevented him from service.
The town sage said, ‘We will see.’

Rabbi Shai Held reminded me of that story when he scolded a group of people on his social media page who were strutting their “I told you so” to the world. His terse response was, let’s just see how right you really are. Time will indeed tell.

This is not a moment for intellectual haughtiness. It most certainly is not a time for arrogance or overconfidence. It is a time for unity, humility and kindness. It is a time for all of us to channel our wisdom and pause and to utter the words, ‘We will see.’

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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