David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XXV

Shortly after the October 7th attack, I published three succinct talking points that I believed every major Jewish organization should have been pumping out to its constituents. I called it, Sing from the Same Hymnal. Making sure we are in concert with our messaging is critically important, not only to us, but in defeating our enemies.

Almost four weeks later, those original points still stand. It is time to add more to the list. Here is my attempt:

1) We mourn the loss of innocent life. There is no celebration over the death of any innocent child, of any background or religion. Jews worldwide and Israel lament the death of each and every innocent soul in Gaza.

2) There are more than 230 hostages being held against their will in Gaza. They have been in captivity for more than 26 days. They have had no access to the International Red Cross, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and International Law. Their family have been given no signs of life or well-being. We have strong suspicions about the physical and emotional abuse they have been subject to. These hostages are children as young as nine-months and senior citizens in their 70s and 80s. There needs to be a universal demand by all United Nation countries for the immediate release of each hostage, without preconditions.

3) There can be no cease fire. Not now. To put our weapons down today would be a victory for the terrorists. It would embolden the intentions of other evil doers. It would allow Hamas to recruit, rearm and renew their call for Jewish destruction. War is horrible. Still, sometimes, war is necessary. This is a just war. This is a necessary war to drain out a horrific evil and remove the oppression of the people of Gaza and the threat to the State of Israel. When Hamas is eradicated, we can have mature conversations about cease fires. Not today.

4) Humanitarian Aid needs to flow to the region. Food, medicine, drinking water, baby formula and toiletries must be made available for those in need. An international force should be deputized to ensure those supplies are not being hijacked by the terrorists, who deprive the needy, enrich themselves, and blame the starvation of children on Israel. The Jewish community joins the international world in its pain witnessing the suffering and malnourishment happening in Gaza and blames Hamas for their plight.

5) Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism. Full stop.

Feel free to disseminate as desired and necessary.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the pictures I am seeing are worthy of millions of emotions. Two pictures are dominating the see-saw of my emotions. They are flooding social media. The first is a lion, large and fierce, roaring with flames behind it and a tattered Israeli flag waving in the background.

To most, it denotes strength, vigor, independence and the Jewish State’s ability to defend itself with immense power. I liken it to an image Rabbi Danny Gordis invoked long ago, of a young Jewish boy on top of an Israeli made tank praying with Tallis and Tefillin, immersed in prayer, his the black M-16 rifle slung over his back.

Juxtapose that picture with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations who has controversially chosen to wear a yellow star on his Italian made suit.

His added accouterment is reminiscent of well-known picture of the young boy in the Warsaw ghetto wearing a tattered jacket with a yellow star sewn to its lapel, his hands in the air and fear painted on his face.

Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad of Israel used to keep that picture in his office. When asked why by reporters, he would always reply, “Because we are not going back to that!”

The back and forth from those two extreme pictures and their connected narratives can cause vertigo. My entire life, from a young age until today, my Judaism and my Zionism has been shaped by equal parts of those narratives; strength and weakness. We heard “whisper the word Jewish,” to “wear a cap instead of a kippah,” to all the world hates Jews – we have to stick together.” Those phrases have been abutted by a radically competing narrative. “Israel is the only place that has planted more trees than they have removed of all the nations of the world.” “Israel is the only nation that sends field hospitals and first aid to enemy countries to help in the wake of natural disasters.” “Israel is leading the way in technology and medical advances to cure diseases.” We can add to both lists.

In the center of what was the Warsaw Ghetto a large granite monument is situated. It is known as the Rappaport Memorial, named after its chief designer, Nathan Rappaport. It is two-sided. One side is a large carving of Mordechai Anilewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He is holding a grenade, shirtless and mighty. He is flanked by men and women, religious and secular, some who fell and some who were fresh from battle, all wide eyed, wielding weapons.

On the other side of the monument is a depiction of Jewish men and women and children being exiled. Their heads are lowered and their eyes, heavy. One is holding a Torah scroll and another holding a baby. The Nazi helmets and bayonets are visible driving the Jews on their forced exodus, but the oppressor is easy to exchange, depending on when in our history we are hearkening back to.

This one monument is the duality of our existence and the polarity of our narrative.

I once penned an article called Mr. Blue Bird and Chicken Little, about two characters who were amalgams of two camps of thought in my congregation. One who only sees the blessings of our people and the other who would proclaim daily, the sky is falling. At the risk of quoting Billy Joel, we only go to extremes.

Why can’t we construct a radical, solid, fierce and thoughtful center that lives proudly between our polarities? Why can’t we see our strength and our fragility in the same eyeshot? If we can walk and chew bubble gum, defend our land and shed tears for the price of that defense, remember our past and be humble of our accomplishments, together we can live in that center where we belong and find balance, albeit wobbly at times.

Marcia Linehan developed DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) for people who struggle with an all or nothing approach. I love you and I am taking a break from you. It is raining and the sun is out, are tow examples of finding two truths, at the same time.

Much of our infighting comes from a collective inability of the polarities refusal to see another side, coupled with radical dogma. Those extremes can be seen, heard, understood and appreciated much better if the vantage points are centered.

Related to power and weakness, most people 40 years old and younger have really never experienced antisemitism before this moment. Those 50 and older, most likely have. That means that more than half of our population never knew that before 1967, and the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War, most Jews did not wear a Kippah in public. They either wore a cap, a hat or did not venture outside with a yarmulke. I am familiar with many households that as soon as the man, and the boys of the house walked over the threshold of the front door, they took off their coats and donned a Kippah. It was a safe space. The reverse happened when they left the house.

The strength and seeming invincibility of Israel deputized Jews worldwide to feel secure and safe on the other side of that threshold.

Right now, Israel feels compromised, vulnerable and weaker. Jewish families worldwide are questioning whether or not we should remove our Mezuzahs. We can claim it is from threats, but it is as much from fear. There are no known cases of homes with Mezuzahs being targeted, still we want to be careful.

What does all of this mean? To me, it is demonstrative that the State of Israel’s very existence reflects the comfort we display in our Jewish identity in the Diaspora. The equation is simple; the stronger Israel is, the more comfortable we are showing off our yarmulke in public, so to speak. The weaker Israel is, the more fearful we are of having our Mezuzahs seen to the world. This is another obvious example of the connective tissue between Israel and Jewish identity that crosses rivers and seas and applies to Jews worldwide.

October 7th removed a blanket that we took for granted which had kept Jews outside of Israel warm for decades. Its absence has caused us to tremble in a chilling fear.

Partisan crap is starting to clog the pipes of aid for Israel. Rumor is that some in the House of Representatives want to divide the aid package between Israel and Ukraine so to pit the challenge for most Democrats of supporting Israel and showing support for President Biden. It is a partisan, childish, politically motivated stunt that plays games with life saving measures. This is not a new tactic invented by Republicans. In fact, Democrats did the same silly move not long ago when they bundled an aid package with support for Iron Dome in it, pushing Republicans to vote against the protective funding.

These are all silly antics. Political theater. Childish games. Jockeying for C-Span highlight reels and Sunday talk show airtime. They do not move the ball down the field. Much like our enemies today, too many members of the House seem more focused on pointing out the dysfunction of their colleagues across the aisle and creating litmus tests for them to regularly fail, then they are committed to finding common ground on legislature and moving forward. Shame.

House of Representative Members, if you care about America, stop these partisan shenanigans and get the aid package passed, quickly. You have already lost enough precious time and this is not a moment for antics.

Our fears were realized when news hit the airwaves of two soldiers that died in battle inside of Gaza. Then this morning, eleven more faces, names and families devastated. I do not know if Israel can handle any more funerals. And, there will be more. We know that. As long as we are on the ground, rooting out the evil door to door, soldiers will be hit by IEDs, sniper fire, booby traps and gun shots. It is the heaviest price to pay, after our emotions and hearts have been taxed behind our worst imaginations. It was one of the many reasons we paused for so long before going in with tanks. As Gallant said, we are making significant gains but paying a very heavy toll. We do not praise the death of an IDF soldier. We decry it as a reality foisted on us throughout history and indeed, in this moment as well, by those who rather kill us than accept our existence. It makes our heavy hearts, heavier, our tearful eyes, wetter.

May their souls be bound in the bond of Life. May their families find comfort in the peace we shall pursue today and always in their memory.

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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