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Judy Klitsner

Thanks for asking…

Dear Deborah,

I was very touched to hear from you, especially since we haven’t been in regular contact in recent years. It means a lot to know that you, along with so many other friends from the US, are grieving with us, arranging rallies, and raising large sums of money on our behalf. We especially appreciate your generous, open-ended question, one that we are hearing frequently: “What can we do to help?”

In response, I have come up with five suggestions, which, as you will see, range from small personal gestures to bold public actions.

  • First, help us feel seen and heard. As in a shiva home, sit with us (literally or figuratively) and let us tell you about our all-consuming pain, which is acutely personal for every one of us. This is a tiny country: ask us about our connections to those who were killed on the “Black Shabbat” of October 7, and to those who were abducted into Gaza. Inquire about our loved ones who have been called up for military service. Although in the past, a great many of us Israeli parents have experienced the anxiety associated with our children serving in the army, we have never before had to cope with the enlistment of virtually all of them at once. It helps to know that you see our sacrifice, unlike that of Jews elsewhere, for the future security of our country and of our people.
  • Second, try to understand, and to empathize with, our national mindset on matters of morality and humanitarianism. We Israelis, wherever we are on the political, ideological, and demographic spectrum, are singularly focused on what we see as the most pressing moral imperatives of the moment: protecting our people and defending our land. Simply put, we must ensure that never again will murderous mobs infiltrate our homes, brutalizing and abducting our citizens. When we think of the most urgent humanitarian need of this moment, we see the necessity of freeing the roughly 240 hostages being held by savage terrorists. This does not mean that we are apathetic to the suffering of civilians in Gaza. We are doing everything possible to avoid harming them — everything short of interfering with our objective of winning the war. Our profound wish is that the citizens of Gaza cease to be collateral damage in a war that was thrust upon them by their leaders: leaders that regrettably, they, the citizens of Gaza, elected. But please understand that the nearly exclusive focus on Gazan civilian casualties in worldwide media outlets and among many of their consumers — the focus on the tragic consequences of war, but not on its origins or its purpose — hits us as cynical and tendentious. Often, we feel that we and the world around us are speaking different languages. Please help us by ensuring that our language is heard and is understood.
  • Third, be informed about Israel’s history and its policies. Although it is unfair to expect all Jews to be spokespeople for Israel, it is nonetheless critical that you have the facts needed to counter the calumnious soundbites that are so regularly bandied about. We need you to have ready, fact-based responses when Israel is accused of being a colonialist state and a perpetrator of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is important to understand, and to explain, how Hamas atrocities had nothing to do with advancing the rights of the Palestinian people, nor were they an expression of resistance to an Israeli “occupation” of Gaza.

In learning more about Israel, it is imperative to receive news from trusted sources, and not from journalists or news organizations that merely echo the talking points fed to them by our enemies and their sympathizers. To receive breadth, nuance and context surrounding Israel’s actions, it is helpful to read sources coming out of Israel (and most would agree that our robust free press cannot be accused of whitewashing our deficiencies and failures). For fair and reliable news in the English language, I recommend The Times of Israel or Ynet.

  • Fourth, learn from our mistakes. Prior to Oct. 7, we held on tightly to a “conceptzia”— a deeply ingrained, axiomatic notion — that trickles of terror were somehow manageable and that despite the many flashing warning signs around us, we were reasonably safe. But on that dreadful day, the trickle was replaced by a watershed. We were forced out of our complacency, and were made to pay the price of our self-imposed blindness in rivers of blood.

Because our stories are so inextricably linked, we ask you, our Diaspora siblings, to break with your axioms as well, and to stop the trickles of hatred on your shores before it is too late. For years, in my travels to the US as an itinerant lecturer, I witnessed at the country’s leading universities a steady stream of toxic anti-Israel behavior that was laced with frightening antisemitic overtones. (Sadly, I also noted a gradual buying in by our own Jewish students of anti-Israel talking points, including a mind-bending inclusion of anti-Zionism in a social justice agenda). When I questioned campus Jewish professionals about the incessant campaigns of hate, I was told, with alarming consistency, that these displays were insignificant and were not to be taken seriously. It is not hard to see the gradual, yet direct line — a poisonous drip by drip — from those early hate-filled demonstrations to the current overt threats to the safety of Jewish students on many of the US’s top-tiered campuses. Although campus violence has already reached appalling proportions, there is still time to confront it, publicly and fearlessly, before it reaches its catastrophic watershed moment.

  • My fifth ask, related to the fourth, is the biggest. Here in Israel, we have been mobilizing our masses; we ask you to do the same. The monstrous events of Oct. 7 call for a new level of global outcry. In the wake of Oct. 7, there have been many protests throughout the Jewish world, but none has even approximated the fighting spirit that was so boldly and consistently evident in the struggle to release Soviet Jews. If, in 1987, we could bring together 250,000 protesters in the streets of Washington DC, why can we not double or quadruple that number in 2023, in the wake of the greatest slaughter of our people since the Holocaust? In Israel, we have called up more than 350,000 troops; could our Diaspora communities call up at least that number in sustained demonstrations on Israel’s behalf? In addition to fundraising — so necessary and so appreciated — we need dramatic new levels of people-raising.

I realize that, given the current global climate of hostility to Israel and to Jews throughout the world, many are fearful to attend the type of mass gathering I have proposed. I would like to argue that it is precisely because there is so much targeting of Jews that the best strategy is to show strength, not weakness and fear. While it is certainly important to defend ourselves from harm, there comes a point — as we are experiencing in Israel — to move from defensive to offensive mode. Although we have been doing our best to take cover when under attack (our wonderful Iron Dome system has saved countless lives), true security will be attained only by confronting, and disabling, the source of the threat itself. For Diaspora Jews, public demonstrations — with all appropriate safeguards, and, I would hope, with the backing of conscientious people of all faiths — are the best way to confront and disable the antisemitic aggressors, which ultimately will lead to greater security.

To meet the ambitious goal of massive, sustained, pro-Israel demonstrations, Jewish organizations will need to set aside bureaucratic and personality-based considerations. This critical moment demands that organizations cooperate with one another in previously unseen ways, setting aside all their usual partisan and political divides. Here is another lesson to learn from our past mistakes. As our enemies understood all too well, our disunity is our greatest weakness. It is time to employ the flip side of this equation: our unity is our greatest strength.

The message we, as one, must trumpet to the world is simple, and should be obvious to every person of conscience: Stand with Israel in fighting Hamas. Hamas is terror and terror is evil. Period.

Before I sign off, please indulge me as I tweak your kind inquiry of “how can we help” to the more personal “how can I help.” None of us can know what the other is capable of. But if each one of us takes the question as a personal call to action, if we all reach deep within ourselves and ask what unique talents, connections and resources are at our disposal, if we all give generously of everything we’ve got, we will draw closer to meeting the needs of this cataclysmic moment.

As for me, I’ve been drafted into the citizen’s army, which means stepping up my Savta game, supporting my grandchildren, who have not seen their fathers since war broke out over three weeks ago, in every way I can. I am teaching and writing about Israel’s cause and assisting evacuees whenever possible. Everywhere I look, my compatriots of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances are doing their utmost to contribute, thus providing the one bright spot in the otherwise impenetrable darkness that has encompassed us.

We are grateful for your offers of help. With every effort, large or small, in Israel and abroad, the glimmer of light grows.

With warm regards,

Judy

About the Author
Judy Klitsner is a senior educator at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where she holds the Rabbi Joshua S. Bakst Chair in Tanakh. She is an international lecturer and the author of 'Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other,' which won a National Jewish Book Award. Judy is the founding board chair of Sacred Spaces, a US based organization that seeks to address abuse in Jewish institutions.
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