Jonathan Russo

The Collective Trauma of Oct 7th

The killing field of Re’im in Israel’s Negev, where the Nova music rave massacre happened, is now open for public viewing. Tour buses of foreign visitors, Israeli soldiers, and police, friends and relatives of the dead as well as those just wanting to see for themselves are coming. The site has not yet had any improvements or architectural enhancements, there are no polished stone walls with the inscribed names of the dead, no guided paths not even restrooms. Just an open field accessible from every point with photos of the murdered and kidnapped on makeshift stakes. At the base of the stakes are often candles in a circle, sometimes a small memento. Like the wailing wall people with intentions to remember or say something to the photos can inscribe on them in magic marker or post a sticker to show they came.

Perhaps the most shocking take away from the sea of photos is just how young, energetic and edgy these rave goers were. Purple hair, braided hair, nose and ear piercings, colorful cloths, and huge smiles. The dead collectively radiate a free spirit energy, one that reminded me of my Woodstock days. They spoke from their images of hopeful abandon and a yearning for an ecstatic liberation from the straitjacket of convention.

The world is obsessed as the war in Gaza rages with the concept of “collective punishment.” Defined as punishing any one person for the sins of their larger group. Hamas strongly embraces this idea as it seeks to kill “all the Jews.” Even more refined the Hamas ideology teaches that since all Israelis must serve in the military every civilian is a valid target, sort of a preemptive strike against infants and kindergarteners.

As Israel churns up Gaza and renders it uninhabitable the cries of collective punishment are now being leveled at it’s army. In the world media, full of historical naivety, the world informed that civilians are in harm’s way. Shocking. I guess if you get your history from TikTok instead of Gibbon or Max Hastings one would fall to that belief.

Yet after seeing the fields, bus shelters and roads where the sea of slaughter against anyone and everyone took place and studying the faces of the visitors I came to a different conclusion about collective punishment. What is even deeper, even more seminal in the Jewish mind is “collective trauma.”

It was impossible for me staring intensely into the faces of the murdered and kidnapped not to feel the Babylonian’s carrying the Israelites into captivity in 587 BCE, the Romans chasing the Zealots into Masada for their final act of rebellion, the Spanish inquisition and the infinite diaspora pogroms that followed. Just one example, The Cossacks slashing, burning, and raping their way through the Pale of Settlement. On and on, in every time and place Jews were hunted down. A defenseless people haunted by exile and the bitterness of hate.

The modernity of the youthful ravers also contrasted to the most recent holocaust by the Nazis in their conquered territories. I have viewed endless photos from that time and struck by either how proper or devoted the victims were. The proper, in their fur coats beautiful hats, smart shoes. They were so European, indistinguishable from their Christian neighbors on the outside…yet the entire German nation saw them as different inside. The devotional in their long coats, full beards and fur hats were more obliviously different. Regardless they were all hurled into gas chambers and ovens. Their outer clothing taken from them and the equality in their Jewishness revealed by their nakedness.

The rave goers thought they belonged to a new time, a different time. Cool drugs, fun sex, ecstatic music experiences…all the trappings of the age of Aquarius. Little did they suspect that just over the fence a few hundred yards away were people from a different age. The age of the past the ravers longed to forget.

I need not dwell here on what Hamas did to these people. What I think is important to understand is how this triggered the collective trauma and the response by the IDF of, Never Again. War is not always rational never has been and may not be now. The response to the slaughter in the Negev may be viewed as a response to five thousand years of trauma. The tables are turned. The Warsaw Ghetto is now Gaza the firepower is with Israel. The tunnels and basements hide Hamas not Warsaw citizens. It is Hamas and those cheering and celebrating the captives dragged through Gaza City suffering the death and dismemberment of their loved ones. If this is met by indifference or even satisfaction it might be helpful to understand collective trauma.

If a very non-religious secular Jew living in the diaspora feels this trauma looking at the photos of the dead, imagining the cries of the stabbed, the raped, the horror of thirty people hiding in a concrete bus shelter as hand grenades were being thrown at them…imagine the trauma of Israelis knowing they live next door to human beings who would act like this and a people who would cheer them on.

Jews rejected Jesus and his turn the other cheek advice. Frankly in dealing with a group like Hamas it doesn’t seem like a good idea. For now the best idea seems like destroying Hamas or degrading it as much as possible. Eliminating its underground infrastructure and like the ancients did, keeping its senior leadership in exile housed their luxury palaces in Qatar.

Therapists have told me I often feel compelled to re-traumatize myself. An example being obsessive about 9/11 which happened when I lived in downtown Manhattan. For months I read and reread everything I could about that attack. Perhaps I do have this personality.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Russo

However, if you can come to the Negev and Re’im the place of the Nova rave. You might agree with me that collective trauma is real. You might feel it too.

About the Author
Jonathan Russo has been observing Israel and its policies since he first visited in 1966. He is a businessman in New York City.