Harriet Gimpel

The Dimmer Switch

College campuses pose the questions. If I were a multibillionaire Jewish philanthropist supporting a university where demonstrators ostensibly criticizing Israel are endorsing Hamas, I would most likely withdraw my support. Presumably that is not even relinquishing any lingering influence when Qatari money has already taken the upper hand.

In the name of democracy, I would look at that simple lesson my 5th grade teacher taught us about the conflict between “liberty” and “justice.” I learned that only by limiting the meaning of “freedom for all” can we ensure it.

I have an obligation to criticize Israel to ensure liberty and justice for Israelis of all religions and of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. It is a disgrace hard to bear when I see diabolical acts by extremist West Bank settlers against their Palestinian neighbors, and an Israeli government that at best mitigates sentences of Jewish offenders.

The direct connection between the behavior of these extremist settlers and the evolution of a Jewish [not] movement to rebuild the Temple is transparent. The accompanying ideology seeks to reinstate sacrificial practices from the times of the First and Second Temples, prior to the Rabbinic period from which Jewish liturgy, worship, behaviors, wisdom and learning, and symbolic interpretations developed into the values I was taught to treasure.

The only answers to subversive ideologies are stronger enlightened ideologies – and maybe sometimes the money to leverage the alternative ideology. Protesting Israel’s faults and failures – and there are many – under the mantle of tents and signs branded with Hamas and Hezbollah flags, color-codes, and logos is to place Israel in its entirety on the altar as an offering to vacate larger and growing spaces for organizations that take joy and pride in video filming themselves defiling civilians, sexually violating women, burning families alive in their homes, declaratively striving to impose their values on the world.

My criticism for the current government of Israel and its Prime Minister knows no bounds. This Prime Minister has spent repeated terms of office warning of the magnitude of the threat from Iran. He has supported Hamas in Gaza over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. He has empowered Hamas following a conception proven wrong before October 7, but which he manipulated and rationalized to serve his interests – not Israel’s interests. The government of Israel empowered Hamas – did he think Iran was not providing them with adequate resources?

As we go up and down the roller coaster of hopes and expectations that living and dead hostages will be returned to Israel from Gaza and anticipating the Israeli army entering Rafah after reaching an understanding of one kind or another with the United States, we live with the undercurrent of tension regarding the potential escalation of attacks on northern Israel by Hezbollah, another Iranian ligament. We live with the fear of bringing further destruction upon Gaza, alongside fear of rockets hitting Israel from Gaza and from southern Lebanon.

The Iranian Islamic Republic plays its game. In the name of “freedom for all,” it seems much of the western world is predisposed to leveraging the rights of “freedom of expression” inextricably bound in freedom to destroy, not in defense, but in a mission aimed at denying the rights and freedoms of liberal schools of thought and practice.

These are a sampling of my thoughts throughout this Passover holiday, a festival of freedom. Hardly a concept we in Israel could celebrate this year. We cited the holiday. Different people in different ways, many following traditional practices, but different. We attended our usual extended family seder with 35 people, ages 1 to 91. Children singing the traditional “four questions,” some proudly chanting them for the first time. Reminding me that so many children’s questions are an attempt to make sense out of scraps of information they collect. It captivates me because I essentially do the same. Children scuffling around the home and the lawn looking for the “afikomen,” that hidden piece of matzah once found used as barter – give me what I want and you can have the afikomen back, and we’ll have dessert.

Other spirited songs characteristic of the seder. “Dayeinu – had God only split the sea, it would have been enough for us, dayeinu”… and so it goes verse after verse. But the spirit was missing.

Driving home, we analyzed it, trying to define what was different about the atmosphere. Some cynical comments were inevitable throughout the meal even as we enjoyed a family gathering, with children warming our hearts. Yet, the spirit was reduced – like the oven temperature when you just want to keep the food warm.

The next morning, I said that amidst the commotion of the children running from the dinner table to the swings in the yard, it was as though the seder had offered an escape from reality – and in the morning, there are still 133 hostages in Gaza, dead and living, and injured soldiers, many with lifelong implications for the quality of their lives; and starving Gazans, and Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones, and fears, and extremist Jewish settlers attacking Palestinians on the West Bank. A government that fails to empower the Palestinian Authority over Hamas – still – because that would expedite the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Privileged. Family. Food. Tradition. Spirit. Less. More. Since October 7.

That fateful date after which Israel will have to renegotiate its contract with its citizens. Ensuring the return of the hostages – soon, sooner – a crucial piece of the puzzle. There is a thread through the history of the State of Israel and its relations with the Palestinian people, at times hidden in a seam or hemline, but must be seen, must be seen as part of a much bigger picture, then and now, and for the future.

Finally, I have found the image to best describe my perception of my reality since October 7 – and our seder – someone turned the dimmer switch down, down, down.

It’s high time to turn up the light.

About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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