Naomi Greenspan

The Seven Tragedies of October 7, 2023

As I struggle to make sense of the events of the last month, I am overwhelmed by feelings of outrage, fear, and confusion. Many of us in the Jewish community don’t know how to put words to what we just saw. We are in shock, we are in grief, and we are fearful. Seven tragedies took place on October 7, 2023, each one bringing me, and I imagine many others, profound pain. 

  1. The Human Tragedy. A brutal terrorist attack with unthinkable atrocities took place on October 7. Any human being – I hope – can understand this tragedy: children watching their parents being killed, murdered bodies of women who had just been raped, a mother with her infant and toddler in her arms as Hamas operatives take them hostage – a look of complete horror in her eyes, a Holocaust survivor being held in captivity – her life both starting and ending with unspeakable trauma. For those who have the stomach to see and hear these stories, you must do so, there must be witnesses to this human tragedy. 
  2. The Personal Tragedy. Many of us in the Jewish community know people who are directly affected by the events of October 7. We have family and friends who are dead, injured, and being held captive. As rockets continue to rain down on Israel, we check on our loved ones to make sure they are safe. We ask how they are doing, but we already know they are not okay. We grieve for our loved ones who are grieving their loved ones. We know people who have been called up to serve in the army to defend their country – many will not return. 
  3. The Communal Tragedy. More Jews were killed on October 7 than on any day since the Holocaust. We are in mourning. As Jews, we feel a sense of connection to one another, even if we do not personally know each other. It pains us to see so many of our people in need  with little we can do to help. The people impacted by this violence are not some far away person on the other side of the world, they are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our parents, our grandparents – they are us.
  4. The Tragedy of the Shattering of Our Sense of Safety in the World. Our collective story as Jews is one of “otherness.” As a diasporic community, our psyche is one of being outsiders, separate and apart. Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jews have lived at the pleasure of others, never being fully accepted. Even when there were periods of relative safety, as Jews, we always knew that this could be gone in a minute. 

After centuries of persecution and violence, the Jewish community said, we will never let this happen to us again. That’s what the State of Israel represents to many of us – it is our sense of safety in the world. It is the only thing standing between us and another Holocaust. On October 7, we lost our sense of safety as we watched the massacre of over 1200 of our brothers and sisters.  

5. The Tragedy of the World’s Response. Before the bodies of the victims were even recovered, we saw the justification of violence – blame was placed on Israel, the victim, for the loss of life of its own people at the hands of terrorists. As Jews, we have shown up as allies to other communities time and again, and now we feel abandoned by the people we thought would be our allies. People who say they stand for justice were silent, and in some cases even celebrated these vicious attacks. Amid already rising antisemitism, we are now even more fearful as antisemitic incidents and hate crimes against Jews continue to spike. The normalization of violence against Jews further emboldens antisemites. 

6. The Tragedy of the Palestinian People. In addition to the human tragedy experienced in Israel on October 7, there is a second human tragedy also taking place – that of the Palestinian people. They have suffered incredibly under Hamas’ rule and resulting Israeli and Egyptian-imposed blockade of Gaza. Fifty-three percent of people in Gaza live below the poverty line, only able to subsist because of international aid. This tragedy is now worsening, as Israel responds to Hamas’ brutal terror attack. 

This human tragedy is also a Jewish tragedy as we fail to live up to the ethos of our teachings to care for the stranger and view all people as being created in the image of God. As Jews and as humans, we must not fail to see the divine spark in our fellow humans, and we must differentiate between Hamas – a terrorist organization – and the Palestinian people.  

Empathy for the suffering of Palestinians does not imply that there is a moral equivalency between the acts of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and the actions of Israel to defend its people. This is not about placing blame – it is about understanding context and recognizing that tragedies can be the result of multiple sources.

7. The Tragedy of the Loss of Hope for Peace. Many of us are in deep despair over the demise of peace and coexistence efforts. The last several years have presented a new promise of hope, a softening of relations between Israel and the Arab world through the Abraham Accords, and now these dreams appear to be dashed.  

We need to redefine the “sides” in this conflict. It is a false dichotomy to choose between being “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine,” as if each side reflects just one perspective that is fundamentally at odds with the other. The sides should be those on the side of working towards peace and those on the side of further ingraining conflict. Those who side with the extremists, and those who side with the moderate majority.  It is not mutually exclusive to be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. In fact, you can’t be pro- one without being pro- the other. Neither will fully secure freedom unless the other one also has freedom. Our destinies are intertwined. Until we realize this, the cycle of violence and the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians will continue.  

As a Jewish community, we must share the message of these tragedies with those who are not aware, and we must use our story of suffering to bring a message of peace, coexistence, allyship, and dialogue across difference. In an attempt to take the toxic discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict offline, join this campaign to have nuanced conversation in real life. The goal of these conversations is not to convince, but to engage. It is an attempt to bring back the humanity of those with whom we share this planet.

The post reflects the author’s own view and is not affiliated with any other organization.

About the Author
Naomi Greenspan is Director of the Academic Engagement Network’s Improving the Campus Climate Initiative. In this role, Naomi partners with universities to establish and implement antisemitism awareness education and training programs to create a more inclusive campus environment. Prior to joining AEN, Naomi designed and developed educational programs and resources on antisemitism, its intersection with racism, and the relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. She has extensive experience facilitating workshops to address bias and bigotry and promote interfaith dialogue and understanding on college campuses, in schools and communities. Naomi earned her B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis where she studied Psychology and Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies, and an M.A. from Teachers College at Columbia University in International Educational Development and Peace Education.
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