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The Uzi is Defunct but the Feelings Are Still Real

Jewish Trauma post October 7th 2023
On Thursday evening January 17, 1991, I was carrying an Uzi tasked with guarding the perimeter of a Kibbutz in Israel upon which my gap-year program was situated.  Suddenly, around midnight, I heard a massive boom.  I sped back to my dorm room which doubled as a sealed room to protect from a potential chemical attack on Israel. Saddam Hussein had begun a multiple month campaign of firing Scuds on Israel and my year of study was altered dramatically.  The repercussions meant limited freedom of movement and ensuring I had a gas mask in tow wherever I went.
Now thirty-three years later, that terrible night is still emblazoned in my memory.  Eight students holed up in a sealed room until morning, we were finally released by radio notification as the sun rose.  That evening provided multiple hours to ponder the meaning of life.  The realization that life could end that evening was an overwhelming thought.  I had barely experienced anything with so many meaningful milestones yet to come, such as marrying and starting a family.  It was a musing of tragedy, melancholy and sadness.
This was just two months in time many years ago, but the recollection of mounting a heavy mask to my face time and time again for months, out of fear of chemical attack is still deeply anchored within my subconscious.
Fast forward to the events of October 7, 2023.  
All the worst traumas of Jewish history coupled with all the worst traumas of life in Israel were rehabilitated and compounded.
I know from family in Israel that in recent years when conflict simmered and rockets were fired that many teenagers suffered trauma.  There is a price that innocent youth continue to pay for growing up with blood-lustful enemies on multiple fronts.
Recently, we hosted a prominent visitor in our New York home from Israel.  He is the father of a large family and has lived in Israel for upwards of twenty years.  He confided that after October 7th, there was a fleeting thought of running back to America.  The confusion and fear was palpable despite being used to life in Israel.  I know of another large family who vacated their home and moved back to America for a period of time.  Aside from these exceptional cases, Israel is a country with hundreds of thousands of internal refugees who have left their natural environs fleeing to safer parts of the country.  That safety may be fleeting if the Northern border explodes into an even higher level of conflagration.
We in New York aren’t spared of residual trauma, albeit to a lesser degree.  Soon after October 7th, a friend and I congregated outside his home on a Friday evening. A car drove by and stopped near us. We both froze up and panicked. Thankfully, it was just his neighbor.  Soon after that episode, the neighborhood experienced a black-out. There were actual feelings of dread that ‘they’ were coming for us in America too.
The world too easily forgets the torment and abuse that Jews have suffered through the ages.  We are resilient as a people but our emotions are frayed.  Even after suffering unfathomable attoricities, having youthful exuberance extinguished on that now infamous October day and subsequently losing hundreds more of our best and brightest fighting an immoral vile enemy, we continue to be tormented, condemned and abused.
Many sophisticates, particularly those on college campuses, in some foreign governments and at the UN see us as the enemy of peace.  If only we would disappear, the world’s problems would be solved.
As was stated in the 1713 ‘Works of Thomas Chalkley, ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.’
It is clear to anyone with a moral compass that we are engaged in the ultimate battle of good versus evil.
Our people will do whatever it takes to defend our nation & our homeland.
“The eternal people do not fear the long road” as taught by R’ Yehuda Halevi in the middle ages.
The collective historical Jewish experience demands that we defend ourselves, our homeland and our democratic values.
Sadly, our resilience and determination don’t erase the mental & physical toll that will need to be reckoned with in short order.
Thankfully, millions of dollars are being invested in crucial mental health services, particularly for our soldiers but will ultimately be needed by many more of the population.
While the world’s memory fades and failed political constructs are resuscitated by our closest allies, we know that we must rely on our Father in Heaven and each other to redeem us from the myriad complexities and challenges being experienced by our nation.
About the Author
Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen served as a pulpit Rabbi for eighteen years in the NY/NJ area and as a scholar in residence around the world. He earned his law degree from Columbia Law School and a Masters degree in Marital Therapy from the University of North Texas. He is the author of the book “We’re Almost There: Living with Patience, Perseverance and Purpose,” presenting a pathway for confronting challenges. His more recent book "Together Again: Reimagining the Relationships that Anchor our Lives" is an exploration of our post pandemic relationships. Rabbi Cohen is the host of the Jewish Philanthropy Podcast ("The JPP") and a Senior Relationship Officer at the Orthodox Union. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at YU's Sy Syms School of Business. He resides in N. Woodmere, NY with his wife & 6 children.