Harriet Gimpel

True confessions and the null set

True confessions – because I have concealed it so well until now – I’m sad. How utterly selfish. People are dying. People are fighting. People are hungry. People are held hostage. People are terrified. People are evacuated. People are scared. You’re sad?

I first wrote those lines before the news that eight Israeli combat soldiers lost their lives today in Rafah. I’m sad. I’m so sad.

I am blessed with conducting the routine of a normal life. Thursday is gymnastics club-day for our six and a half-year-old granddaughter, and I’m the driver. Going home, she asked a question I heard her ask her grandfather a few days earlier, “Do you believe in God?” I do, I told her, and then qualified it much the way I remember doing when I was just a bit older than her. Some greater power beyond my comprehension that is all the things I cannot understand and its essence beyond the human cannot be described in human terms in human terms. Maybe at six I still believed God could ultimately enact the kind of miracles I could hope for.

“Do you say ‘Elohim,’ or ‘Elokim?’ she asked. (Rather comparable to asking if I write “God” or “G-d.”) The former, I said with my answer ready as to why. Then she wanted to know if I have a friend who is religious. I told her that I have several religious friends, none of them extremists, but observant of Shabbat and other mitzvot [commandments] that I forego. A few traditions suffice for me, I told her, and some of them like lighting candles on Friday evening and making kiddush before Friday night dinner, are things we do together.

My turn was next. I asked her if she believes in God. She told me she thinks she’ll decide when she grows up.

A few hours later her older sister was negotiating a later bedtime with her grandfather, and I got into bed with the six-year-old and the two-year old – they have conditions, if they’re going to get in bed on time. They drifted from open eyes, opening and closing, and falling asleep. I spent the time wondering about the future the world holds for them. Will present times forever interfere with them holding their heads high, proud to be Jewish, proud to be Israeli?

When I was a child, nothing to the contrary ever occurred to me. Though, at six, I had similar conversations about God with my dad. When I was eight, during the Six-Day War, I definitely asked the rabbi why we needed special prayers with God on our side. Now, I mostly see how much evil emerged from that Israeli victory. And how my understanding of believing in God has altered. So, as she proposed, I will let our granddaughter grow up and decide for herself, if she believes in God.

When we got home after babysitting, I checked the headlines on my phone screen. The article in Ha’aretz by Gideon Levy: Israeli snipers inadvertently killed 7 innocent passersby in the Jenin refugee camp on May 21, 2024, when the army entered to strike Palestinian terror networks. Not news. But the headline, the lead article on the homepage. We are not as I believed.

The next morning, commentator on other developments made my silent internal scream shatter the outermost layers of my inner self as I shrank, my head wrapped in my arms. The television interview with Gantz reporting on Thursday how Netanyahu succumbed to pressures from Ben Gvir and Smotrich rather than closing a deal to return the Israeli hostages from Gaza, provide the commentator a frame for moving to other realms, drawing connections to ominous threats from Iran. Threats under the carpet. Threats to which most Israelis are oblivious. It doesn’t serve Netanyahu’s present interests, to warn of these threats on prime-time television. And how many people read Ha’aretz when other outlets bring news bad enough in their own right?

Another Saturday morning translating speeches by Yitzhak Rabin, for the Rabin Center website, recalls a time of greater innocence, great hope, when I was naively convinced of a greater shared spirit among the people, though not unaware of positions less moved by winds of peace. Rabin’s words of peace, the words of a military general, patronizing, yet words of peace in a different time. He agreed to peace and tempered his words to reassure and promise security for the skeptical.

Before that there was a time, unlike today, when isolated Israelis were aware of injustices by Israel and Israelis towards Palestinians. Land confiscated, deportation to Gaza. Context, spread of information. Interpretation over time. There was a time when Palestinians refused a partition that provided them a state alongside Israel. Understood – that remains my narrative, and the same absolute can be refracted through a different prism.

Another interview in Ha’aretz with a contemporary short-story writer distracts me. When you don’t have answers for the future, according to him, there’s no point in speaking at public protests. He suggests alternatives like writing a blog. I feel validated.

If issues facing our nation from without are resolved and we survive as we must, then, like that writer, I ponder how we live within, together, with those who think in ways light years away from the ways that I think.

Can we reeducate? Rabin spoke about the ethical underpinnings of the Jewish people and its moral character as perceived throughout all corners and crannies of the world. He identified signs of the image disintegrating in 1992, presumably believing that making peace would make that reversible. We have gone so far since then. To such abysmal depths. No mirrors reflect reality to those blinded by power and self-anointed supremacy, in a place justifying demonization, rendering dehumanization a null set.

I wonder, doubtful, if some day, our grandchildren will say: if only my grandparents could see that they could be proud of what Israel and the Jewish people have become.

Harriet Gimpel, June 15, 2024

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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