It’s taken me two months, 61 days to be exact, to write about this War of Iron Swords.
I keep asking myself:
What do I have to share and why do I want to share it?
Not sure if it has to do with my mind clouded by the images of mutilated little kids, of parents chopped to bits or burned alive, of the images of hostages picked off and stolen away “like stealing candy from a child,” or the sleepless nights I’ve had ever since that darkest of days, my mind’s playing tricks on me.
I find myself waking up from what I think might be a siren or from some other dream-like reality we are experiencing where fear, anxiety, and existentialism reign. And as far as I can tell, this is what many here in Israel are experiencing; we are a nation informed by PTSD, anxiety, and insecurity – still. Some will claim that following October 7th, 2023 everything changed, but has anything changed?
In 1948 we proudly claimed to have left the ghetto Jew behind, but have we? Growing up in NYC of the 70’s-80’s, my father (himself the son of Holocaust survivors and first-generation Israeli) would tell me: “Here in America, it’s different. In America everyone is equal.” Though comforting for a kid to hear, something told me my father was trying to be comforting. Later on in life I learned about the value of preserving your Jewish instinct for danger, I was right, my father was trying to be comforting.
Following the destruction of our 2nd Temple in 67-70 CE resulting in the 2,000-year-old exile of Israel, the Jewish experience has had its share of calamities. Whether it was the slaughter of the Jews of Medina in the 6th century, the Christian crusades of the 12th century, Spanish Inquisition of 1492, the Russian pogroms in the mid to late 1800’s, or the European sanctioned genocide against the Jews 75 years ago – to name a few – Herzl’s vision in 1897 sold us on the belief that the Jews’ return to Zion would rid the nations of their Jewish problem, but it didn’t. Like my father telling me that the Jews arrival to the shores of America would be different, Herzl’s vision for the establishment of the Jewish state merely amplified Jew hatred from a local/internal problem, to a global one with Israel now being the Jewish problem. If throughout 2,000 years of exile nation after nation did not fully grant Jews equal citizenship at best, attempting to exterminate the Jews at worst, then why would the global community of nations accept a Jewish State? It seems to me that Jewish perseverance and—dare I say—our mere existence will always be a problem.
The inhumane, horrific, barbaric, evil (choose your synonym) attack that took place on Simchat Torah 5784, October 7, 2023 in Israel along the Gaza border changed everything—in a moment, we had global sympathy on our side, but only for a moment. I mean, there should be no nuance, no complexity, no grey areas for considering who is right and who is wrong, right? No debating who loves life and who worships death, who celebrates freedom and who does not, who spreads light and who darkness, right? Think again. Nothing has changed, but shouldn’t have everything changed?
And then October 8th came, the blood of our children had yet to dry, and already we saw the onslaught of pro-Hamas protesting in countries across the globe! Everyone from BLM to queers for palestine, came out in droves for the hateful anti-Israel party. Even women’s rights groups refused to acknowledge the use of rape as a crime against Israeli women! How could they? How dare they?! Don’t they know? Don’t Black Americans know that Jews marched arm at arm with Blacks during the civil rights movement? Don’t they know that Jews support(ed) BLM and women’s lives matters, and every other cause that matters?
Don’t Jewish lives matter?
College campuses, once the bedrock of debate, vision, and social revolution, have become a launch pad for dehumanizing Jews. Calls for freeing palestine from the river to the sea, signs reading “gas the Jews” or “baby murderers”, and accusing Israel of genocide is just part of it. Only yesterday we heard testimony from three top university presidents (MIT, Harvard, and Penn) refusing to say that calling for genocide of Jews is harassment. “It is a context-dependent decision,” Penn president Liz Magill responded. Huh? Context-dependent? And what, Liz Magill, would you say is the context for “gas the Jews”? Elie Wiesel of blessed memory once said “when someone says they want to kill you, believe them”, I do.
Friends, pay close attention. This is not random hate speech or a street fight between neighborhood kids. This is happening in academia and on every level across western society; Islamic extremism has hijacked western societies masking itself behind liberal-progressive values so that young people think that their cause is their cause. Call it the woke movement, intersectionality, over-lapping group identities, white privilege vs. black/brown under privileged, young progressive liberals find themselves in a warped social construct that uses gaslighting as a form of turning the victim into the oppressor. It’s an upside-down reality. Do the progressive women in these anti-Israel / pro-Hamas protests know what they are fighting for? Do the queers for palestine know what they are fighting for? Does either group know how they’d be treated under Hamas-Sharia law? As far as I am concerned, I’m thinking Jewish lives matter; I’m thinking Tikun Yisrael precedes Tikun Olam, I’m thinking its time healing ourselves becomes our #1 priority.
Approaching Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism, and Israel post October 7, 2023 demands a shift, a paradigm shift, and it is much bigger than you might think, it is existential.
Years ago I had the opportunity to work with the late Jewish leader and business man, Gordon Zacks z”l. Our conversations were anchored in topics that included existentialism and mortality. His approach to existence was informed by two key questions: Who am I and Why am I here?
If you could answer these two questions, you’d experience revelation and your raison d’etre, your reason for being.
Revelation is real, we experience revelation when looking life in the eye, when we reveal answers to difficult questions, when we make order of life’s chaos. We find these types of revelatory transformative experiences throughout Jewish history, from biblical Israelite practice, to post biblical Rabbinic Judaism and in Zionism where revelation came in the form of a 2,000-year-old dream. Last week’s Torah portion highlighted Jacob’s wrestling with an Ish, a man, some believe it was God’s presence on earth, Jacob would agree calling the location of the struggle Peni’El (Beresheet/Gensis 32:30), the face of God. Following the struggle Jacob’s name was changed to Isra-el, as it was explained: “…for you have struggled with God and with humanity and have prevailed…” (Beresheet/Genesis 32:28). Jacob experienced revelation through transformation, as did the Children of Israel who upon revelation at Sinai transformed to become the Nation of Israel. All transformative paradigm shifts impacting the destiny of Israel, and the Nation of Israel, to this very day.
These days are critical, the Nation of Israel stands at an intersection faced with existential questions and decisions to be made, and it’s not the first time. We have collectively faced mortality before, and together we overcame. In letter sent to French General Charles de Gaulle on December 6, 1967, Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote: “I know of no other people that was exiled from its land and dispersed among the nations of the world to be hated, persecuted, expelled, and slaughtered, that did not vanish from history, did not despair…”
So, what time is it? What is our next exposé?
If there is anything I have learned throughout this past year of political and social turmoil, and the horrific attack of October 7th, it is not to take our existence in this world for granted, not to take the existence of Israel for granted. Israel’s existence, strength and inspiration informs our collective existence, strength and inspiration. I hope this wave of collective awakening leap frogs us into a movement of preaching, teaching, and role modeling selfless love. If Israel’s weakness in past destructions came as a result of sinat chinnam, baseless-ego driven hatred, then Israel’s strength and unity comes in the form of ahavat chinnam, selfless driven acts of love, kindness and arevut, accountability for one another. This is the great tikun of our time, the Jewish People’s modern-day revelation: Tikun Yisrael precedes Tikun Olam, healing Israel precedes healing the world. After all, how can we heal anyone if we ourselves are broken?
Nothing has changed, Jew hatred still exists, it is a societal dis-ease. And yet, everything has changed, we have awoken, now is the time for Tikun Yisrael, for healing Israel.
Am. Yisrael. Chai.