Elchanan Poupko

When Our Worst Nightmares Came True

An Israeli soldier stands guard next to a pickup truck mounted with a machine gun in the southern city of Sderot on October 7, 2023, after the Palestinian terror group Hamas launched a large-scale surprise attack on Israel. (Oren ZIV / AFP)

We have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes, nor have our parents seen anything like this. 

Hamas has led the worst pogrom conducted against Jews since the Holocaust. The elements of cruelty, inhumanity, and genocidal bloodthirst have too many parallels to pogroms we have not seen in the past seventy-eight years. The Jewish people are shaken, and, like with the Yom Kippur War, it will probably take decades to process what had happened and how it happened. We do not know what the coming days hold for the Jewish people, but here is what we do know and need to do:

Crimes against humanity- In its attack, Hamas has committed crimes against humanity on an unparalleled scale, unusual even for a terrorist organization. The slaughtering of hundreds of participants in a music festival, the kidnapping of grandmothers and babies, the bloodbath inflicted on civilian centers are the kind of atrocities the world has not seen since ISIS has shown the horrors of its cruelty years ago. The condemnation of these atrocities is the litmus test for any conversation Jews have with anyone in the world. Simply put, any group or individual, and there were many of these, who failed to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s violence cannot be regarded as a humane, civilized, or partners for any kind of conversation. Jewish communities can work with a variety and wide scope of opinions; we cannot work with those who fail to condemn the rape and murder of young girls or the kidnapping of babies. We must make this very red line very clear. There is no discussion with anyone who fails this test. We must show the world the depravity of our enemies who, under the guise of caring for Palestinians, will justify the most barbaric crimes against humanity. 

Standing with the South and with the IDF- There will be countless charity solicitations, campaigns, and initiatives in the coming weeks to support many good causes in Israel. We must remember that those who got hit hardest and those who are living on the border with Gaza, defending Israel with their bodies and communities. Needless to say that, as the IDF prepares for a ground invasion in Gaza it is also of utmost importance individuals and communities mobilize to support food, gear, and any other needs of the IDF soldiers going in. 

Yes, politicians hear your voice- did you see what your local member of congress, senate, parliament, city council, or whatever the position representing you may be has said about the situation in Israel? If not, check. Call them, write to them, let them know you care. Make sure those who represent you, whether you voted for them or not, 

Your voice on social media matters-never underestimate how much your voice matters. Use your voice strategically. While there is much to resent about X/Twitter, it is the platform elected officials, journalists, and policymakers check most. Before you post, take a few minutes to read articles like this on how to increase your visibility, optimize your use of hashtags, tag and respond to the right people, and so on. Make sure your voice and support for Israel are heard loud and clear. 

Remember–as the war rages, the sirens holler, and the rockets piece Israel’s skyline, it is hard to process everything that has happened. There will come a time of calm. It may not be soon enough, but it will come. The more than nine hundred precious souls that were murdered in cold blood by Hamas deserved to be remembered. Each and every individual life is worth mourning and cherishing—every family, every community, and every world that was lost must be remembered. We are simply not in a position to properly remember and mourn right now but we must commit ourselves to remembrance of everyone who fell during this horrific pogrom. 

Connect–over the past few years, and especially a few months, we have taken the luxury to debate, argue, fight, kibbitzbroygez, and every other form of internal conflict. Now is the time to stand together, to unite, and to lock arms with our fellow Jews whom we might have been alienated from. Who was right, who to blame, and other debates all have their right time. Now is not the time for division. We must stand united because of the enormity of tragedy we have just been through and for the sake of the difficult times that are right ahead of us. The statements from the Union for Reform Judaism, the Orthodox Union, Satmar, Jstreet, and AIPAC were not very different today. These are difficult times for the Jewish people, and we must stand together. In the face of such horrors, our differences shrink. We must stand united to support Israel. 

The magnitude of devastation has not yet been processed. Yet, in this destruction, there is a lot we can do for those who need our help most. We will rise from these ashes of destruction, but for that to happen, we must stand together. “Rejoice not against me, my enemy; although I have fallen, I will rise; although I sit in darkness, the Lord is a light to me.” (Micah 7)

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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