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Behind the scenes of ‘Unpacking Israeli History’

S6
E12
40mins

In this special episode of “Unpacking Israeli History,” Noam Weissman and producer Rivky Stern switch things up by engaging in an in-depth conversation about the podcast’s creation, philosophy, and approach to telling the story of Israeli history.

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So the opening just played, and now you’re probably ready to hear an episode like we always do. An episode on the history of Israel, on a specific moment. A difficult moment, perhaps a moment with tension. A story that will allow us all to think about the good, the bad, the ugly, but the story of Israel. Today’s episode is going to look a little bit different. Instead, you’re going to be with me and my producer, Rivky Stern. Hey, Rivky.

Rivky: Hey, Noam, how you doing?

Noam: Today, we’re going to be having a conversation or really maybe more of an interview where you’re going to be asking me questions about Unpacking Israeli History, about the story of Israeli history, about the story perhaps of my approach to talking about Israeli history. So, you’re ready to do this, Rivky?

Rivky: I’m very nervous, because as you said, I’m normally behind the mic, behind the camera, but I’m really excited. A lot of these questions come out of our regular day-to-day conversations, and I’m really excited not only to get into it with you, Noam, but also to give the listeners kind of a peek behind the curtain, so to speak.

Noam: Okay, well, you do such a great job producing this podcast. You really do an awesome job. And now we have an opportunity to speak about the philosophy of what we do and why we do what we do, just as we wrapped up Season 6.

Rivky: Yeah, and I wanna just start with a little bit of softball, Noam, if you will. Why do we make this show? Or to say it differently, I wasn’t here from the inception, Noam. This was you, this was your baby, you worked with other amazing, amazing teammates before I even came on the scene. Why did you decide to do this show? What inspired the creation of the Unpacking Israeli History podcast? And really, you are an educator first and foremost. What are the main goals, as you see it, of Unpacking Israeli History?

Noam: Yeah, I’m not just an educator first and foremost. That’s really all I am. I don’t have other sides to me when thinking about this. And that’s really relevant. So when we created this five years ago, four or five years ago, I had a great team. Avi Posen was doing educational research. Rachel Kastner was producing. Dina Rabhan was envisioning this together with me. And we’re like, we got to do this. We got to create a podcast on the history of Israel. Cause we already had a YouTube channel called Unpacked, but there’s something very different about a podcast. And what a podcast can do that’s different from video, that’s different from an article is, what a podcast does is it brings the personality into the story.

And whereas a video can feel informative, you could learn something from it, a podcast is the opportunity to feel much more intimately connected, ironically enough. And I say ironically enough, because you don’t see me in the same way I’m in your ear, but I’m with you when you’re exercising, when you’re doing the dishes, when you’re doing chores, when you’re driving a long distance, I’m with you. And something that Scott Galloway said is he said, I know when a person either read my articles or when a person listened to my podcast based on what they say to me. And what he said is, when people come over to me and they have a question about content, that’s because they read my articles. When people come over to me and ask me personal questions, I know that’s because they listen to my podcast. Because the idea is, a podcast is such an intimate opportunity to get to know somebody.

And so people feel like they really know me, Noam Weissman. And the reason for that is I share so much of my story in the story of Israeli history. Now, the reason that is so important is because I think that the best educators, the best teachers, whatever it is that they’re teaching. It could be the history of the war of 1812. It could be chemistry. It could be biology. The learner or the listener or the consumer has to have a human to human relationship with that teacher, because by doing that, then they could actually understand the story that much better. So one major reason for creating this is the ability to have that personal dynamic that immerses itself into the content, which then allows the listener and the consumer to feel like they actually want to understand the content much better.

The second reason that we created this podcast and that I thought it was so important, is the history of Israel is complex. And if you’re a listener, you’ve heard these words, nuance, complex, diversity of perspectives. In a video, what you do with YouTube, for example, is you want to pack as much content and to be punchy six minutes on Twitter or X or whatever. You want to be pithy and you want to get people thinking within such a, clever way.

Well, guess what? I’m not pithy. And I’m not clever. What I like to do is I like to let ideas breathe. And when you have the medium of a podcast, you can let ideas actually breathe. You can get into the story of Israel, into the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I’m separating those two for reason, because they need to be told separately and also together, but they’re two different things. And we need to tell it in a way that people will want to absorb it and appreciate it. And that’s what a podcast could do in 30 minutes and 40 minutes and 50 minutes, maybe even more. And so those are the goals. The goals are to teach the story of Israel, teach the story of Zionism, teach the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that will allow the content to breathe in a way that will allow the consumer to say, Hey, listen, I trust this. I think it’s credible. I can learn something from it. And I know the guy teaching it to me. I hear his stories.

Which then allows, I hope, I hope, it allows the consumer, allows the listener, allows the learner to find themselves in the story as well.

Rivky: I think that’s really well said because one of the things that we talk about often is how our listeners who send emails and reply to surveys and leave reviews and things like that, is how well they feel like they really know you, you know, people are like, come for Shabbat. Like I want to hang out with you. Like, let’s play give a basketball sometimes, you know? And I feel like on the one hand it’s like, whoa, I don’t even know you. On the other hand, it’s like, how amazing is that that people really do feel like there’s a real relationship here? There’s something deeper.

Noam: 100% and I will say anyone that wants to play basketball with me, I’m down.

Rivky: Always ready.

Noam: I think I’ll probably beat you one on one, just saying.

Rivky: I think you’re underestimating our audience, Noam.

Noam: By the way, you’re probably right. I’ll probably lose.

Rivky: That actually surprisingly relates to a little bit. One of the pieces of feedback that we get often is like, oh, Noam, I feel like I know you, but you know what? I gotta be honest. We sometimes get a little negative feedback on that too. And I want to just read something out loud and I want to hear your reflections, Noam.

Noam: All right, I’m excited for this.

Rivky: Here’s a recent piece of feedback. The jokes from the host. Cringe. Seriously distracting. And here’s a second one. Noam sometimes says too much filler content and personal anecdotes. It’s not really a bad thing, but sometimes it feels like he’s trying too hard to be relatable. So Noam, I wanna connect that to what you said before because on the one hand, I think it’s funny, But also what I think is important is that I was reflecting about it and it’s definitely unusual, right? Like I listen to history podcasts, you listen to history podcasts. It is unusual for the host to really put themselves into the show the way that you do it. And it’s interesting that you reflected on, it’s your choice as an educator to do that. You think that actually it’s gonna help them connect to the content, be able to go a little bit deeper because you do that. It’s a tool almost.

Noam: Yep, 100%. First of all, I love it. Keep it coming. but for me personally, I can only do something that I am personally passionate about. I have to bring my authentic self to the storytelling I think for a, to be successful, first of all, but B for, for me to want to do this. And the way who I am personally, if you really want to get to know me, number one is, I’m a silly guy and I’m a serious guy. I’m serious about serious things. And I try not to be serious about non-serious things. And I think the ability to transition from silly to serious and serious to silly is one of my favorite things to try to do.

As an educator, when I was a high school principal, I would always say to my students, what’s the ultimate sign of maturity? And they would all scream out transition. And the reason for that is because I believe that within each and every one of us is this silly side and this serious side.

The other thought that I have is, I take what I do seriously, very seriously. I don’t take myself very seriously. Look at me. I’m wearing a t-shirt right now and a backwards hat. I could have gotten dressed up for this episode and maybe I should have. I’m not. And the reason I’m not is because you’re finding me exactly where I am right now. And I bet most of our audience is actually dressed just like me.

Rivky: Right, the authenticity and the relatability is a really big part of it for people.

Noam: But it’s not, I’m not trying to be relatable.

Rivky: You’re being you.

Noam: This is who I am. Sorry. Sorry. Not sorry. Sorry. Not sorry.

Rivky: Do people still say that? I don’t know.

Noam: I don’t know.

Rivky: We’ll find out. So, okay, so let’s use this as a moment of transition here, okay? Because when you talk about, you know, this is a serious topic, and it is, it is a very serious topic. It’s always been serious. And I think especially since October 7th, right? It is so deeply serious and important.

This is such an incredibly important thing that we’re doing. Israel is a place that is, not only has this like rich and important history, but it’s a place that is making history every single day. You know, you open the New York Times, you open the Wall Street Journal, you open any newspaper any day, the front pages are about what’s going on in Israel. People are trying to understand it. We get emails every single day of people who are like, okay, it’s time. I gotta understand what’s going on.

And when we make decisions about Unpacking Israeli History, the stories we tell, how we tell it, everything like that, how do you balance that? How do you balance telling the contemporary story of Israel, talking about current events in Israel, with telling its history? So what perspective do you take here? How do you balance those things?

Noam: So the way I approach these things is number one, I’m not a news junkie at all. And I actually think there’s potentially something dangerous about consuming so much news without understanding the history and something that Ryan Holiday, who has a podcast I listened to for a while called Daily Stoic said, he said, listen, if you watch the news, you might know the most trivia, but do people really have the big picture? And he told the story about how there was a general that what he would do is he would learn the history of Alexander before going to the Middle East to understand how to deal with the Middle East. And the idea is that not much has actually changed in the course of history.

So what I love doing in thinking about current events is, I’m not a prognosticator. I’m not a pundit. I’m not a news junkie. I’m a teacher and I’m a storyteller. So the best way to think about the news is to actually think about how it relates to something that happened in the past, or how it’s different from that very thing, which will then profoundly inform how you think about what’s going on today.

So one major question that is on people’s minds right now is, is Israel alone? Is Israel alone? Is it a country that doesn’t have friends? Does it only have foes or people who are neutral towards it? And this is a question that since the Jewish state existed, that Jewish leaders were asking, are we alone in different contexts?

One great example that I think is so interesting to think about from a historical landscape is, do you think, world, that when you are attacking Israel, and delegitimizing its existence, when that’s happening, as opposed to something which I think is incredibly okay, which is to criticize Israel, to critique Israel. But if that criticism comes from a place of lack of trust, or if that criticism comes from a place of really trying to dismantle the Jewish state, then do you realize that this is something that was happening in the mid 70s? Do you realize what the consequences of those sorts of dispositions were? What it did to the Jewish state, what it did to the Jewish people. Do you realize that that sort of way of thinking further emboldened more extremism on the right within Israel? And does that not matter to you? Cause if it doesn’t matter to you, then what are you really trying to accomplish here?

So I think about that very often. I think about the context of the history as it relates to the current moment. The podcast that we did recently, the 3-part series on 36 to 39, I think that I understood the current day so much more when I understood that history. So for me, I think that there comes a point in which there is an obsession over what’s going on without an understanding of the history of how we got here. And when we have that obsessing over the news without having a metacognitive approach, which is essentially something that allows us to monitor how we’re assimilating all the information that we’re losing a lot of the story. So when I hear a story of what’s going on, I go into my brain or into my mind or my heart or whatever. And I started thinking about how this is so relevant and how I think about that moment. I think it’s important. I think it’s really important thing to do when we’re thinking about something that deeply matters to actually be able to call from something other major moment in time.

I’ll give you another example, as I think about this. The relationship between the American Jewish Committee, AJC, Jacob Blaustein and David Ben-Gurion, with, what’s the role of the Jewish state? Does it speak for a world Jewry? Does it not? Does world Jewry have a right to influence the state of Israel or does it not? These are questions that are going on in 2024, 2025, but they were also going on in the 1950s. And that’s the way I think about current events.

Rivky: I think that’s really interesting. And I’m wondering, as you said, we’ve been making this show now for a few years. And I’ll say that, you know, as the producer, I learned so much from every episode we do. And I’m wondering after having really gotten into so many of these topics, really giving a context, really understanding them better, how has working on this show changed your view, in any way? Actually, has it changed your view, changed your perspective, helped you think differently about Israeli history, about the Israeli present? When has working on the show helped you change your mind in any way about a story related to Israel? Have you researched episodes and walked away feeling differently, right? How has this show helped impact you in that way?

Noam: One of my children, my son, is in fifth grade. And on Saturday afternoon, the Shabbat for us, we do a little study session with fourth and fifth graders.

Rivky: I love that. Is it because you’re too intimidated to play basketball with them?

Noam: Some of them are pretty good.

Rivky: I imagine.

Noam: I played horse with one of them after one of the sessions and I won, whatever. It’s okay. But the interesting thing that we do is at the end of every episode, I was going to say no, at the end of every learning session, every class, if you will, I give awards. One of the awards that I give is called the best question of the day. And another one of the awards is called, I don’t want to say the names, but let’s call him James. The James change your mind award. Meaning at the end of every class, I want to give an award to someone who changed their mind on a topic.

Now there’s something dangerous about changing your mind, especially in the religious context, because when you’re in a religious context, a faith context, there are certain principles that you’re supposed to hold dear to you. But I sacrifice that value for the value of allowing young people to say to themselves, I’ve thought about something and I’ve come to this conclusion based on thinking that very thing. So I really honor the willingness to change minds.

So I’ll tell you just two episodes as it relates. And as you, as I’m thinking out loud and talking to you, Rivky about all this, I really see within myself that Unpacking Israeli History is less about the very specific five fast facts and much more about the enduring lesson as I see it. Because the enduring lesson as I see it could be applied to any piece of content, any information, any ideas, it could relate to American history, Australian history, world history, literature, it could relate to Talmud, it could relate to rabbinics, it could relate to philosophy, whatever it is, but it’s the enduring understanding. So if you press me on this, I think two episodes that stand out to me are actually not so much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and much more about Jewish identity, through two specific moments.

One of those moments is the German reparations, in the moment in which the 1950s, the Jewish state, which obviously encompasses other groups, other faiths, and had to think through how do we deal with our past? How do we deal with tormentors? And there was a great debate between David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin as to whether or not there should be some sort of forgiveness of what took place. And that forgiveness would come at a cost, which would be what was called German reparations, that they would make sure that they did the financial right for the wrong that they caused the Jewish people.

The other episode that comes to mind is the Atalena affair. Also with these two protagonists playing front and center roles, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Which took place, right after the Jewish state was declared, could there have been a civil war? Menachem Begin said in Hebrew, civil war never can happen. And he decided that he wouldn’t shoot back at David Ben-Gurion’s Palmach, the Haganah, who was trying to say, if we’re going to be one state, we have one army. Regardless of what the issue was. Menachem Begin basically was told to stand down, and he was willing to stand down at that moment.

In the story of the German reparations, a few years later, after the Jewish state had a little bit more security, right? It was post the 48-49 war that ended in the armistice lines of January of 1949. And at that point in time, Menachem Begin looks at David Ben-Gurion and he says, no, actually we’re going to have civil war over this issue. Over whether or not we’ll take the money from the Nazis as he saw them or the new German government. And he said, no, we are absolutely not going to be okay with that. And he said, on this I’m willing to have civil war.

So I hear these stories and I’m moved by these stories, by these two giants, two people who had different political dispositions, two people who looked at the past of the Jewish story and the future of the Jewish story, probably a bit differently from one another. And I don’t know where I stand even today, on if I’m more of a Ben-Gurion person or a Begin person. And so when I worked on these stories with our amazing teams, I was going through the process of being unaware of where I stood on the issue. And I think that hopefully the listener who listened to the episode, who would say, I’m more of a Begin person. I’m more of a revisionist Zionist person. I’m more of a, we stand alone and we’re going to fight the good fight no matter what. And I’m going to be on that side.

Or I’m going to be more of the David Ben-Gurion side, the pragmatic side. I still don’t know. And I have changed my mind on that very issue so many times. And it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because I always wonder what the Palestinians are going to do, when they think about their own identity. What’s their identity? Is it going to be an identity that is going to be a Begin version of the Palestinians? And one that is really fostered on idealism, or is it going to be one that’s going to be much more about pragmatism? What I would call the Ben-Gurion perspective. And we’ll see what happens on the Palestinian side of things. And who knows what the future is going to behold? Jury’s out.

Rivky: So Noam, I particularly wanna just call out that I think it is so interesting and so important that one of the lessons that you take from the stories of the Altalena and German reparations is you use those in a total counterintuitive way, at least for me, to then start thinking about how Palestinians might be thinking and feeling about their own national aspirations. I think the empathy, and the way of trying to get into other people’s heads, is so showcased in that example. And that actually leads me to something else that I’ve been thinking about a lot and something that we talk about pretty often and which is about our biases, right? And you have said many times, not that you don’t have biases, you have biases, we all do, but that you try to be honest about your biases.

You’ve talked about being proudly Zionist to whatever that means and you probably put a hundred people in a room, they’re gonna have a hundred definitions. You have family in Israel who have served in the army. You feel very proud of those family members, right? You feel very affiliated and connected to the land of Israel, to the state of Israel, to the people of Israel. And I’m wondering how that impacts the way you tell the story of Israel and its history. And I want, you know, Noam, you’re the master of quotes. I want to read out loud a quote that I’m sure you know very well. Ehud Barak once famously said, “if I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would join at some point one of the terrorist groups.”

I wanna kind of just use that quote as a way to dive in and think about our biases and think about how we tell stories, right? Like, Ehud Barak is saying, if I were in a different place, I’d have a very different life, I’d be telling a very different story. How do you find your bias impacting and shifting the way you tell the story of Israel and its history? And how do you make sure that it maintains a balanced perspective, especially obviously when covering controversial or difficult or sensitive topics.

Noam: What I want to do to answer that question is to kind of showcase the way I think about all of the content surrounding Israeli history and all of our episodes. Let’s start with that quote from Ehud Barak. Ehud Barak,  he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. He’s talented. He was the top brass of the Israeli army. He became the prime minister. He was very close, frankly, or we thought, to starting the process of forging peace with his Palestinian interlocutor at the time, Yasser Arafat. So yeah, talented guy. Very interesting guy.

So, when I think of Ehud Barak’s quote, it’s not a point of intelligence or creativity. He’s making sort of an emotional point. That’s what he’s doing when he’s saying that. I would want to ask, when Ehud Barak said that sentence, that he would join a terrorist group, what’s the context of that comment? When did he say that? Would he still feel that way?

And then I would ask this bigger question. Why are so many people quoting that story? Perspective number one of why people would quote that. Number one is to make sure that you legitimate the Palestinian terrorist groups. Even the premier of the Israeli government is saying that he legitimately would also become part of the terrorist groups. So therefore what’s so bad about the Palestinian terrorist groups, right? That’s one way of utilizing that quote from Ehud Barak. A second idea of thinking about that quote from Ehud Barak is to say, well, what he’s saying is I’m such a passionate Israeli. And if I was born a Palestinian, I would be an equally passionate Palestinian and fight for their self-determination, which might come in the same way that I behave as a military leader and I would be their version of military leaders, which is a terrorist, taking down Israelis, taking down Jews.

I don’t know the context of what Ehud Baak is saying. I’m not sure what he was referring to, but I don’t think option number three is true. That he is saying that a legitimate form of resistance, is to go across the border, the Gaza border, and to rape women and to kill innocent civilians and to kill children and to take a few hundred hostages. And I don’t think that by any stretch of the imagination, that’s what Ehud Barak is suggesting.

By the way, I bumped into him in the streets of New York City. We took an us-sy together, as Ted Lasso would say. And it was a fun moment for me. I didn’t bring up this quote to him. He looked chilly. I had to get home. And so I didn’t bring up the quote–

Rivky: Next time.

Noam: Next time. But that’s the way I think about that quote. And I think that that sort of methodology is the methodology behind the Unpacking Israeli History. And what I would ask people to do when they hear ideas, when they hear one quote, one sentence, one idea, please zoom in and then zoom out and then show the different perspectives and the, and then the potential implications of those perspectives.

But it has to do with the bias question. I have a bias. You have a bias. You listening. You have a bias. We have a confirmation bias. We have desirability bias. We have recency bias. We have implicit bias. We all come at everything with bias. The problem is not the bias. How many times can I say bias?  Len Bias. By the way, , great what if. What would have happened if Len Bias joined the Boston Celtics and challenged Michael Jordan. Who knows? That’s a crazy what if.

Rivky: Yeah, the target audience for that particular reference is Bill Simmons.

Noam: Okay. But yeah, that was for Bill. That’s called selfish humor, by the way. The problem is not the bias. The problem is the denial of the bias. The denial of the bias. And so people will come into your classroom or come into your living room and say, I’m not biased. I’m not biased. I’m just giving you the facts. No, you’re not. You’re not just giving anyone the facts. I am part of the Jewish family. I am a proud Zionist. I am a member of the human race. All of those things are true. All of those things are true. And when I’m telling the story of Israel and I’m telling the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all three things that I just said are present.

This idea that I’m sharing right now is something that I learned from a professor at the university of Haifa, probably 98% of people have no idea what I’m talking about. His name is Hanan Alexander. And his idea basically was that we should not have, or pretend to have, a Euclidean view of history, fully objective as though we’re some automaton, but rather that the way to think about Israel, or teaching any sort of history, is to be objective with a point of view.

And my point of view is the following. The Jewish state has a right to exist. Point of view number two is that the Palestinians are people with a distinct national identity. Point of view number three is that all of us should be willing and I’m using the word should and maybe even the word could be willing to have difficult conversations. To reach across the political aisle, to be courageous in how we think of ideas, and be willing to acknowledge our own bias and be willing to grow within that. If you’re unsure about what you think about the settlements, let’s have that discussion. If you’re unsure about different moments in Israeli history, let’s learn about it. If you’re unsure about what’s going on right now in Gaza? Let’s have that discussion. Let’s go there. And I actually believe, Rivky, that most people want to go there. I think most people are sick and tired of being told what to think without being trusted with the tools for how to think. But, and I’m using ‘but’ and not ‘and’ here, it has to come from the perspective of the Jewish people have a right to their own ancestral homeland. To the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.

Rivky: Right, you’re not defining the contours of such a state or anything like that.

Noam: So, exactly, precisely nailed it. You know, I said this on our Wondering Jews podcast, the same type of Zionism that many people don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either. Okay. And so I was speaking to a Palestinian interlocutor of mine and she goes, Noam, I’ve never spoken to a Zionist before. This is very weird for me. I said, what does that mean, you’ve never spoken to a Zionist before. She’s like, I’ve never been willing to speak to a Zionist. I said, what is ‘a Zionist’? She started describing, well, a Zionist is someone who believes that I don’t have a right to exist. So I was like, that is not what Zionism is. And I’m so sorry that that’s what you think Zionism is.

I said, you know what Zionism is? Zionism, this is the way I view Zionism. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to their ancestral homeland. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to agency. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should return to world history in an active way and not be passive. Zionism is the right for the Jewish people to say the following. I’m going to be the main player in my history. And I’m not going to be someone who is on the side watching others create my history. That’s what Zionism is. I said nothing about the denial of the Palestinian right to existence. I said nothing about your lack of right to be a human being and to have a right to self-determination in your homeland. I said nothing about either of those things.

Rivky: Right. It’s a positive definition.

Noam: That is my bias. That is my bias. And I think that you could tell the totality of the story of Israel while having a bias. What I like to do is I like to show different perspectives on issues while coming from a certain framework, teaching the history of Israel, looking at the different dynamics that play, have as complete of a picture as possible. Tell that story.

And when we tell that story, I think that people hopefully will come out feeling much more empathy towards a lot of different players in this story, whether that’s the Palestinian in East Jerusalem and Ramallah or, or Tulkarem or Khan Yunis. The settler who lives in what is described in the Jewish story as Judea and Samaria, or what is called in modern parlance as the West Bank. The Haredim, what people describe as the ultra-orthodox. Empathy without a rider, as someone once said to me, meaning without any preconditions. Let’s have that empathy for each other. So those are my biases.

Sometimes, Rivky, you know what? I might not do a good enough job. Sometimes I might lapse into something I’m feeling at that moment and I might make that mistake. And you know what? It’s the listener’s job to call me out on that, if I lapse, but you’re hearing right now what the vision is and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Rivky: Well, I don’t think we have to worry about that because the listeners clearly feel comfortable keeping you honest. So, using that as a framework, I wanna just kind of get to our final question here, which is bringing us back to today, because as we keep talking about history and today are so intricately linked. I want to ask you, when thinking about Israeli history and when looking into the stories of Israeli history, when researching and when writing these episodes, what lessons from Israeli history do you see as most relevant to the world today?

Noam: Well, the lessons that we have to be learning, that I’m thinking about, I don’t want to be prescriptive. I want to describe what I’m thinking about. And if they resonate with you, Rivky–

Rivky: I’ll tell you, don’t worry.

Noam: Yeah. You let me know. I think that there is a real paradox of Zionism, and of Zionism’s success that makes 2023, 2024 really complicated. Zionism was trying to accomplish something. And in many ways it’s been remarkably successful. What Zionism was trying to do was it was trying to say there is nothing valuable and valorizing being a victim.

As a matter of fact, Chaim Nachman Bialik in 1903, when he wrote not Al HaShechita, not his first poem reflecting on the Kishinev pogrom, but the second one, which was a few months later, was called B’ir HaHarigah, In the City of Slaughter, in which he really reflected on what he saw took place, is he said, we’re done being victims. We’re done being weak. We’re done being pathetic. We’re done being oppressed. And he really hurt people when he wrote that because you know, the people there were, many of them felt that they were fighting back and they were, you know, they were not allowing themselves to be the victims. And even though 49 people were killed and many women were raped and it was terrible. It was awful and hundreds wounded or maybe more. The paradox of Zionism is that we’re no longer willing to be victims. We’re no longer willing to be oppressed. We’re no longer willing to be persecuted. We’re no longer willing to allow others to dictate the future for us. Well, we live in an era in which that maybe doesn’t carry so much currency for some people in the public square. And the paradox of Zionism is that it won. Is that it’s been successful. That the Jewish people now have power. That the Jewish people now have a very strong state. Yes, on a very tiny sliver of land, whose borders are very narrow. It’s, it’s a small place, but the paradox of Zionism is that it’s been successful. That the Jewish people now have a strong military, that the Jewish people now have major technology. That the Jewish people are looked at as a place that many people potentially even want to be allies with. Even Arab countries and Muslim countries are saying they want to be allies with it. So the paradox of Zionism is that it’s been successful, but on the other hand, people don’t necessarily valorize success. And criticism, I’ve heard this idea before, is the tax that you pay for success. Because people do not necessarily want or cheer on, like when you’re watching a movie, you don’t cheer on the person who’s strong. You don’t cheer on the person who has power. When I’m watching the NBA or I’m looking at sports or the NFL, I root for the underdog. And when you look at the Jewish people in the very small lens, you see right now a Jewish people who are strong. That’s what people see. When you widen the lens, however, you see a Jewish people who has had thousands of years of oppression.

And the Jewish people are going to do what they need to be safe, to be secure. But the challenge of today is figuring out, what are my responsibilities now that I have this Jewish power? What’s going to happen as a result of this? What are my opportunities? What are my responsibilities? How do I think about my future?

And the Jewish people need to think of themselves less as a victim. And the world needs to stop valorizing victimhood so much so that Zionism becomes a bad thing. Because the very success of Zionism is ultimately, paradoxically, what’s causing people to hate Israel and to hate the Jewish people. And I, for one, have no interest in going back to a world that predates Zionism in order to get the favor and the curry, the love of people from outside of the Jewish world. I much prefer a world like Micah Goodman has said, that the Jewish people are strong, safe and secure than a world in which Jewish people are loved and Jewish people are befriended by everyone. My wish for the world, my wish for everyone is that we could combine both, that the two can synthesize with one another. And if we could synthesize both of those things, the Jewish people have a right to security and safety and that the world can have a love affair with the Jewish people. Then I think what that will be perhaps, Rivky, that might be the very description of the Messianic era. Maybe that’s what it is.

Rivky: Wow, we went there. Well, that’s an amazing note to end on, so I appreciate that. Noam, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate that you made the time, and I can’t wait to hear what listeners think about this, because this was really, really fun and really interesting. Good to kind of hear some of those insights, Noam. Those meta insights.

Noam: Rivky, Rivky, Rivky, you are the best at producing all of this. Thank you. And we gotta say, I gotta just say this. Thank you, Adi Elbaz. Amazing writer. She’s the best. All right. Yeah. All right. See you next season. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Rivky: For real, for real. All right, thanks Noam. See you next season.

Noam: See you next season. I’ll see you tomorrow.

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