This episode is going to be a little different from our usual. Everything has been different lately. I know I’m not the only one who feels like there’s a clear line that separates October 6 — The Before — from October 7. 10/7.
Something changed that day, and I’m not just talking about the geopolitical reality or quote unquote, “facts on the ground.” Something changed inside us. And we’re still all trying to figure out what it was — and what it means.
Listen, I’ve been passionate about Israel education my entire life. As an earnest teenager who wanted to share his love of Israel with his peers. As a college student leading Jewish programming in the remote reaches of the former Soviet Union.
As a high school principal who demanded that Israel education was woven into our school curriculum. As a doctoral candidate, defending a dissertation titled — wait for it — “Approaching Israel Education.”
As an executive at a media company, Unpacked, which teaches the history of Israel to millions on YouTube, IG, and TT and articles on our website Jewishunpacked.com.
For the past three years, I’ve been hosting a podcast — you may have heard of it? — called “Unpacking Israeli History”! And so many people have reached out since October 7, asking me to, well, unpack this whole mess.
So many of you have written in to ask, can you explain what’s happening? Can you tell me the history of Israel on one foot? Is Zionism colonialism? Is Israel an apartheid state? Did Israel steal land from Palestinians? Are Jews indigenous to the Middle East? Can you talk about Hamas’ charter? Do Palestinians have the right of return?
These are good questions. Excellent questions. Important questions. And we have plenty of resources answering all of them. But we’re not going to cover them in this episode. We’re going to do something else.
You guys know that I like historiography. I like understanding how history is constructed. Well, we’re gonna get a little meta in this episode. We’re going to talk about how people are constructing their own version of October 7th.
We’re going to talk about why so many of those narratives are laughably inaccurate at best and morally heinous at worst. We’re going to talk about why I’d rather muse, abstractly, about the nature of narratives than recount the facts of October 7th and the aftermath.
We’re going to talk about the hard truths that all of us need to accept. And finally, we’re going to talk about grief and resilience. Because Israel right now is a model of both. And no matter where they live, so are the Jewish people.
So let’s start with that first thread: “The Story of October 7th.” Or maybe, more accurately, “How People Are Choosing Their Stories of October 7th And What That Means For All Of Us.” But that’s kind of a mouthful, so we’ll stick with the first one.
You’ve definitely read the think pieces and the Twitter threads about why liberal Ivy League students seemed to suddenly turn into Hamas shills overnight, chanting “Globalize the Intifada” and tearing down posters of hostages.
And maybe you’ve also seen coverage of an unhinged Israeli cabinet minister calling for the state to nuke Gaza. I wanted to understand how seemingly ordinary people assume morally indefensible positions. What’s the story they’re telling themselves?
So I turned to one of my “rebbes,” Adam Grant. OK, he’s not a real rebbe, he’s a professor at Penn and the author of multiple books on psychology, and — according to Wikipedia — a former amateur magician. That last fact is maybe irrelevant, but I thought it was charming.
Anyway, Adam Grant makes this claim, backed up by lots and lots of research, that you can’t simply persuade people to change their opinions with a bunch of facts. In fact, just by trying to persuade someone who has no interest in being persuaded, you risk entrenching their opinion even more deeply.
If you’re one of those people who has already sworn allegiance to a particular narrative, say, that Hamas was justified, or that Israel can do no wrong, well: hi. Thanks for listening. Glad to have you.
But I gotta be honest: this episode isn’t for you. You know the story you’re telling, and you’ll get out there, you’ll be amped up, you’ll tell people how it is.
No, this episode is for the people with a little less certainty. Who don’t know yet what story they’re telling, what narrative they choose. And in some ways, that includes me.
But Noam, I hear you saying. Every tweet I’ve seen, every substack, every insta post tells me that there’s moral clarity. That this conflict is simple, between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. One side committed genocide. The other is just trying to live.
Which side is which? You can’t tell just from the rhetoric. Because we’re all using the exact same language, the same stark binary. I’ve been watching way too much TikTok and the lines are the same: You’re either with us or against us. Which side of history do you want to be on?
And to a certain extent, some of those “there’s only one side and here’s why” folks are right. I’m never going to be on the same quote unquote “side” as people who sincerely support Hamas and their quote unquote “exhilarating,” “awesome” slaughter of October 7th.
I find those views morally repugnant. And I don’t think you need to be Mother Teresa to agree with me on that.
What you heard is rhetoric that actual Ivy League college professors have used. People with literal doctorates in history or polisci. These people, they know what Hamas stands for. They’re not idiots. They’re fanatics, and they do not get a pass.
And at the same time, there are unacceptable views I’ve heard on the pro-Israel side, as much as I hate that term.
I’ll tell you right now: I’m never going to agree with the unofficial Arabic-language propaganda videos that warn Gazans that the IDF is coming to quote, “dance on the ruins of their homes” and “drink their tears.”
I don’t know who took it upon themselves to create those clips, but they’re disgusting. Granted, this is fringe, but it’s there, and it’s not helpful.
But, just for a second, let’s forget the extremes — the glorification of terrorism, murder, and revenge, the conflation of rightful self-defense with the petty brutality of eye for an eye.
Let’s retreat from the fringes and talk about all the people who are genuinely confused. Let’s discuss the 51% of 18-24-year-old Americans who believe the Hamas attacks of October 7 can, quote, “be justified by the grievances of the Palestinians.”
I just don’t believe that over half of young Americans truly justify Hamas’ slaughter and barbarity. I don’t believe that half of young Americans side with Hamas and actually know who Hamas is, which would have to mean me thinking of half of the U.S. 18-24 year olds as antisemites.
What I think is they’re educationally ignorant, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, so hold up for a second. What I mean is: they just don’t know. They’re parroting slogans, swayed by talk of human rights and decolonization and rising up. But, it’s actually much more than that, much more complicated.
And I get it. Everyone loves a righteous cause, I love a righteous cause. So when it comes time to demonstrate against apartheid, heck yeah they’ll do it!
But when you ask them to justify the claims that Israel is an apartheid state, it gets more complicated. They can only repeat what they’ve been told. Push lightly on the house of cards, and the whole thing collapses.
They are the same young people who shout “From the river to the sea,” thinking they’re calling for some utopian ideal where Palestinians establish a democratic multiethnic state.
But ask them to sign off on Hamas’ charter, read them the articles that call for strict Islamic law, and they recoil. (As usual, by the way, links for all this will be in the show notes.)
Because, again, they just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. But they know they want to support the good guys. And they’ve heard that Hamas, well, they might do some bad stuff, but they’re just fighting colonialism. Right?
So let’s talk about this. Why is it so hard to build an honest narrative in the first place? Especially for our young people?
Older Americans — by which I mean people over 24 — deeply disagree with the young’uns on this issue, by the way. Only 9% of Americans over 65 believe that Hamas’ slaughter on 10/7 was justified.
Scott Galloway, business marketing guru and fellow podcaster, hey Scott, broke it down quite simply. Why do so many young people have such a skewed opinion about Israel and Hamas?:
- Young people are resistant to the views of their elders. That’s always been true — it’s just more amplified now.
- Months before October 7, a majority of Americans under 43 were more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis. Well, that makes a lot of sense, when the history you’re seeing is Israel and the West Bank and around Gaza, and not moments like the YK war, or the Munich massacre, or Maalot. Again, links in the show notes.
- Social media amplifies everything. Every bomb, every casualty, every burned baby. The TikTok algorithm doesn’t care about accuracy or context. It cares about views.
- Young Americans are more diverse than previous generations. Of course they’ll support a struggle that they think boils down to quote, “brown people v. white oppressors,” as they see it.
I think Scott Galloway is right on the money here. And I want to take it a bit further. I’m now going to attempt to get into the head of a well-meaning, good-hearted 20-year-old at Columbia, who wants so badly to be on the right side.
Let’s steel man this. Let’s try to understand why they’ve adopted the narrative that they have.
Despite their seeming support for Hamas, most young people are very anti-Nazi, right? So we’ll use WWII as an example. Imagine it’s 1945.
For 48 hours straight, U.S. and British air forces pound the German city of Dresden with 4,000 tons of high-explosive bombs. In two days, they kill 25,000 civilians and destroy acres of historically and culturally priceless art and architecture.
Now, imagine the whole thing is uploaded to TikTok. You’re 20 years old, and glued to your phone. You see the crying babies. The maimed civilians. The newly homeless, sifting through the rubble for a sign of life. Share after share after share, the outrage goes viral.
How could the Americans do this?! How could they kill so many people in cold blood?! As the 30-second clips make the rounds, no one bothers to ask if they actually show Dresden, or if they’re showing Tokyo, or Yemen, or Syria. (OK, I’m getting a little anachronistic here, but you see my point.)
But okay. Yes, sure, some of these videos are mislabeled, from years ago or from hundreds of miles away. But some are real. And you, you’re watching these gut-wrenching images of dead kids, of destroyed houses, of men in tanks with machine guns.
And you’re a good person. You’re on the side of the little guy. Of humanity, of kids not dying. And maybe you also don’t know soooo much about this conflict.
And I say this without making fun, or being derogatory, but you may have an under-developed, reductive understanding of this entire conflict to begin with. The Israelis are white. The Palestinians are brown. There’s oil in Gaza.
These are outright falsehoods peddled as truth, all manufactured to fit a very simple narrative in line with a specific worldview. And college kids are falling for it hook, line, and sinker.
Listen, if you’re at Columbia, or York, or University of Sydney, you’re probably familiar with what your government did to indigenous Americans, or Canadians, or Australians.
You know all about the history of slavery and race relations in your home country. You’re ashamed of this profound moral stain on your history, as you should be.
But here’s your fatal flaw. Here’s the thing that makes you extra-susceptible to misinformation. You view every country through that same narrow lens. You have no understanding of the fact that most conflicts can’t be shoehorned into your established narrative.
Since you were a kid, you’ve seen Israeli bulldozers destroying houses. Or thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. Or Israeli tanks rolling into the West Bank.
You don’t know anything about how Israel got here, or why it built a fence, or what it offered during multiple peace negotiations, or why it sends teenage soldiers into Jenin.
And if I sound like I’m mocking you, or mocking college kids — I promise, I’m not. I’m not saying they’re dummies. I’m saying they just don’t know. And attempts to change their minds aren’t going to work unless they’re open to acknowledging that.
As one college student at Princeton told me, students are much more interested in having an opinion and then finding supporting facts than learning the history and making up their minds.
Because being on the so-called right side feels so good. And if you’re against quote unquote genocide, why would you entertain any attempts to tell you different, to teach you that there’s maybe more to the story than you thought?
I get it. I was 20 once too. But I, Noam, don’t have the ability right now to sit down and debunk every myth. That’s not my style anyway. To convince the people who think they know it all why they’re so painfully, unbearably wrong in this instance. Because right now, I am in pain. We’re in pain.
And the pain is multifaceted. There’s so much to be sad about. The deaths and kidnapping, not to mention what followed, the propaganda campaigns, the misinformation, the lies. I just can’t do my usual “counter-the-narrative-with-nuance” shtick right now.
Which brings me to Part Two of this episode: “Why I’d Rather Talk About Meta-Narratives Than Recount or Analyze the Facts of October 7th.” Wow, I’m doing great with these chapter titles, huh? Okay, alternate title: “A Devastating Confession.” Yeah, now I’ve got you.
Okay. Here it is. My damning confession, the unburdening of my soul.
I had two goals when I started this podcast.
My first was, if I say so myself, pretty unique in the field of Israel education. Yes, I love Israel. I’m upfront about that. But I also wanted to explore the many angles and perspectives and narratives that make up every single moment of Israel’s history and shape its present.
I’m not interested in relativism, or in moral equivalencies. But I am interested, and firmly believe, that there’s space for multiple, often-conflicting stories.
Which brings me to my second goal, because the two are absolutely related. I wanted to examine how the story of Israel got constructed in the first place. How its details shimmer and shift, depending on where you stand.
I love history, sure. But I’m even more interested in historiography. In pedagogy. In how we teach, and learn, and think about history. How we think about the present and future in light of the past. How we make decisions.
I like to think that I’ve been balancing those two goals pretty well. That I’m unpacking history with the complexity and nuance and ambiguity that it deserves. That I’m not shying away from the ugly parts of the story. That I’m holding and appreciating multiple conflicting truths, even when it hurts.
But here’s my confession. Ready?
I’m cheating. I’m only able to achieve these goals because of one thing. Call it distance. Call it hindsight. Call it time.
It’s so much easier to be nuanced, seemingly dispassionate, analytical, from our comfortable perch in the present, with our knowledge of how it all turned out. But I can’t comment on a story that is changing by the minute. Not with nuance. Not with objectivity. Not with a dispassionate remove.
Maybe we’ll have the answers in five years, in 10, in 50. Some brilliant scholar will write a 700-page book about all the factors that led us to this moment.
They’ll analyze Hamas’ strategy and Netanyahu’s response and Iran’s involvement. They’ll parse exactly how the world’s most legendary military and intelligence services were blindsided by a relatively unimpressive enemy.
They’ll cover, with tragic, aching clarity, every horrific moment of every horrific massacre, and every instance of global antisemitism, and every example of unprecedented Israeli solidarity.
They’ll explain the consequences of settler violence in the West Bank, which is happening even as I’m speaking these words. They’ll write about the people in Gaza who just want to live.
And they’ll be able to do this well, with certainty, with clarity, with insight. Because by then, we’ll know what happens. The infinite, terrifying tangle of possibilities in front of us will have narrowed to their inevitable conclusion.
But we’re not there yet. We don’t know how it ends. And so I can’t just do a normal episode. My brain isn’t there. My heart isn’t there. Hell, I’m lucky if I can muster basic coherence, let alone my usual structured five-fast facts and enduring lessons and nerd corners.
The grief is too raw for objectivity or nuance. The uncertainty is too great. Every day, every moment unleashes a fresh wave of darkness — and sometimes, if we’re lucky, more reasons to hope.
Which brings me to the third thread of this episode: “Hard Truths We All Need To Accept.” And when I say all, I mean all. Jews. Non-Jews. Israelis. Palestinians. The wider Arab world. Anyone who is interested in moving forward, in making progress, in pulling ourselves out of the muck of violence and hatred and fear.
Hard truth number one: like it or not, Israel exists. It is here to stay. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about the fact of its existence, the circumstances of its birth, the policies it enacts.
Your opinion, my opinion, Hamas’s opinion — they’re all irrelevant against the immovable fact that the Jewish state isn’t going anywhere. Egypt learned this lesson in 1979. The PLO, in 1993. Jordan, 1994.
Even Hezbollah, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction (thanks so much, Hezbollah), seems to acknowledge that they don’t stand a chance against Israel’s wrath.
Nasrallah’s speech of November 3rd proved that even Hezbollah doesn’t want to get involved in a regional war. And that’s because underneath their bluster and their genocidal rhetoric, they seem to have learned that Israel isn’t going anywhere.
Number two: in the same vein, neither are the Palestinians. They’re here. They’re not leaving. Their pain, their story, their desire for freedom and self-determination are valid.
And here’s why that’s important. In another podcast I hosted, Professor Moshe Halbertal explained to me the power of acknowledging the validity of someone else’s story. The truth of their trauma and their grief.
“On a personal level, right, someone harms you and that someone has never acknowledged the harm that he did to you. And you feel absolutely, isolated almost to a level of madness, because that harm has no echo in the world. And in particular, no echo in the world of the harming person. And that moment in which the harming party comes and says, I’ve done so and so. I’ve harmed you. It’s affirming. And you might say redeeming the harmed party from the madness of denial, the pain of denial, the pain in which nothing resonates out there as if I’m alone with it.”
One day, hopefully soon, someone is going to have to figure out how we can honor both narratives, how we can change the calculus of the conflict so that it’s no longer a zero-sum game.
That someone isn’t Hamas, by the way. Because Hamas has no interest in building up a self-sufficient, successful Palestinian state. I’ve seen this claim floating around, maybe you have too — with all its aid money, Gaza could have been the Singapore of the Middle East.
I have no clue whether that’s true. But I’ll say one important thing about this comparison. Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had a vision.
He wanted to turn one of the world’s most densely populated areas into a garden city, a sort of utopia where people could live in dignity, with a clear sense of common purpose and direction. And he succeeded, more or less. For two reasons.
The first is Singapore’s investment in education, which Yew called “the most precious resource.” But the second is almost more important. See, Yew was building towards something.
And that’s a critical difference between Gaza and Singapore. Yew’s mission was to build. Hamas’ mission is to destroy. Look at their charter. It’s grounded in the fantasy that they not only can but should destroy their neighbor.
You can’t do anything with an ideology like that. Of course Gaza is a hellhole. It’s run by people who are more interested in destroying their neighbor than in building a better future.
Hard truth number three: the big one, the thing I want us all to remember, the thing that is in some ways maybe the hardest to enact.
Micah Goodman, a critically important public intellectual (love that term), writes that moderation can be a sort of trap. That what we really need to make a change isn’t moderation, but moderate people with immoderate amounts of energy.
What does that mean? Energy for what?
Energy for change. Energy for empathy. Energy for acknowledging the other side. Energy to run after the truth — and to make room for multiple truths, because that’s what it means to be a human being. To live and make peace not just with each other, but with our competing narratives.
We’re coming up to the end of this episode. But this is an unusual episode, recorded in an unusual time, so we’re not going to do the usual shtick of the Five Fast Facts and the enduring lesson as I see it.
But I can give you some reflections — both on everything I’ve said so far, and on the nature of grief. So here it is, the fourth and final section of this episode: “Where We Go From Here.”
Number one: Now, more than ever, it’s essential that we pursue education. Not indoctrination, not propaganda. Real, nuanced, complicated, messy, fact-based history.
Number two: Beware the Dunning-Kruger effect. (Yeah, you didn’t think I was gonna go a whole episode without throwing in at least one psychology term, did you?)
Dunning-Kruger is the fascinating and depressing phenomenon in which the least competent and knowledgeable people are often the loudest and most confident.
So beware people who have the loudest voices, the hottest takes. Someone who knows what they’re talking about will tell you the full story. They’ll include multiple voices. They’ll introduce nuance, gray areas, complexity, ambiguity.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are all good or all bad, because they’re people, and that’s not how people work.
Number three, and I hate this one, but there it is: Israel’s founding fathers had it wrong. Herzl thought Zionism would end antisemitism. Jabotinsky thought it would protect against antisemitism.
It turns out that neither were correct. Zionism didn’t protect the residents of Be’eri and Kfar Azza and Re’im.
It didn’t prevent mobs from chasing down college students, from heading to an airport in Dagestan in search of Jews to kill. Zionism is here to stay, but so is antisemitism. And that makes me sad.
Number four: We’ve talked about this before, but indulge me, because this is one of my favorite ways of conceptualizing Israel’s history.
Imagine a family business. The first generation, they’re the pioneers. They built their business out of nothing and handed it over to their kids.
Those kids are the second generation. They’re the builders. They take their parents’ creation and they turn it into something dazzling. Maybe they expand or franchise. Maybe they add all sorts of new features. Whatever. It’s a metaphor. I’m not a businessman, I’m an educator.
And then comes generation three. The inheritors. The generation that takes it all for granted, that stops appreciating what they have.
As recently as a month ago, I thought we were the Jewish equivalent of Gen 3. Me, my peers, the elder millennials. And you, the Zoomers, the young’uns. But I don’t think that anymore.
October 7th restarted the cycle.
Because inheritors are privileged — exactly like we were just a month ago. They have the luxury of anti-zionism, or post-zionism, or apathy. They have the privilege of not thinking or caring about the Jewish state.
That’s what happens when you feel safe. Assimilated. Integrated. That’s sort of the curse of prosperity, of getting too comfortable.
But the masks are off now. Jews are under threat all over the world, from the furthest reaches of Russia to the Ivy League.
And the Jewish people are facing exactly what the first generation did: the responsibility and privilege and seemingly impossible work of building a new country out of the ashes of the old.
A country that will keep me and my people safe, yes, and honor the rights and the narratives of our neighbors. Because when Hamas is toppled, the people of Gaza will need to rebuild. And I want so badly to believe that we will all take this opportunity to work towards peace.
Number five: I’ve been reflecting lately on the purpose of political Zionism. Which means I’ve been thinking a lot about the First Zionist Congress, in 1897.
Thinking about the night that Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary, quote, “At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”
And that declaration came true. Exactly 50 years later, the UN voted to partition Palestine into two states.
And here’s why that matters. In their own ways, Herzl, and Jabotinsky, and Ben Gurion, and Sarah Aaronsohn, and Chaim Nachman Bialik, and all those other thinkers and poets and dreamers and fighters we’ve talked about on this podcast — they were all working towards the same goal.
They, and all Zionists, were striving to change the existential condition of the Jewish people. To restore Jewish dignity. To turn us from objects to subjects. To give us the power to choose our futures.
For the past 75 years — or, you know what, let’s say 50 years, after the Yom Kippur War – we’ve taken that dignity and power for granted.
We were raised in a world where Jewish dignity was a given. In many ways, we thought we were post-history. Well, as much as I hate to say it, the authors of the haggadah got it right. In every generation, they rise up against us. “She’bichol dor vador omdim aleinu lichaloteinu.”
They’re rising up now. The modern-day purveyors of the blood libel, the new Holocaust deniers, the people who wish, out loud, that we’d just go back to where we came from. Who are too misguided or stupid or malicious to realize that we did that in 1948.
You know, Sartre once wrote that antisemitism defines the Jew. I’ve always hated that. I’ve always thought he was wrong. Just a few months ago, I offered a rebuttal.
Here, I’ll refresh your memory.
What keeps us Jewish? What’s gonna keep the next generation excited about their Judaism? What is our Student Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry? Is it antisemitism? Is it Kanye running his mouth, or attacks on Jews in the street, is it BDS?
I hate thinking this way. Hate it! It’s depressing. It’s reductive. And it does Judaism a disservice.
In late 2021, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, David Suissa, a good friend of mine, wrote an op-ed that I can’t get out of my mind, it’s great. He called it “The best way to fight antisemitism is with happy Jews.”
I’m going to read part of it to you, because it sums up exactly what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve researched this episode:
“Acknowledge that there’ll never be a cure for Jew-hatred and develop a vaccine that will inoculate Jews. This vaccine, it turns out, has been staring us in the face. It is Judaism itself.… The ‘pro-Judaism’ movement needs to make a lot more noise. And I don’t mean just promoting ‘Jewish pride.’ I mean disseminating more knowledge, more love for Judaism and its tradition. We don’t need more education about Jew-hatred; we need more education about Judaism.”
So what does that mean?
When we’re building the next generation of happy Jews, how do we balance the grim stories of antisemitism and persecution with the joy of being Jewish? How do we acknowledge our resilience and resistance without making them the sole focus of the story?
I don’t have an exact answer. There’s no formula — one part happiness to two parts tears. And maybe every Jewish community has to strike a different balance, between learning about the challenges and celebrating the triumphs.
But I urge every single one of us to wrestle with this question.
If you’re Jewish, what keeps us Jewish?
If you’re Jewish, what does our Judaism mean?
And what cause will help guide this generation of Jews to stoke their fires and passions?
OK, hi, back to the present. The present, which has forced me to rethink my position. To craft a rebuttal to my rebuttal.
You’ve heard of the Five Stages of Grief, right? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? They’re not linear. It’s not like you move neatly from one to the next.
It’s more like two steps forward, three steps back. A month in bargaining, then right back to anger. Depression and denial at the same time.
So I don’t think of these as linear, but they are useful. Because they map to what I was feeling, what I still feel, about October 7.
Maybe you remember from the intro to our last episode, on Hamas, that when I heard about the massacre, I couldn’t believe it. AKA, denial. I thought 20 people were dead. Maybe 40. 100. I couldn’t understand the scope. I kept thinking that it had to be wrong.
But I cottoned on eventually. I saw some clips I wish I hadn’t. I read some accounts that will stick with me forever. I saw people denying and denying and denying our grief, or saying that the atrocities were justified.
And then all that denial, all that shock, coalesced into white-hot rage. AKA stage 2, anger. Someone needed to pay. Whose fault was this? Bibi’s? The right, the left? Obama’s? Iran’s? MINE?
Yeah, the mind isn’t really rational when you’re feeling extreme emotions. It’s also quite self-aggrandizing…sorry about that.
Pretty soon, the anger turned to bargaining, stage 3. It’s still kind of there, honestly. Okay, if I just don’t ever talk during synagogue services ever again, we’ll win this war. The Jewish people, the state of Israel, they’ll win.
Okay, if I pray, hard enough, then the soldiers will all be safe. Ok, if I educate enough people, they’ll stop minimizing our pain and tearing down our posters and calling for our deaths, and the hostages will all come home. Etc. etc. etc. I think a lot of us are there right now, honestly.
And so many of us are stuck in #4, depression, too. So many of us, dead. So many of us, tortured. So many people who revel in our pain.
And we’re stuck in an unwinnable war, we’re fighting neighborhood by neighborhood in a vicious, bloody slog, all for a goal that feels impossible to achieve. And in the meantime, no one seems to know the truth.
Who isn’t there, at some point in every day? Seriously. Who isn’t sad and traumatized and grieving right now?
But I’m also working on cultivating the last stage: acceptance. And I’ll tell you how.
I don’t think Sartre is wrong anymore, about the antisemite creating the Jew. And I don’t think Suissa was 100% right. I love Suissa though, just not sure if he’s 100% right.
If we were waiting for a cause, well, we have it now. And the swell of solidarity, of unity, of Jewish and Israeli resilience and pride — it exceeds even my wildest dreams.
Israel and the Jewish people aren’t perfect by a long shot. But even I, who loves the Jewish state and the Jewish people, my people, more than I can adequately describe — even I couldn’t have predicted or imagined just how strong and deep our connection is to one another.
And I’m sad that it took this attack — and all the riots and violence and denials and gaslighting that came after — to get us there.
I hope, I wish, I pray that a few months or years from now, the fog will clear, and I’ll put out a rebuttal to the rebuttal of my rebuttal.
I’ll be able to say, hey, you know what, never mind. Turns out that old French existentialist with the unpronounceable name was wrong after all! It’s not antisemitism that defines us! It’s…. Something else.
But we’re not there yet. Today, we are facing our darkest moment since the Holocaust. The story’s still being written, and none of us know how it will end. The fear hasn’t dissipated, the fog hasn’t cleared, the grief hasn’t gone.
But our pain fuels our unity. Reminds us, for good and for bad, that this is what it means to be a Jew.
That’s why we’re seeing Haredim, the quote unquote ultra-orthodox (hate that term) joining the IDF. Secular news anchors asking their observant guests if they can borrow a kippah as they say the blessing for a ransomed captive on air.
Brothers in Arms, those folks who protested against the Israeli government about judicial reforms? They’re the ones leading the massive volunteer effort in Israel now.
That’s why we’re seeing literal mobs attacking college kids — and why those same college kids are standing up with grace and dignity and fire, with a renewed commitment to their heritage and their people.
All of this is intertwined. It’s only once the Jewish people felt each others’ pain that they realized how deeply we love one another.
It’s only under the threat that we realize how much we yearn to connect to our Judaism and our fellow Jews. So there’s beauty in this moment. But there is also so much grief.
One day it will fade, becoming another scar on our history. But that moment is far away. Right now, the grief and uncertainty are sitting right next to us, leaning on our shoulders, taking our hands.
They’re everywhere, they’re all the time. They have no concept of personal space. They don’t know how to give us a break.
One day, we’ll break free of them. One day, I hope, we’ll be able to say this is the moment that brought us peace — just like we did after the Yom Kippur War.
That is the moment that I’ll really be able to move into acceptance. It’ll stand side by side with pain. With depression, with anger. Humans are complex. Our feelings aren’t linear. Acceptance doesn’t mean we won’t be sad or scarred. It means we’ve found a way to move on.
That day hasn’t come yet, and I don’t think it will for a long, long time. But until then, we have to lean on each other. We have to be each other’s support.
And we have to keep showing up and choosing to educate, to learn, to build. To be moderates with immoderate energy. To keep reinforcing the slogan: Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live.
The people of Israel live. We live, because we choose life. We choose to build. We rebuilt ourselves from the ashes of the Holocaust, after the expulsion of nearly a million Jews from Muslim lands.
We built thousands of years of culture and literature and art even amidst persecution and exile. Hell, we built a chunk of the basis of Western civilization. So we will not only live through this — we will live, period. As we always have. As we always will.