A tragic destiny?

It may be that it is the fate of the Jewish people to go through this again and again, but we can still rebel against it.

"The Third of May" oil on canvas painting by Francisco de Goya, 1810. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
"The Third of May" oil on canvas painting by Francisco de Goya, 1810. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Over the four months since Oct. 7, anyone working in Jewish media has been going all-out, and I am no exception. Our ordeal has been far less onerous, of course, than that of IDF soldiers and others directly involved in the Israel-Hamas war. But the crush of events has tended to overwhelm everything, including the emotional impact of the events themselves. The Oct. 7 massacre, the war that followed, and the eruption of antisemitism that accompanied both were things that I had to report on and analyze. But I had not really felt them. There simply wasn’t time.

A few days ago, it all hit me. First, it took the form of practical terrors: Israel is fighting with strong U.S. support, but how long will it be before the Biden administration snaps? Polls indicate that the Muslim-American community is largely fine with Hamas’s atrocities. The Democratic Party is leaning into the burgeoning genocidal antisemitism of its progressive base and the professoriate regime that created and empowers it. Younger voters appear to be perfectly sanguine about this. Killing Jews has become trendy—just another way to get likes on TikTok and Instagram. With Biden running for reelection, none of this bodes well for us.

I could not escape the thought that the Passover Haggadah was right: “Not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us; but in every generation, they rise against us to destroy us.” B’kol dor v’dor

This was enough to provoke infinite anxieties. There are, after all, so many more of them than there are of us.

But I was also forced to ask a still more daunting question, one that left me deeply disturbed: What does all this say about the historical fate of the Jewish people?

This is not just a question for us, but also the vast and often cruel non-Jewish world. We are entitled to ask the world: Are we destined to do this forever? How much of our blood will you require before you are satisfied; before you finally leave us alone? Will there come a time when you have finally had enough? Give us a date and a number, so at least we’ll know when we’re getting close.

I do not doubt that the world will have no answers to these questions. It likely knows that there is no date and no number. It intends to keep doing this forever.

Beset by such thoughts, I spoke to a friend of mine who grew up in Sderot, the southern Israeli city ravaged on Oct. 7. Stoically, she told me that none of this should be a surprise. It is the same thing that has always happened. There have been pogroms and massacres in the past and there will be more in the future. They have occurred before and they will occur again. We can do what we can, but we cannot and should not expect better of the world.

If she is right—and perhaps this troubles me more than anything else—then we are faced with a terrible irony: It is possible that the Jews, a deeply messianic people, ultimately have a tragic destiny.

I mean tragic in the sense of the suffering that comes from the inescapability of fate. Perhaps it has been decreed from the beginning that we will be buffeted by the world until the world ends. Perhaps, like my friend, we should accept that things will not get better. In every generation, we are going to do this again.

If this is so, then it is worth remembering that the Jews are not unique. It is entirely possible that humanity itself has a tragic destiny. Human history is a mosaic of war and atrocity. Many peoples have ravaged many other peoples. Perhaps this too will not change. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “A generation goes and a generation comes, and the earth stands forever. … What was is what will be and what was done is what will be done and there is nothing new under the sun.” We may take some comfort in the fact that at least we are still here. The same cannot be said of many other peoples.

My friend did offer some words of comfort: The best response to our enemies, she said, is to ensure that we not only survive but also thrive. We should live a good life despite everything, and thus frustrate our enemies’ designs.

She is, of course, partially correct. I certainly believe that, even if the threat is perpetual, we can ameliorate the worst of it through activism and self-defense. Certainly, we should work to ensure that the cost of rising against us is higher than the sadistic dividends our enemies receive by doing so.

I am not sure, however, that this is quite enough. The Jewish people may have a tragic destiny, but one can accept tragedy and still rebel against it. Even if it is futile to do so, we have the right to demand that the world cease and desist. We can continue to judge and denounce its satanic cruelty. We can defy tragedy and fate, if only by denying the world the satisfaction of our acquiescence. We can say a resounding “no” to the world as it is. In such defiance lies the revolt and the struggle. Perhaps they are perpetual, but they are worth fighting for.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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