I have a secret that I’ve never told anyone before. For more than 20 years, it’s been too embarrassing and traumatic to revisit. But the time has come to share the story. Believe it or not, the whole situation arose because I was completing a college assignment.
I studied at the University of Rhode Island and, for the most part, loved every minute of it. The education was classically liberal, although it seemed that the student body was not as politically motivated as, say, the Ivy League schools.
In my senior year, I took a communications course with a professor who was also an AM radio host. One of our assignments was to call into a talk show. I never got up the gumption to make the call before I graduated. I was sure I’d make a fool of myself. If only I had listened to my gut.
My first weeks in the workforce were in the fall of 2001, when the worst terror attack on American soil occurred on Sept. 11. I can’t recall why I was listening to an AM show at that time; it was never part of my routine. Emotions must have been running high because not only did I find myself listening but even calling into one show.
The conversation was about how the United States needed to have a strong military response to the attacks that we’d just endured. All of the callers were touting the same line. I couldn’t take it. I didn’t think that war was the answer under any circumstances, and I felt someone had to say so.
When I hung up, I felt pretty good about myself, at least for a few moments. Then, one after another, callers to the show denounced me. They yelled and screamed that I was an immature, bleeding-heart liberal. And at that time, I was. I promptly turned off the radio, feeling miserable.
The person I was in those days no longer exists. The change was a slow progress. But the last bits of the liberalism I clung to ceased to exist on Oct. 7—the worst terror attack on Israeli soil.
The Gaza war has been eye-opening in many troubling ways. The first is that the Jewish people have enemies that will stop at nothing to not only destroy Israel but to kill all of us indiscriminately. The reports of Oct. 7 make that crystal clear. But this war has also elucidated how many enemies we have worldwide, and it feels like the number keeps growing daily.
During my college years, I used to believe that the world was split into two groups—those who love the movie “Groundhog Day” and those who hate it. (I know, it’s hard to believe there’s anyone who dislikes “Groundhog Day.”) While this segmentation still has some currency, it seems that the war Israel has been thrust into is polarizing the world into two much more significant groups: those who believe that terrorism is always wrong and those who will justify it, no matter what.
Judaism is leading the fight against the justification of terrorism. The underpinnings of our tradition represent an openness to everyone—and that’s what Israel is—a country welcoming to all people from all religions.
Islam, specifically the radical sect, is focused on the exact opposite goal. There is no desire to live in peace with people of other faiths. Their goal is world domination. That means the war that’s being waged extends well beyond Gaza.
There are those in the West who are doing everything they can to keep this war from becoming a global conflict. But they have their heads in the sand. Just look around at the terror incidents happening all over Europe. These and even more so, the philosophies behind them, must be combated. All viewpoints are not equal. And those who demand the subjugation or elimination of the other must be stopped.
As much as it shocks me to realize and report this, I now know that my disposition has become that of the callers from that AM talk show who were screaming at my former self. Looking back, I don’t even recognize the person I used to be. I was naive to think that war is never the answer. But when you are daily staring down the barrel of a gun, as we are in Israel, you have no choice. It’s us or them.