OpinionIsrael at War

Israel isn’t moving on

Jews had come to assume that the Holocaust would “never again” happen; now we know that if it could, it would

A man whose father was murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 searches the rubble of his home for family mementos in Kibbutz Be'eri, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Chen Schimmel/Flash90.
A man whose father was murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 searches the rubble of his home for family mementos in Kibbutz Be'eri, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Chen Schimmel/Flash90.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, PhD is the editor and publisher of the Intermountain Jewish News, for which he has been writing award-winning commentary for over 50 years. His latest book is Across the Expanse of Jewish Thought.

Israel isn’t moving on. Nor are the Jewish people. Oct. 7 is like July 4: fixed in consciousness. It changed Jews inside and outside of Israel forever.

I’m seeing double. So much flies by, but one hammer does not move: Oct. 7. I’m seeing the current take on Israel by the U.N., by Joe Biden, by the media, in the latest twists and turns on what Israel did or didn’t do, or should or shouldn’t do. None of this budges the anchor: Oct. 7. 

It seems that politicians and commentators think that because so many have died in Gaza that Israel will have to reevaluate. My guess is that the Israeli military doesn’t need the advice, as it reevaluates countless times daily; but it’s a pragmatic, strategic reevaluation, no doubt including ways to reduce both Israeli and civilian casualties in Gaza. But it is not a reevaluation of purpose. For that, there is a fixed reality: Oct. 7. 

It can no longer be flexibly modulated, let alone extirpated, just because of successes or failures in the prosecution of the war against Hamas.

I’m searching for an analogy. Britain at Dunkirk? It was a devastating setback, but it didn’t change anything basic. Britain was not going to adjust its goal against Nazism, no matter what.

So, we have a new Israel.

It and not reactions to it around the world is driving the future.

A new Israel: Not taking its existence for granted, not seeing redemption in a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia (if it comes), not tearing itself apart over judicial reform or anything else, not putting aside its grief over its fallen heroes; mostly, though, not able to set aside the reality of the inhuman depths to which Hamas and its fellow travelers sink to express their unbridled hatred of Israel and Jews.

There is a psychology to being hated. It hasn’t torn so deeply into the Jewish psyche since the Holocaust, which, Jews had come to assume, would “never again” happen. Now we know that if it could, it would.

That’s what Oct. 7 means to the Israeli psyche and the Jewish people. Whether the current Israeli administration stays in power, whether the U.N. stays hostile to Israel, whether Biden stays friendly to Israel, whether the Houthis or Hezbollah erupt against Israel, whether peace falls upon the land; no matter what, the meaning of Oct. 7 will not change.

“How are you?” I, like everyone else, am asked routinely. Maybe I say “I’m fine” out of habit, but I am not fine. Today, few Jews I know are fine.

Because of Oct. 7.

Somehow, even the hypocrisy doesn’t rattle us over much. Many more killed by Ukraine in its defensive war than by Israel in its; many millions killed, injured or exiled by Assad in Syria in its civil war, without protest by progressives. Selective outrage. Even so, Oct. 7 trumps the hypocrisy as the sobering Jewish reality of the age.

When we see Claudine Gay of Harvard and her two fellow presidents fumbling around when asked about the genocide of Jews, it matters. It shocks. But not nearly as much as Oct. 7.

Remember Israel’s 75th birthday? Remember all the commentators saying that in ancient Israel no independent Jewish state lasted longer? Remember all the predictions of Israel’s internal dissolution? Remember the perverse joy taken by Israel’s enemies at what they saw as the country’s inevitable collapse? All this was barely over half a year ago. No one remembers now. Not after Oct. 7.

The Talmud says that after the destruction of the Second Temple only children and fools prophesy. I do not wish to be counted a fool. I don’t know how Simchat Torah will be celebrated next year. I do not know what will happen tomorrow. But I do know what is happening today.

Nothing is the same. A new and pervasive reality suffuses everything that Jews say and do. A new power suffuses their prayers. A new fear, a new hope, a new terror, a new gratitude are all inescapable. Perhaps even a new denial. A pain or fate too deep to face. Either way, it all stems from the utterly unexpected vulnerability of Oct. 7 and the utterly unspeakable realities that occurred that day.

Abba Eban used to refer to “Auschwitz borders.” Enemies of Israel didn’t care. Even many friends of Israel thought this overwrought. Not now. 

Israel isn’t moving on. Neither are the Jewish people.

Originally published by Intermountain Jewish News.

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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