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OpinionIsrael at War

Thoughts and observations as the war continues

In the midst of the darkness, we, as a people, are emanating light.

Two new Torah scrolls have been dedicated to the memory of Israeli civilians and soldiers killed in the Oct 7 Hamas terrorist attacks and ongoing war, in addition to  the hostages being held in Gaza, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Two new Torah scrolls have been dedicated to the memory of Israeli civilians and soldiers killed in the Oct 7 Hamas terrorist attacks and ongoing war, in addition to the hostages being held in Gaza, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Rabbi Avi Weiss. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Bayit, and founder and co-founder, respectively, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools.He is a longtime activist for Israel, Jewish causes and human rights.

It has been a great zechut (“merit”) to be in Israel these months during “Operation Swords of Iron.” Yes, a zechut, as part of the dream of Israel is being here not only in the good times but the bad times.

Dreams have their ups and their downs. Ultimately, we believe—we know, we just know—that good will prevail, and Israel will be victorious.

As the war grinds on, I offer some humble thoughts and observations.

UNITY:

For years many have asked: What is a cause that would unite us as we were united in the movement to free Soviet Jewry? In the darkness of this war, we are living the answer. Jews with different political agendas and religious leanings have come together as never before, standing with Israel.

The unity is reactive, emerging as it has in response to the greatest assault against our peoplehood since the Holocaust. Nothing reactive endures and so the prayer that it becomes a proactive unity after the war is won.

SHOWING UP:

Today, Jews worldwide are wearing an army uniform. For hundreds of thousands in Israel, it’s the Israel Defense Forces’ green fatigues. For Jews in the Diaspora, it’s the blue-and-white Israeli flags waved by hundreds of thousands before the seat of government in Washington, D.C.; indeed, in cities throughout the world. For others, it’s calling friends and family in Israel to express support, or sending food and gear to IDF soldiers, or opening homes to Israeli residents of the south and north who seek shelter.

In the midst of the darkness, we, as a people, are emanating light. We are all on our own front, writing the illuminating manual on endless giving.

INVINCIBILITY:

Just a few months ago, we were commemorating the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In many of those 50th-anniversary ceremonies, there was an undertone of invincibility. We (and much of the world) thought Israel was invincible and could never be taken by surprise again.

But feeling invincible is the pathway to disaster. Now we see that we, like all people, are vulnerable. And recognizing vulnerability—even as we understand the strength of the enemy while still believing in our power—is, with the help of God, the pathway to victory.

TRUST AND VERIFY:

The United States has stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel. In the spirit of hakarat hatov, “acknowledging the good,” we say: “Thank you, thank you!” The United States and its president, Joe Biden, deserve our deepest gratitude.

Still, we wonder, will the United States pressure Israel as it did on the eve of the Yom Kippur War? Israel’s bowing to that pressure led to catastrophe. As the rabbis say, kabdeihu ve’chashdeihu—“give credit with caution”—a motto echoed by President Ronald Reagan, “Trust and Verify.”

WE ARE ALL UNDER ATTACK:

The goal of Hamas on Oct. 7 was not only to murder Israelis but attack Jews; forever shattering the canard that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. If Hamas could have, they would have savagely murdered every Jew of all ages—man, woman, senior and child. We must feel, as the Passover Haggadah proclaims, as if we were personally butchered.

And so, we must beware of anyone in the streets of New York and Los Angeles or on college campuses who support Hamas. Such support poses an imminent threat to every Jew. Hamas’s slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is not simply a political cry; it is a genocidal slogan calling for wiping out a people from a land, which can inspire attacks. Words can lead to fatal deeds.

INTELLIGENTSIA:

Too often, those who seem to have the best academic credentials to know don’t know. During World War II and the Holocaust, many in the intelligentsia—professors, elite composers and artists—argued the righteousness and ethical superiority of the Third Reich. Today, too, elite faculty on North American college campuses can be heard justifying Hamas’s murders of Jews.

We must find the courage to speak truth to power, declaring for one and all to hear: “The emperor has no clothes.”

FIGHTING ANTI-SEMITISM:

It’s not simple to be a minority voice and speak up against anti-Semites. Many Jews are scared and concerned that fighting anti-Semitism will attract more attention to the Jewish community, thus inspiring more anti-Semitism.

The reverse is true. The more we speak out, the stronger we are; by showing strength, we are more protected rather than rendered vulnerable.

COPING WITH FEAR:

These days, many Jews are afraid. There is no shame in feeling fear as fear is a feeling, and feelings are neither right nor wrong; they just are. While we cannot control what we feel, we can control how we act. Counterintuitively, if we act and do and stand up for Israel, our fear will dissipate.

Today, more than ever, on campuses throughout America, students should openly wear their kippahs and chai necklaces, and make sure that their organizations proudly display Israeli flags on their campus buildings. Day schools should remain open, never bowing to threats. Jewish Community Centers and synagogues should be more welcoming than ever before. Yes, we must take precautions, working with police and our own Community Security Services. But we dare not cower to fear. Doing so grants victory to the enemy.

REMEMBERING OUR SOLDIERS:

During the war, my wife Toby and I have been inspired by so many, but none like our precious soldiers; may they all stay safe and come home in peace. Tragically, there have been many funerals—too many shiva homes where parents are mourning their heroic sons and daughters. The term used to describe an IDF soldier killed is chayal nafal, a “fallen soldier.”

In the same breath, those fallen soldiers have ascended, reaching higher and higher as they gave their lives for Israel. Much like police and firefighters in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 who did not die falling but climbing the Twin Towers to save the innocent, IDF soldiers have done the same. They are soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the State—masaru nafsham al haganat ha’aretz.

Today, Jews in Israel and all over the world are not studying history, but living history: the history of barbaric attacks against our people, when Jews were slaughtered, decapitated, raped, tortured and taken hostage simply because they were Jews. This time, however, there is a difference. Today, there is a State of Israel, an IDF, and Jews and people of moral conscience everywhere who will never again be guilty of the sin of the silence that prevailed during the Shoah.

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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