Today’s blog is not my own. I need a break from my own thoughts and my own words.
I have nothing new or unique to offer on Day 21 of this war, on the eve of the third sabbath since Oct 7th.
I have always leaned hard on the poets, musicians, and philosophers when things get tough. They are torchbearers of larger truths. I was only very recently introduced to Dr. Micha Goodman, an Israel-American philosopher. His thinking has expanded my consciousness, offered historical context, and given me hope and strength during an otherwise impossible time. (Thanks, Hadar).
What follows is an excerpt from a recent conversation he had with Amanda Borschel-Dan. I highly recommend listening to or reading the whole interview on The Times of Israel. For the Hebrew speakers out there I highly recommend listening to “Regards from Kishinev.” This blew my mind. My family is from Kishinev. My great-grandmother and great-grandfather and their whole families lived, fought, and died through that pogrom. I will try to find or create an English translation.
You know how some people are so disoriented socially that they have no idea what other people feel about them and think about them? Like, some people are not funny and they think they’re funny. Some people are not smart, but they think they’re smart. I think we also have that collectively: we thought we were scary. We thought that our neighbors in this tough neighborhood were afraid of us. Because the only thing that really was supposed to protect Nahal Oz, Kfar Aza, Ofakim, Sderot, is not that fence that was torn down with a tractor. It was the fact that they’ll never dare to mess with us, that if they touch the fence, all hell will break loose.
What we’ve learned is that we are disoriented. Just like the person who thinks he’s funny, but he’s not. Israel thought it was scary, but it’s not. Here’s maybe my best take at this moment — when we speak about our international relationships, there are two emotions we have to be thinking about: love and fear. We want love. We want Western civilization to love us. We want Bono to sing songs about us. We want Madonna to share stories on Instagram, about how much she admires us and loves us. That’s what we want. In the West, we want to be loved.
In the Middle East, we don’t want to be loved. We want to be feared. It’s a different emotion. We want that Hezbollah will have a panic attack when they think about the Israeli Defense Forces. We want Iran to shiver when it thinks about the possibility of a military interaction with Israel. We want the Middle East to be in fear of us.
We want two things. We want love and we want fear. We want love from the West. We want fear from the Middle East. But here’s the problem, Amanda. There is a zero-sum game between these emotions because here’s how it goes: Everything that we are going to do to restore the fear is going to erode the love. Everything we do that will guarantee that the Middle East is afraid of Israelis, of these crazy, unpredictable Israelis, everything we do in order to build that myth back again is going to make people in the West not like us, not love us.
The other way around, if we try to keep the West loving us and writing songs about us, we will not restore the fear of the Middle East from us. So it’s a zero-sum game. If people are asking questions about what they can do to help us, here’s what you can do: Break the zero-sum game.
Maybe the myth was just like we thought, we are not united, and we are also waking up to realize that we thought, it was “just” Hamas, but it’s not. They are united. Hamas is just a forefront of Iran. It’s one large organic monster. It’s one.
We weren’t attacked by a local militia. We were attacked by the Persian Empire. We were attacked by Iran. Just like we realize that we are all connected to each other much more than we ever imagined, we realize we’re connected to each other. We have to also realize that they are also connected. They are also one axis of evil. So if you think it’s just us versus Hamas, it’s “just” Hamas. It’s not Hamas — it’s a large, powerful, sophisticated network of military forces that are training and were designed to bring Israel down.
But they miscalculated. They miscalculated because I think they were looking at Israel the past eight months, and they saw two things. They saw America distancing itself from Israel, and they saw Israel collapsing from within. They thought: “Hey, if we attack them, they’re not united, and America’s not behind them.”
America stands with Israel, and Israel is connected and united more than ever. We thought that they were weak. We miscalculated. They thought that we were alone. Now they’re the ones who miscalculated. The price they are going to pay for their miscalculation is a price that is going to be so loud and so clear that no one in the Middle East will ever want to pay that price.
How will we know that we won? What does victory look like? I’ll tell you when people will be willing to go back to Kfar Aza, back to Be’eri, back to Nahal Oz, back to Nir Oz, back to Nir Am, back to Sderot, these amazing Israelis going back to live in those communities, raising their children in their communities. I know of many Israelis who are right now saying: “The day after the war we are going to go and settle Otef Aza,” the area surrounding Gaza. That will be the testimony of victory. People will be willing to raise their children around Gaza again. They will be willing to do that and to live there only if they know that there is a barrier that’s protecting them. The barrier is not our cameras, it’s not the fence. It’s a barrier of fear. The fear of Hamas, the fear of our enemies never to pull a Kishinev on us again.
…It is important that all the lovers of Israel know, we’re not the same Israelis that we were before the seventh of October, before Simchat Torah.
This is what happened to us: For 12 hours, between 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening — roughly 12 hours — the State of Israel didn’t exist in the area between Sderot and Alumim, in the area that surrounds Gaza. The State of Israel wasn’t there. It wasn’t there to protect the civilians who were massacred and butchered in their homes. I hope the people who are listening to us know what happened in Be’eri and never, ever forget what happened in Be’eri and in Nahal Oz, never forget what happened there. The State of Israel wasn’t there to protect them. They were slaughtered, they were butchered.
I would say those 12 hours are a black hole in Israeli history. Officially, the State of Israel exists. Officially, it happened, the pogrom happened in the land where Israel, where Jews are sovereign — officially. But actually, for 12 hours, there was a black hole of Jewish sovereignty. There was a black hole for 12 hours, no state, no one to protect us between Alumim and Sderot, no one was there.
In the long term, that will change us. I’ll tell you why it will change us. The founding fathers and mothers of the State of Israel knew that Israel is not to be taken for granted, knew that Jewish sovereignty should not be trivialized. The reason why they knew it can’t be taken for granted was because they were there in a world where Jews didn’t have a state. They were there when Jews had a state. They knew that this should not be taken for granted.
What happens to us is that after a while and that’s true about everything in life, the most amazing miracles become normalized and everything gets taken for granted. What happens is that the second generation kind of still knows it’s a miracle and we can’t mess this up. The third generation forgets and the fourth generation starts screwing things up because it takes everything for granted.
We just got a text message from Jewish history. Jewish history says hello. Jewish history showed us this is how it looks like, those 12 hours, this is how it looks like when Jews don’t have a state. We saw how it looks, it looks like a Kishinev. So here, Jewish history called us up and said, hello, this is a reminder.
Now we have the perspective that the founding fathers and mothers of Israel have. We saw what it looks like without a state. We know what it looks like with a state. We will never take our sovereignty for granted. Actually, I’m exaggerating, we will, in a generation or two, will forget. But we just now gained a few years, maybe decades, where we will know that we don’t mess. We can’t do what we’ve been doing for the past eight months — weakening this important historic project called Zionism. We can’t do that. We got a reminder from Jewish history that now we know what the founding fathers and mothers knew, and we’ve forgotten that the alternative to Israel is Kishinev. And that is why there is no alternative. President Biden quoted [prime minister] Golda Meir. We actually have nowhere else to go.
Click here to read more from Dr. Micha Goodman.