There’s a war on. But Israelis are not the only ones in the fight for morality and civilization.
If you are reading this from Israel, you are in this war in a way that is clear. We wish you strength, courage, and love. When people ask me whether I have family in Israel — implying, why else would I be so upset? — I now say, “Yes — I have 9 million family members there.” We are with you.
If you’re reading this from anywhere else in the world, then you need to know: You are also in this war. This is a world war, and Israel is just one of its theaters. It is the battle between good and evil, enlightenment and barbarity.
It’s happening “over there,” but it’s not only happening to “them.” Whether you know people in the IDF or not; whether you know people killed in battle or not; whether you know any of the 1,300 Israelis who were massacred — it doesn’t matter. If you’ve ever professed to care about the Jews, if you’re on the side of good and you condemn evil, now is the time to show it. There is no “Yes, but.” There can be no moral equivocation or equivalence.
Let’s just say those words again, words we never could have imagined saying, words we were never supposed to say again: 1,300 Israelis, nearly all of them Jews, have been slaughtered. Let this fill you with rage and with sorrow. Let it create a fire in your belly, and a pit in your stomach. Stop appending the words Zichrono L’vracha — May their memory be for a blessing — after their names. They are martyrs, killed intentionally because they were Jewish. Instead use Hashem Yikom Damam: May God avenge their blood.
When I’ve said this to friends over the past few days, instinctively I start wagging my finger in their faces. There is no sitting on the sidelines. The luxury of fearing that speaking up will mean losing friends, alienating “allies,” getting fired, getting expelled, being uncomfortable, hurting people’s feelings — all that is over.
If this is not the moment that moves you to defend Israel and the Jews, there never will be one. They killed Jewish babies. Entire Jewish families. Pregnant women. Holocaust survivors. They celebrated their deaths, publicly. And they’re not giving up — every rocket shot into Israel, every terrorist infiltration, is intended to target more civilians, to add to the slaughter.
But here’s one advantage on our side: The events of October 7 were so monstrous and depraved that you don’t need to know anything about Israel or the conflict to be able to condemn them. You don’t need to be Jewish, you don’t need to know any history. Your politics don’t matter. You don’t even need to care about Jews, though it would be great if you did.
You either condemn evil, or you abet it.
Remember the Holocaust? The pogroms? The Inquisition? The massacres of Jews that accompanied the Crusades? Ever wondered how you’d have acted if you were around when those things were happening? This is your opportunity to answer that question.
It’s simple to understand what doing your part looks like in Israel. It looks like military service, but also volunteer service. The countless acts of ordinary and extraordinary generosity multiply each day: packing and cooking food for soldiers; babysitting the kids of reservists and taking care of their pets; cleaning out communal bomb shelters; milking the cows of murdered kibbutzniks. Kashering new kitchens in the middle of the night so they can start cooking food for soldiers as soon as possible. Marrying couples on army bases before they go into battle. Being the person in town with the (rare) swimming pool who sets up an hourly schedule so dozens and dozens of kids can come swim each day. And it looks like the bakery in the Arab village across the street from my father-in-law’s moshav in the Jezreel Valley, delivering gifts of food to the psychologists, educators, government workers, and defense-division staff who are working in the municipal offices 24/7. All of Israel is under threat, and all of Israel is engaged in the battle.
We must have that same mentality in the United States and beyond.
The reason is simple: How dare we not? How dare we, as Jews or simply as people who say we believe in good and detest evil — how dare we not engage in any way we can? How dare we say it’s okay for our friends’ children to die in battle, or be beheaded or burned alive, but, you know, it’s kind of uncomfortable for me to say something about Israel in mixed company? And how dare we say that destroying our enemies is against Jewish values? Read the Torah.
Every person I know in Israel has either been called up to serve or has relatives who have been called up. In the Maimonides Fund’s Israel office alone, people have been called up to the paratroopers, to combat medical units, to the unit that informs families when their loved ones have been killed. I just watched a video (20 times) of one of my colleagues leading 100 of his fellow Home Front Command soldiers in song from a shelter on their base: Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od, v’ha’ikar lo l’fached klal: The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the important thing is to be not afraid. A rabbi I know in Israel has seven sons serving in the IDF right now.
They are all risking everything, and they are all at risk. They are us. We are them.
Each and every one of us is commanded, therefore, to do our part, whatever that looks like. Whatever asset you can deploy — not just money but also your voice, your network — deploy. No more shyness, no more apathy, no more embarrassment. No more fear of consequences. No moral confusion, no moral equivalence. No “Yes, but.” Show up for the Jewish people or get out of the way. Speak up for the side of good, or abet the side of evil. Speak up for the side of the slaughtered, or strengthen the hands of those who slaughtered them.
What does that look like? Here are some ideas.
Don’t hide your pain: When people ask you how you are, tell them.
Don’t hide your Jewishness: Wear it with pride. Not because we are victims, but because we are strong. Because we are resilient. Because our history is littered with death, with massacres just like this, which we remember, constantly, to remind us always to choose life. The Jewish people has a mission, a purpose, and is a light in the world. In every generation they rise up to destroy us. We persevere.
Make sure to thank those writing good statements, doing good things. Thank your elected officials. Thank Biden, thank Blinken. Thank your rabbi, holding everyone’s pain and still leading services. Thank the dean or the administrator or teacher who shows kindness to your kid, the non-Jewish friends who send you notes or invite you to dinner. The coworker who finally tells you that she’s Jewish, and the non-Jewish one who comes by to express his support. We need all of these good people in the fight.
And when you encounter anyone you know — or even those you don’t know — failing this most basic of moral tests, call them out. Every time. And repeatedly.
All the examples that follow below are based on real, recent experiences.
Your 10th-grader’s English-literature teacher decides to hold a conversation “on the conflict” on Tuesday? No — call the head of school immediately, and pull your kid out of class if the school allows it to happen. Your alma mater or the organization you support issues a statement lamenting “loss of life” (the passive voice being a dead giveaway for pandering, quivering pusillanimity) or failing to differentiate between deaths caused by murderous barbarians and those from justified military retaliation — deaths that Israel is trying to avoid and Hamas is trying to increase? No — make a call, withdraw your financial support, organize others to do the same. If they respond “But we’re a diverse, global community,” ask them what part of the institution’s values welcomes members of the community who condone beheadings, rape, torture, murder, and kidnapping. Ask them exactly what their statement is meant to show support for, and if the decapitation of Jewish babies is on that list. If their next statement is bad, too, complain again.
And if you don’t get the answer you want, quit. Quit your friends, quit your institutions. Why would you ever want to be affiliated with people or institutions that cannot condemn barbarism? That condemn mistreatment of everyone but the Jews? That equivocate about acts that are making soldiers, government officials, reporters and cameramen retch or weep onscreen? Quit, and then spread the word. Saying they should be ashamed of themselves is the understatement of the century.
If you are a donor, a philanthropist, a foundation: Hold all the recipients of your funds accountable. If they fail this most basic of moral tests, leave them forever. But make sure they know why.
Lastly, for Jewish communal professionals, for Jewish leaders: This is literally what we’ve been put on earth to do. Respond to the call to service. Our job is to protect the Jewish people, strengthen the Jewish people, care for the Jewish people, work for a thriving Jewish future. That means unequivocally condemning the slaughter of Jews and defending Israel’s duty to defend itself and destroy Hamas.
Most of you know that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, and that Israel was created to be a refuge from precisely this kind of slaughter — and a place that would fight back and destroy our enemies when it occurred. Many of you have also struggled with how “controversial” Israel is among your constituents, some of whom may even declare themselves to be “anti-Zionist,” not that they likely understand the implications of that term. (This massacre, by the way, is precisely those implications come to life.) You are now called to make a choice. Either coddle people with ideas that lead to Jewish destruction, or oppose them and call them out. Try to explain how you can be both devastated by Jewish slaughter and concerned for Palestinian civilians, but if you have the latter without the former you are a traitor to your people. And do not compromise, even one whit, in how your organization responds to slaughter. If your numbers go down, so be it — why would you want anyone who cannot meet this most basic standard of morality to be affiliated with your organization?
There is nothing political in what happened last week; there’s only barbarism. Jewish communal professionals must demonstrate unequivocal moral clarity in this moment, or they do not deserve to stay in their jobs.
This is not “cancellation.” Cancellation is about listening to rumors, finding people guilty with no due process, making mountains out of molehills, inventing offense where none was intended, firing people for using the wrong word. Cancellation is about letting a hypersensitive class of infants who have no ability to discuss differences of opinion make your moral decisions for you.
This is not that. This is holding people accountable for condoning heinous, explicit, intentional acts of Jew-hatred.
If you think this is hard now, just wait — it will get harder. As reports from Gaza begin to dominate the discourse, it will get harder to remind people of how this started, or why it is happening. And who is responsible for the fact that there are noncombatants in a war zone. Israel evacuates its citizens who are in danger; Hamas traps them in their homes. If you do not act now, it will be harder to act later. And you will need to stand your ground then, too.
At the same time, this is very simple. Everything you have ever been taught requires you to stand up for the slaughtered, in whatever way you can.
This is your Hineni moment.
As we just read in this week’s parsha, Bereishit, your brother’s blood is crying out to you. Answer the call.
This article was published on October 19, 2023.