Of all the immediate reactions by Jewish thinkers to the massacres of October 7, was there anything more pathetic — I mean this in both the pitiable and derisive sense of the word — than the one from Joshua Leifer, a contributing editor for the far-Left publication Jewish Currents?

“The loss, the tragedy — incomprehensible,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on October 8.

Are these not the values that led us to oppose the cruel siege of Gaza? To resist the brutalities of the occupation? To oppose apartheid? Where are these values when Israeli children are held hostage, families wiped out, corpses violated before cheering crowds?

People who were supposed to have been interlocutors, partners in some type of common conversation, self-professed human rights defenders, even would-be colleagues are celebrating and glorifying unspeakable acts that violate the most basic elements of human life. I feel sick.

Now is a time to mourn lives, and, against all odds, keep our faith in the possibility of a better future for all people, Palestinians and Israelis alike. We must not give up on that faith, no matter what, for if we lose that faith, everything is lost.

I feel for Leifer. Sort of. For so many earnest Jewish idealists who were sure they could blend their two faiths — one Jewish and particularistic, the other leftist and universal — the events of October 7 were a brutal awakening. What happened to all those Palestinian peace partners with whom they had dialogued at conferences while jointly denouncing the evils of Israeli policy? Where was the human reciprocity, the sense of fellow feeling, after progressive Jews had given their all to the cause of ending the occupation? How did this common march to justice and equity end up in the blood orgy unleashed on teenagers at a rave, babies on a kibbutz, families at breakfast?

It used to be that Jewish liberals got mugged by reality, to borrow Irving Kristol’s memorable phrase. Now, Jewish progressives are being massacred by it, if only metaphorically. 

And yet, there was always something inescapably ugly about the way in which Leifer’s camp — the post- or anti-Zionist Jewish Left — conducted itself these past 20-odd years. Israel deserved honest, even stringent criticism from a loyal opposition. They supplied calumnies. Israel could have benefited from a Jewish Left that opposed its policies but loved the state. They despised the policies, abandoned the state, and mainstreamed anti-Zionism. Like Lenin’s “useful idiots” of old, they allowed themselves and their Jewishness to provide moral cover to outright antisemitism.

There was also something unforgivably stupid about Leifer’s camp. When Leifer says the massacres are “incomprehensible,” how can he possibly mean it? Was the Dolphinarium massacre not enough to make crystal clear what Hamas was about, what it intended, how it operated? What about the Netanya Passover massacre? Nothing Hamas did on October 7 had not been loudly presaged in scores of previous acts of mass murder. And did it really require the cheers for October 7 from Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Democratic Socialists of America for the Jewish Currents crowd to notice the putrescent odor of Jew-hatred wafting around them?

Whether Leifer and his friends will have a genuine awakening, rather than finding a way to lull themselves back into their delusional ideological sleep, remains to be seen. My guess is that a few will make a clean break, like the brave ex-Communists of The God That Failed, who made public their disillusionment with the Soviet Union in the famous 1949 book of that name. Most others will use the pretext of Israel’s retaliation to return to their delusional sleep. People who adopt the politics of the extreme tend to double down: Rationalizations and moral equivalences come easy, and notoriety is easier than contrition. Just beneath the surface of every self-declared Jewish idealist, one tends to find an incurable Jewish narcissist. Their problem isn’t self-hate. It’s overweening self-love.

Whichever way the far-Left goes, what of the rest of the American Jewish community — the center-Left, the center-Right —that is, in the main, prosperous, sane, and suddenly afraid? In my conversations with college students, rabbis, business leaders, Jewish professionals, and others, the sentence that everyone seems to circle around, spoken or unspoken, is “We are alone.”

That’s despite clarion statements of solidarity from President Biden, Republican leaders in Congress, prominent TV anchors, and millions of ordinary Americans. Because beneath that, we sense that something is badly amiss. The tardy, feeble, equivocal statements from major academic leaders. The bizarro response from Donald Trump, which had more to do with Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to accept the results of the 2020 election than with the murder of 1,200 Jews. The boldness and openness of support for Hamas on college campuses and among “social justice” organizations. The fear, based on a great deal of experience, that once Israel’s invasion of Gaza begins, the Biden administration will go from promising support to demanding restraint. 

And beneath that fear, an even darker one: Maybe the Jewish state, the insurance policy of every Diaspora Jew, is not as strong and steady as we had long assumed. If it can be bloodied and humiliated by Hamas, what might Hezbollah, and Iran itself, be capable of?

These issues demand clear thinking and urgent responses. We are in a moment of darkness that began infamously, on the single most murderous day in Jewish history since 1945. But is this the darkness before night or before dawn? The business of Sapir is to provide ideas for a thriving Jewish future. In the essays and conversations that we publish in the days and weeks ahead, we intend to bring as much light to that question as we can.

October 12, 2023