Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, October 23, 2023
In This Moment: The Home Front; The Sui Generis nature of Oct. 7; Developing God's Image
We are all very much on edge these days. This past Shabbat we heard the news that a 40 year old woman in Detroit, the president of her synagogue, had been found murdered outside her home. In an update this morning, police say there is no evidence of this being a hate crime. It's still horrible, but synagogue presidents everywhere, you can come out of your basements!
Of course, we all assumed it was a hate crime, didn't we? Does this make us no better than those nations who just assumed Israel might have been responsible for last week's terrible hospital explosion in Gaza (I'm looking at you, Canada), or media companies who to this moment have yet to admit culpability in spreading a wildfire of lies?
Except...oh wait! This morning, the Times website included this.
What does this mean? It means that the Messiah may have arrived - or maybe there will be some more media accountability from here on, but I seriously doubt that. However, it might mean that the new post Oct. 7 reality, which most Jews are feeling deeply but cannot yet articulate, might be starting to sink in. That new reality demands that any coverage of the current conflict - indeed, any individual comment - must take into account the sui generis nature of what happened on that day.
If you describe a person or thing as sui generis, you mean that there is no one else or nothing else of the same kind and so you cannot make judgments about them based on other things.
The implications of this new doctrine have yet to be understood fully by Jews or non-Jews. But is so clearly being felt by everyone, particularly Jews. If you have not given an unqualified condemnation of what happened on that day, and if you do not see that Hamas IS Isis and NOT a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, nothing else matters. If you can't bring yourself to do that, it's not about being cancelled - people are cancelled and uncancelled all the time (just look at what happened at the 92nd St Y this weekend, where we saw a perfect example of this doctrine in practice) - we just can't stomach talking to you at the moment. We can agree on many things, including Israel's foibles and the sad state of affairs for innocent Palestinians. But if you try for a moment to say that Israel is in any way responsible for what was done on October 7, call me when you're ready to have a really serious conversation about the topic. Call me when the sui generis nature of October 7 has begun to sink in.
Evidently it has begun to sink in at the New York Times.
But people, we've got to calm down!
On Shabbat, after I had heard about the Detroit killing, I was outside playing with my dogs and I noticed a car slowly circling the temple parking lot. Four, five, six times. Why would someone do that? I grabbed my cell phone, which unfortunately I've had to resort to on Shabbat much more than I could ever have imagined, and walked over to the parking lot, waiting for the car to come around again. My dogs' barking gave me some cover, but I suppose they were nervous too.
The car came around and I approached it. The window rolled down.
It turned out to be a congregant, giving driving lessons to her mom.
I taught my kids how to drive in the temple parking lot too.
How many of you did?
It looks like we can't do that anymore.
We've got to calm down!
Last night i was stopped by security at the front entrance to Agudath Sholom. Evidently my name was not on the list for a dinner that was being held there. First time I've ever been kept out of a synagogue. If that had happened a half century ago, I'd be writing about cancelled poets for the New York Times.
Rabbi Cohen happened by, vouched for me, and we entered together. The guy was just doing his job and I thanked him. I'll try to look less suspicious next time.
That's what life is like on the Home Front.
This thing is hitting us all in a very personal place.