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.
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
In This Moment: Ceasefire for Hostages? The "A" Word; Two American Jewish Casualties
In This Moment
Headllne in yesterday's Ha'aretz:
"One Month In the Hands of Hamas"
I'm dedicating tonight's In This Moment to the hostages, who all-too-easily can become forgotten amidst all the conversation about military maneuvers and humanitarian efforts on behalf of Gazans. I'm all in support of humane treatment for innocent civilians on all sides, but right now 240+ are captive of genocidal terrorists in tunnels underneath the cities of Gaza.
A terror organization that swore once again this week that their only goal is to destroy the Jewish state is not entitled to a weekend at the beach.
One wonders just how many hostages Hamas intended to take - certainly not 240, including babies, elders, Holocaust survivors, and citizens of several different nations. They must have thought things would play out with the same arithmetic as the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange: One for a thousand. But things are not playing out that way this time. The captives are proving to be an albatross and a public relations nightmare for their captors. Israel has chosen not to let the presence of hostages impede their attack, something Hamas might have been counting on. At the same time, the presence of hostages gives Israel a piece of the moral high ground, and a ceasefire has become a bargaining chip much more palatable to Israelis than the release of a thousand terrorists.
The hostages are also inconvenient for Hamas apologists across the world who are trying to whitewash the unspeakable crimes of Oct. 7. Even as they try to rewrite the history books, those hostages are the nagging stain that just won't go away. So the apologists tear down the posters and try to change the subject, but the conversation keeps on returning to the fact that their freedom fighter heroes have been unmasked as despicable baby stealers.
Israel would do well to allow for humanitarian assistance to flow to those who need it. It's the right thing to do, and they do claim to be setting up safe zones. But it has no moral obligation to allow genocidal, mortal enemies time to regroup. A terror organization that swore once again this week that their only goal is to destroy the Jewish state is not entitled to a weekend at the beach.
In the past, time was never on Israel's side. But now, despite the public pleas of allies and pressure in the streets of world capitals (accompanied, most likely by silent winks and attaboys), Israel's war aims of eliminating the threat of Hamas and freeing the hostages are as valid as they were a month ago - and will be a month from now. I believe that time may now actually be on Israel's side. Their national will is dead-set on seeing this through to completion. As well-stocked as those terror tunnels might be, a ceasefire might become a matter of survival for Hamas fighters after a few more weeks of being cut off from their suppliers in southern Gaza and Egypt.
So it may be possible that the hostages will be traded, at some point, not for prisoners but for a pause.
So let's all do what we can to keep the hostages in the international spotlight. Their families need to know that we are behind them. So does Hamas.
The "A" Word
I fielded a request from a congregant about how to counter arguments that Israel is an apartheid state. I've recently discussed how we might address terms bandied about, like "genocide" and "colonialism," so why not go all the way and discuss the "A" word.
I covered this topic in depth recently. Here's a posting from one of my weekly emails from 2022. The post demonstrates that the analogy between South African apartheid and Israel is invalid. That's good news, because the term is so loaded with negative associations and oozes with racism. Anyone who has met a Jew of color - or any other person of color - who lives in Israel, knows right away that Israel does not have a system of government that discriminates by race. But just because others are using a faulty analogy to discredit the moral authority of the Jewish message, we should still be concerned about the inequalities that do exist over there. I have frequently stated my concerns about the policies and aspirations of this government with regard to the territories. It's really just an exercise in semantics as to which "a" word would be worse, apartheid or annexation.
If the current front pages aren't there yet, try again later.
Two American Jewish Casualties
The Israel we knew died on October 7. The new nation will be scarred for generations (TOI) - Viewing the collection of that monstrous material put together by the IDF Spokesman, some of it from the exultant murderers’ bodycams, is already replacing the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial visit as the experience that all official visitors to Israel are asked to take part in so they can understand Israelis’ soul....Communities lie in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have joined the ranks of the bereaved, the widowed, the orphaned, the broken, the traumatized, the terrified. These unthinkable numbers, the unbearable loss, and the waves of sorrow and pain that they created stunned us at first. A vast blind rage grew within us, shaking the land from end to end. That anger shaped the first declaration of war, where one goal was defined: the total elimination of the Hamas regime....In order to keep ourselves going, we grasp hold of volunteerism, solidarity, heroism, innovation, organization, resilience, generosity, the heartfelt embrace of a complete stranger.
Lovingkindness in a Time of War (Rabbi Amy Eilberg) - Perhaps the answer is that the suffering feels unbearable, so we reach for ways to engage in battle to do something — anything — with our energy. So many rhetorical skirmishes await once we turn on our phones.
The once lockstep pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom published an impassioned plea for the prime minister’s resignation, calling on him to “lead us to victory and then go,” marking a major shift in tone for an outlet widely believed to have been founded to support Netanyahu’s political ambitions. (Ha'aretz)
From Marc Schulman's nightly update:The army continues its gradual advance to surround Gaza City, doing its best to evacuate civilians from hospitals, which are the centers for Hamas activity. Reports indicate that terrorists have been shooting at Israeli troops from inside these hospitals, hoping to provoke a response by IDF forces against the hospitals. Despite the challenges, the balance of caution and rapid action has kept Israeli casualties much lower than expected, a trend that will hopefully continue. This is possible partly due to highly effective technology and commanders who are very adept at their roles. The next steps involve confronting the terrorists underground and in the hospitals. A video circulated today showing thousands of Gazans walking south with white flags, flanked by Israeli tanks. Hamas has demanded that those in possession of such videos refrain from posting them. ... In an interview on ABC, Netanyahu stated yesterday that Israel will maintain security responsibility over Gaza for an undetermined period. Netanyahu, formerly known for his finesse with words, misspoke, leading the world to believe Israel plans to occupy Gaza. This caused a global uproar and even prompted a statement from the NSA spokesperson clarifying that while the US supports Israel's actions, it opposes the occupation of Gaza by Israel. Netanyahu also addressed rumors that Israel is carrying out genocide in Gaza, stressing that this is not the case, and moreover, the exact opposite is true — it is Hamas who wishes to eliminate Israel.
Marc shared this cartoon, sent to him by a viewer: