Caring Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

This is a guest post by Rabbi Joshua Strom. Joshua Strom is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, where he lives with his wife Tali and their sons, Jonah and Gabriel.

Black – White. Yes – No. Israeli – Palestinian.  All – Nothing. Us – Them.

Once again we find ourselves in familiar territory. Once again our passions are inflamed. Once again the words fill the op-ed sections, our conversations, our e-mail forwards, our social media feeds:

“The right to defend itself.” “End the occupation.” “Rockets fired.” “Civilian casualties.”

And so on. And so on.

And once again, it seems, all nuance has gone completely out the window. The word “and” is replaced with “but,” negating everything that came before it, all for the sake of having the last word in our Facebook comments, our Twitter exchanges. The complexity of the events that led us here; the volatility of those directly and indirectly touched by the conflict; the range of emotion and logic spanned on a daily, if not hourly, basis; the fluctuation between hope for a better day and utter despair that peace will never come—they all seem to disappear, vanishing into thin air with a pop and a fizzle, like missiles intercepted by our own personal Iron Domes.

Shouldn’t we know better? Shouldn’t we, as human beings — multi-faceted in our loves, our passions, our interests, our concerns, the ways in which we define ourselves — shouldn’t we get it?

Our world, our lives are not “either/or.” They are “yes, and…” So why should our view of this latest iteration of conflict be any different?

Yes, I support Israel, her right to exist, and her right to defend herself from terrorists aimed at destroying the lives of as many Israeli citizens as possible. And my heart breaks for Palestinian civilians killed in the exchange of fire.

Yes, I weep for Palestinian parents mourning the deaths of their children, playing on the beach one moment, gone the next. And I blame Hamas for exploiting them as pawns in their twisted chess match, firing rockets from the most densely populated areas, stockpiling weapons in schools and hospitals, instructing them from their underground bunkers to ignore Israeli warnings of evacuation, in the name of expanding their honor roll of martyrs, while continuing to teach those same children in their textbooks that Israel is evil, the sole cause of their misery and misfortune.

Yes, I was and still am devastated by the murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. And I’m still angry at the celebration that took place in Gaza, the gloating at their killing, the pictures of proud, smiling Palestinian children holding up three fingers as if to say, “We got three of yours,” like a trash-talking athlete pointing to the scoreboard.

Yes, I was and still am horrified, ashamed with every fiber of my being, by the brutal revenge killing, the burning alive of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khedair, the most heinous of the so-called “price tag” attacks to date, including, but not limited to, running through Jerusalem, asking random people what time it was so that those with Arabic accents could be subjected to mob beatings. And I applaud the Israeli justice system for moving quickly to launch full investigations into these appalling incidents and make arrests of their own people, acknowledging for the world to see—whether they chose to or not—that hate crimes, bigotry, and racism simply cannot and will not be tolerated.

Yes, I wholeheartedly stand by Israel, supporting her soldiers wherever they must go to protect her, praying for their safe return. And I continue to challenge her leaders, criticizing what many consider a series of political missteps that may have exacerbated an already fraught situation.

Yes, I was opposed to sending troops into Gaza, knowing the number of dead on both sides would continue to rise, still wondering in my heart of hearts if this will be effective or if it is merely enabling the tragic cycle of violence to continue. And, seeing what I have seen and continue to see in the public relations battle, the secondary war being fought here, feeling that no matter what Israel does she will be seen as the aggressor, the ultimate villain, I confess there is a part of me that says, “If they’re going to hate us anyway, then do what you have to do.”

Yes, I am grateful for the freedom of speech and expression we enjoy and all too often take for granted, aware of the millions of people everywhere in our world afraid to speak their minds for fear for their lives. And I am disgusted beyond description as that same freedom empowers even the intelligent to disregard facts, to proliferate lies and calumnies against Israel, revealing so many in our midst to be, at best, anti-Semitic wolves in peacenik sheep’s clothing.

Yes, I am thankful for the freedom of assembly that allows for rallies, demonstrations, and protests representing all points of the geopolitical spectrum. And I marvel at the sheer hypocrisy of those who called for swift and mighty justice, if not outright vengeance, for the masterminds of the attacks of 9/11, the al Qaedas and Talibans who continue to call for “Death to America;” those who cheered in impromptu parades when Osama bin Laden was killed, who now have the gall to condemn Israel, calling for her “restraint,” even accusing her of perpetrating–of all things—a genocide against the Palestinian people.

Yes, I am deeply appreciative for the freedom of the press in our nation that, in theory, prevents uniform messaging of propaganda to the citizens of the world. And still I am outraged, frustrated to my wit’s end, at the utter imbalance of reporting on the crisis that borders on absurdity, whereby Israel’s ability to protect its citizens is somehow a liability in the PR war, the low Israeli casualty toll perverted by the word “disproportional,” levied by the wagging fingers of the self-righteous at NBC News and the New York Times.

Yes, I have moments where I throw up my arms, shake my head, and nearly give in to despair, succumbing to the sentiments felt by so many on all sides of this—that it will simply never get better. Yes, I have moments where fear for Israel’s existence almost engulfs me, keeping me up at night, haunting me, paralyzing me. Yes, I admit that there are no easy answers, answers I don’t pretend to have myself, and miles to go before I sleep.

But I pray. I hope. It is not simply a matter of choice for me. It is a matter of necessity, of who I am, of how I define myself—as a Jew, as a rabbi, as a human being. Even when—especially when—it is most difficult, when the view of a peaceful future for all Palestinians and Israelis is cloudy at best, if not all but completely obstructed, it is precisely in these moments, these darkest of hours, where we must have hope, where we must be active in calling for and striving towards peace.

Because if we don’t, who will?

And, as Hillel famously said, “If not now, when?”

6 Responses to “Caring Is Not a Zero-Sum Game”

  1. I am glad people are considering both sides. It’s healthy and productive. I feel a little disturbed by some of the surmises made in this article. Firstly, how would you react if someone came onto your property, decided to build a settlement and then kicked you out? Would you let them have your land without a fight? It seems as though, in a way, the Jews settling there are pushing people out of their homes like they at many points in history were pushed out of theirs. Palestinians have been separated from their families, medical help, and their livelihood. These people aren’t angry for no reason. Secondly, there are media biases everywhere! CNN, Fox (Jewish ties/owned) both lean toward Israel. The US government is so wrapped up in Israel that often times I wonder what the truth really is. Any politician who criticizes Israel has no chance anywhere because they are labeled Anti-Semitic, which is sad because he/she is usually just someone with a different opinion. There are biases on both sides. Lastly, remember that Israel IS the aggressor in the sensor that it is occupying a territory. Occupied Palestine, under international law, has a right to defend itself against an aggressor. Many Israeli settlements are illegal. Why were other people kicked off their land so someone else could live there? Sounds disturbingly unfair to me.

    Before I’m labeled anti-Semitic, let me say that I love everyone-Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims. I feel for the families that have lost loved ones. I spent years in the Middle East and had a who was shot to death in Egypt last year. It bothers me that so many people’s lives are being destroyed and that there families have to go through such things. One of my favorite authors is Chaim Potok and I’m currently reading My Name is Asher Lev. I have a reverence for Judaism as well as Islam, but I feel so very,very angry.

    I ask this as a sincere question, why, if the Jews had just gone through something so horrible, did they think it was okay to move onto other people’s land. Soooo many Palestinians live in settlements. How is this right or fair?!


    Kalli · July 28th, 2014 at 1:08 pm
  2. the murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali had nothing to da with hamas, the kidnappers/murderers are found and chould be trailed.
    I am not religius man, but i am human and how i see the situation in israel/palestine is that israel is holding on to the illigal settlements on palestinian terretorie an they keep traeting the palestinian people like there not even human. They stole there land and houses and the palestinian people just want their own governement and being aknowledged as a state. As long as the illegal occupation last there will never be peace.
    everybody acknowledge that it was normal that the ressistence in europe during the occupation by germany kept fighting against the opressor, and that is wat the palesinian people do, so you can’t blame them for fighting for their country and there way of life


    kim dauw · July 28th, 2014 at 1:16 pm
  3. Very well said…you captured everything I’ve been feeling recently. And I would add, regardless of who Jews or Muslims (or anyone) say Jesus/Yeshua is…just imagine how different the world would look if we all actually did “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”…


    Joshua Benson · July 28th, 2014 at 2:53 pm
  4. I’m not sure how you “define”/orient yourself politically (left, right, libertarian, etc) (or if you find such distinctions divisive and inadequate); however I am assuming that you consider yourself a zionist.

    I am a jew in America, however I am also an atheist, leftist, and non-zionist.*Despite this, I still believe Israel, at this point in time, has the right to exist as a jewish state.

    (IF) you consider your zionism to be of a progressive ilk (i.e. does not Necessarily have to infringe upon the rights of palestinians or threaten the potential for actual palestinian sovereignty)…then why does your speech seem (to my biased ears) to never truly attack the conservative/abusive actions undertaken by Israel in the name of “zionism” (a zionism many jews do not believe in, or find essential to their jewish constitution).

    What I am getting at is this; you seem to be coming at the issue from an (admirable) place of “openness” to difference and the rights of both Jews and non-Jews. However, there can be no real peace and no talk of a two-state solution if Netanyahu for instance says he is OPPOSED to a separate palestine. (As he did recently).

    So, in my humble opinion, while it is dismaying to see Anti-Semitism flare up (visibly) in the world at this particular time in the midst of pro-palestine protest, some “sides” or points of view…some “yes’s” and some “no’s” have to be taken and said.

    If Israel’s right to “defend itself” has transformed into the “right” to refuse the rights and independence of Palestinians then I do not support Israel at this instance and find it politically irresponsible to equate ANY action done by Israel (such as the occupation and Unprovoked attack) with national identity. In other words; if everything Israel does is to defend it’s legitimacy as a state, then this means (in theory) that NO act done by Israel can be considered an “offense”…this is absurd and is not something we would say of Other nations.

    Israel (like any nation) is defined by it’s border; it’s relation (ethical or unethical) to the foreign Other. Israel exists now as a geo-political entity; it is not self identical to the jewish people as a whole (despite many jew’s very personal relation to Israel).

    I find that many progressive jews, who wish to remain silent on Israel for fear of anti-semitism, fail to differentiate in their minds between “jewishness” and the specific politics of contemporary zionism. The sooner jews can distance their personal judaism from the Israel project (which I realize is very important, both practically and philosophically to some jews) the sooner jews (like yourself) can (in my humble opinion) “own up” to the war crimes of the Israeli state….

    just a thought…


    m · July 29th, 2014 at 2:54 am
  5. 9/11? search for the truth please. Please


    Anne · July 29th, 2014 at 4:09 am
  6. This is a great post. I’d say that I agree with everything Rabbi Strom said, but I also feel that the cost in Gazan civilian lives is alarmingly high and that somehow Israel needs to do a better job of protecting the innocents. Israel also needs to work on the PR war and convince the people of Gaza that it cares about their well-being, their safety, their prosperity and that if they ever want to live in peace a freedom, they need to get rid of Hamas and elect leaders who are interested in peace instead.


    Jesse Safir · July 29th, 2014 at 12:33 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik