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?”