The Abyss

This week, we stared into the abyss. And it stared back at us.

I’ve tried to articulate my thoughts several times, in social media posts, speeches, conversations. I can’t say I feel I have entirely succeeded.

I’ll start with my own ‘conceptzia’, that clearly was misguided. Several months ago, I wrote and remarked about Hamas’ unnatural silence during the recent short conflagration between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel. At the time, I wrote that it looked like Hamas had perhaps finally made a calculation that ruling was more important than killing Jews, and thus left room to be the ‘responsible party’ in the conflict.

Now I’ve studied and written about military history for over 30 years. Observations like that one have often turned out to be right, or at least not too far off. Clearly though, I was wrong, and, more importantly, so were many whose insights are way more consequential than mine. Hamas stayed out of that round so as not to jeopardize their plans, which had been germinating since June of 2021. On October 7th, those plans came to deadly fruition.

Back in 1937, a Jewish American teacher named Abel Meeropol wrote a poem (later a song by Billie Holiday) about seeing the horror of a photo of a lynching of an African American. In ‘Strange Fruit” he contrasted pastoral beauty with the assault of death on all human senses.

‘The scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.’

The swaying field of tall grass overlooking northern Gaza, down the road from the firing range and the reservoir, the field I have stood at half a dozen times with young Jewish activists, on a small rise east of the Gaza border - that field was overrun. Burned. Up the hill and over the grass came the butchers, rapists, kidnappers, torturers and murderers of Hamas, and back to the west they dragged children, women, grandmothers hostage back to Gaza. Behind, they left burning corpses, broken families, and the detritus of a savagery not seen in generations behind them.

The mind reels with the cognitive dissonance of it all. It just doesn't make sense, yet the horror and sorrow are undeniable.

How are we to process this?

On Thursday, as I was driving to work, I was listening to a podcast from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Donniel Hartman and author Yossi Klein Halevi were discussing the way we describe and define evil in the aftermath of the events of October 7th. Yossi shared that he abhors invoking the Holocaust in describing almost anything, but to him the actions of the Hamas butchers evoked images of the Einsatzgruppen of the SS.

But there is a difference. The Jews murdered by the Einsatzgruppen were for the most part helpless, without the means to defend themselves, without allies, and without recourse to the resources of their brothers and sisters across the globe.

Our families in Israel are wounded, bereaved, shocked and bewildered, but they are not alone. They are preparing for a long war, with grim determination fostered by the sights we’ve seen. And they will win that war, however long it takes, grinding into dust the evil that revealed itself to us all. They are as far from helpless as it is possible to be. Beyond Israel's considerable strength, led by the United States, with the strong and concrete support of the UK, France, Germany and Italy, as well as over 75 other countries, they are not alone among nations. And with the embrace of almost 2000 of you this week at the County Courthouse, with the contributions of hundreds of you in just a few days, they are getting the resources and the help that is desperately needed.

They are not alone; they have you. And you are not alone; as we saw last Tuesday night, we have friends and allies standing with us, spanning communities, religions, identities, and political affiliations.

What remains is for each of us to do our part for our sisters and brothers in Israel. Each of you. If you’ve given to our emergency appeal already, thank you. Now, I’m going to be forward and demanding and ask that you encourage your friends to do the same. In these circumstances, I won’t apologize for it. And if you have not yet had an opportunity to give to our emergency appeal, this is the time. If you would like to learn where every dollar raised in this appeal is spent, see below. To do your part and make a contribution, please click here.

  • Basic Needs: Food and financial assistance for impacted families, the elderly, and the homebound.
  • Evacuation, Housing, Respite, and Support for Frontline Communities: Including support for communities under fire and for new olim living in absorption centers through evacuations, temporary housing, respite trips, children’s activities, and increased security.
  • Funds for Victims of Terror:  The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Funds for Victims of Terror is a key part of our standing emergency response capacity that provides immediate cash grants to families and individuals who have been impacted by acts of terror and violence, for post-trauma care, etc.
  • Trauma Relief and Psychosocial Care: To support wide-scale trauma relief and psychosocial support with expanded capabilities through telephone hotlines; providing direct care to first responders, Lone Soldiers, the injured, and families whose relatives were murdered, injured, or abducted; training and support for caregivers and responders including hospital emergency teams and municipal teams.
  • Emergency Medical Services and Healthcare: Medical supplies and equipment for first responders and hospitals in close proximity to the front line.
  • Special Populations: Targeted assistance to vulnerable populations and their caregivers, including the elderly, young children, people living with disabilities, and marginalized populations, such as the Ultra-Orthodox and Bedouin communities.
  • Local Efforts and Volunteers: Israel’s home front has mobilized and funding is needed to enhance capacity and provide operational support to evacuees, special populations, frontline communities, and those responding to the crisis.

Every dollar will support the displaced, bereaved, wounded, and those waiting for word of their captive loved ones.