Chutzpah and Soul

“You Don’t Need A Weatherman…

…to tell which way the wind’s blowing”. -Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan).

(The following article is admittedly my pessimistic view. I do intend to cause justifiable concern).

The existential wilderness began October 7 for our People. My brother and I grappled with the ninety-nine percent odds that Netanyahu would pursue revenge, a pyric victory at best, and lead to the near universal isolation of Israel as a pariah, along with the blowback of a worldwide pandemic of militant antisemitism. 

The wind is now blowing like the ultimate hamsin in Israel-Palestine and for Diaspora Jews since October 7th. A nightmare vision of global Jewish apocalypse.

Intergenerational trauma is the diagnosis. For some it’s focusing the mind and heart on compassion and empathy for one’s parents and grandparents generation. 

The situation won’t get better before it gets worse. Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? 

Invincible Israel is no more. It once stood tall and proud like an oak tree for people like me. Even a refuge if necessary. 

Some of us loved the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) and the People of Israel (Am Yisrael). The State of Israel (Medinat Yisrael) was another story depending on its course of action. Now it all seems like unrequited love. 

I’m not naïve or narcissistic enough to forget that October 7 is a national and international Jewish trauma with daily reminders in  Israel. The first priority for a government and military is protecting its own. As long as we’re in Galut (Diaspora), we’re only would be citizens at best. However isn’t Ben Gurion’s famous adage relevant: “We will fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war against Hitler.” 

Does the State have even a tiny portion of band-with to give a damn about our precarious situation? Do the People realize that we too face an existential crisis, but with no IDF to protect us? If the domestic right-wing terrorists, positioned against us, see a green light of apathy from the Silent Bystanders, where does this scenario lead? Our sometime allies on the Left meanwhile, accelerate their BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) ideology as though on steroids. Where does that lead? 

A dynamic, activist Jewish community wouldn’t even ask that question. Instead the slogan from the early 1900s American born socialist International Workers of the World (IWW) — “Don’t mourn, organize!,” would resound.

The point being that while fighting Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Iran, shouldn’t some attention be paid to Am Yisrael?

My intuition leads to an existential despair I can’t shake. I always assumed I wouldn’t back down. I would call out the antisemites even if other Jews let it go. Now the energy dissipates because there are new outrages daily. Mobs of fanatic pro-Palestinian activist bullies proceed unchecked while Jews appear defenseless seeking “safe spaces”, encouraging the haters more. The path of resistance collapses under the weight of pessimism.

For the remainder of my life, about twenty-five years, Israel will almost certainly remain a pariah, subject to international scrutiny, anger, and opposition. Even to mention the name or hold the flag will generate worldwide shaming. The U.S. flag was a source of shame during the Vietnam War and some American travelers took the safe route by wearing Canadian flags shoulder patches.

Even if the new government did a radical pivot, highly unlikely, it would not be sufficient. Israel and Diaspora Jews will be under the microscope for the rest of my years.

My brother once said that if Jews were in danger, I would be the one to fight back. But I’m not a fighter. I’m an idealist, a romantic, an existentialist, who never believed in God or a “Higher Power”.

I can’t imagine becoming “prepared” and I don’t know anyone who is. I think about how Jews in the late 30s in Europe, in Germany for example, refused to prepare. Why didn’t anyone assassinate Hitler or Goering or Himmler? Now I see why. 

The will to sacrifice for history or Jewish destiny is defeated by  despair. European Jews refused to believe that the worst could or would happen. They clung instead to delusions. 

I’ve felt deep empathy for what I imagine were the most vulnerable of European Jews. They with the haunted, hollowed cheeks, dark brown almost black eyes, vulnerable and sensitive, fragile and profoundly alienated. The precise image of Franz Kafka. 

These luftmenschen were the prophets of doom because they had nothing to lose. They were ignored by Jews who had a lot to lose. Did many of them commit suicide? I don’t know but the image is especially profound. I’m a survivor of a sister’s suicide at age eighteen.

I’m mortally afraid, even panicked, that Diaspora Jews are repeating that tragedy. I understand why people don’t organize, because this requires constant struggle, constant defense, constant embattlement. Better to let things take their course; maybe it’ll get better. Better to pretend that things might get better even if all signs say they will not. 

One of the secondary tragedies is that before the October 7th  apocalypse, the collective American Jewish community was on the verge of being truly accepted, respected, and included. Now we might be forced to go back at least one generation when we weren’t really part of the social fabric. 

I remember when Bill Clinton hosted the first White House Passover Seder, which has become the norm. But If Donald Trump is reelected, you may as well hide the afikomen permanently and hope beyond hope that Elijah appears.

The Gaza War has aired the dirty laundry about decades of Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel/Palestine. Revisionist history is flourishing, as are uniformly negative interpretations of the foundation of the State. This surveillance, investigation, indictment, and sanctioning can’t be sustained without causing significant damage to the spirit.

Diaspora Jews “don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind’s blowing”. The hamsin wind of antisemitism is the visible “collateral damage” of the Gaza War. The “organized Jewish community” in its present form, inhibits the activism necessary to fight our opponents directly. The Jewish establishment does its usual tired dance of behind-the-scenes, top-down strategy, further fanning blowback on campuses and in the streets.

Donald Trump is a nightmare which we cannot ignore even momentarily. The Ben Gurion adage about fighting two battles simultaneously applies here.  His “cult of personality” mimics the fascist playbook. Everything that can be said about him, has already been said, except his potential impact on Jews. Suffice to say that unlike other dictators he lacks any clear ideology or ideas. But this is no consolation.

The Gaza War has brought to the surface the pungent smell of latent antisemitism. It’s an historical challenge for our People. Can we find a path out of this Existential Wilderness?

Copyright © 2024, Johnny Goldin, LICSW, J.D.

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