After October 7: Drifting In A Land of Limbo, Anxiety and Fear

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            Recently I had the chance to have a quiet lunch with a colleague. We met at a bistro, were seated outside on the patio, and immediately ordered out iced tea. Within a few seconds we were deeply into the heartfelt challenges and feelings that have emerged because of October 7. There is no doubt that there was a reality before October 7 and a new one, forever changed, post October 7. What that new reality will be is unknown, and that unknown is part of our community’s present psyche.

            We reflected on the relationship of our generation of rabbis have had with Israel We remember the 1967 war, the Yom Kippur war (I was standing on the bima in my congregation when news broke). Our generation made numerous trips, navigated the challenges of the two Intifada outbreaks, and often did our best to work with and develop meaningful inter-faith relationships around the reality of Israel. There seemed to be one reality. Now, post October 7, a quick glance at everything from Congress to college campuses would seem to indicate that there is dawning a new reality. Is terrorism being redefined? Mayim Bialik asked this question in a very powerful and heartfelt social media post. Suddenly, the feeling of security that the American Jewish world has felt (or was it falsely perceived?) is shaken. Should we have been more aware considering Poway, and Pittsburgh and Charlottesville? Is it true what many of our parents’ generation cautioned, that our sense of acceptance and security was a façade, and that antisemitism was lurking just below the social surface, waiting for an excuse to rise?

            Another concern has also surfaced. It actually may be generational. I have a sense that we elders have a much different sense of support than younger generations. Our life span, as we noted, witnessed the growth, and change of the perception and reality of Israel from minor player on the world’s stage to a relatively strong player and while many of our generation may have had issues with various governments, Netanyahu included, overall, there was underlying support. Now, are we seeing a generational split? Do our children and grandchildren’s generations share that same sense of support?

            We raised that question at lunch, along with an equally disturbing one. Has this Gaza war pulled back the curtain once and for all on our sense of security in this country? Will we now always have to be mindful of our place in American society? As we transition into a new American Judaism (which we are doing as we speak), will that new Judaism be as secure at home and as supportive of Israel? Can our congregations re-energize their religious school curriculums to emphasize history? Can they introduce meaningful programs for high school students on what they may meet when they go to college? The majority of our high school graduates are vastly unprepared to meet the challenges at campuses around the country. There are profound mental health, safety, and security issues here. And, maybe the most disturbing question of all considering all that is happening: are we, ultimately, alone? Is being Jewish, even here in the USA, in light of October 7, a singular identity?

            All these issues will be on-going questions. Once this war ends and leaders figure out what to do the day after the day after, these more existential questions of identity, connection to Israel, and our place in American society will have to be addressed. Likewise, as one commentator has written, meaningful change in Israel and with the Palestinians will also have to be examined for that future “would require a new government in Jerusalem and the emergence of new Palestinian leaders. Leaders—on both sides—with the guts to challenge their own extremists and take risks for peace” (“The Roots and Nuances of the Israeli-Hamas War”. Trudy Rubin. Philadelphia Inquirer. Oct.29, 2023. Pp E1 and E2).  No one now has these answers. We now live in this land of limbo, our generation, I feel, caught between two realities; a reality of what was before October 7 and the unknown reality of what all of this will be because of October 7. The feelings of so many, feelings of anxiety, concern and yes, for some even some fear, all are true. How can we seek balance between the reality of evil and, like Abraham at Sodom and Gomorrah, concern for innocent life?  Still, we pray for peace, we lament the loss of innocent life and hope that in some way reasonable people can emerge to act reasonably.

Stay safe in peace.

Rabbi Richard F Address


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