On the morning of Simchat Torah in the galut — that is to say, on October 8, the day after Hamas butchered its way through the south of Israel — I broke my arm.
I was on the way to shul; I knew from the night before that B’nai Jeshurun still would have the hakafot, still would have community members carry the sifrei Torah through the arches made by outstretched arms, but that no music or dancing would follow. Instead, we would sing the dirges of Tisha B’av, horrifyingly relevant again, more than two months out of season.
When I fell, I saw two left arms coming out of my body. One was normally compliant. It did what I told it to do. The other did not. It just hung there. The useless one was the real one. The normal one was my shocked imagination.
This seems to be a metaphor for our horrific new world.
On one level, the world continues. It’s getting chilly. The breeze feels great. The leaves crunch underneath. The change of time from Daylight Saving to Eastern Standard is annoying, and changing what we call the hours of daylight we have — a number we cannot change no matter what number we assign to them — seems deck-chair-on-Titanic level of stupid. Life goes on.
On the other level, everything is different.
Israel has been attacked with a level of brutality that is beyond most people’s comprehension, and that’s a good thing. But now we know that that level of savagery is loose in the world, committed not by roving lone wolves but deranged bands of brothers.
Antisemitism has been loosed on the world once again. The shame it suffered after World War II wasn’t enough to kill it. It just bided its time below ground, wallowing in slime. It’s been welcome above ground for the last few years, and now it’s an honored guest on our streets.
Antisemitism coming from the right has been joined by antisemitism on the left. Does that mean that it’s necessary to hudde in the milquetoast middle? To stand on the yellow line, waiting to be mown down?
And of course the antisemitism on the left has been devastating to many Jewish progressives, who truly believed that their allyship was solid. It’s hard having to rethink some of the foundations, particularly during such an explosive time. It’s hard losing allies; it’s even harder losing friends.
And meanwhile, that other world, the real one, or is it the fake one, keeps moving on, as if nothing has happened.
The situation on college campuses is hard on students, and it is here that our inability to teach our children properly bites us. Israel’s history is complicated. It’s real. We should teach it properly. We should pay attention to the founders’ missteps as well as to their strokes of genius. Being a Zionist can’t mean believing that Israel always has been perfect, controversy-free, morally prescient as well as proper. Being a Zionist means loving the state of Israel, wanting it always to be better, believing that it always will be there. There is a real risk to teaching whitewashed history; often, when young adults realize that they don’t have the whole story, at times it feels that they’ve been lied to. They reject everything. Bye-bye bathtub, and see ya never, bathwater. That’s not good for anybody.
Israel’s history is complex, but it is miraculous. Both those things are true.
Our children never should have to feel unsafe on campus. College is a time for figuring out who you are, for allowing ideas to battle in your brain and for you to work out the armistice. College should not be a place to feel threatened, where you have to hide who you are.
No place should be a place where anyone is ashamed to be Jewish. No time, no place, never ever. The idea that a college campus would be such a place is horrifying.
That comes back to my broken arm. Which one was real? The perfect one or the disconnected one? Which world is the real one? Will the world as we used to know it come back? Will it heal straight or crooked?
What is this terrifying new world?