The last two weeks are a blur. Israel is at war. Our entire family has been upended. Most important is the constant worry my wife and I feel about our two sons in the IDF who are at war. We’ve had three children serve as lone soldiers. Fighters, but not during wartime.
Last Friday before Shabbat we read about an attack on four soldiers near the border. Our son always calls us for a Sabbath blessing. He did not call this week. We freaked out the whole Sabbath. The Shabbat rest turned into Shabbat hell. Thank God, on Saturday night he phoned, and all was well. But what about the parents who didn’t get that call?
Then there is the further upending of a family many of whose members, like me, are involved in the media fight for Israel. Our family WhatsApp chat revolves only around defamation of Israel and how to fight it. From Shterny, mother of three, who designs our full-page New York Times ads (we did a powerful ad calling on President Biden’s Jewish daughter-in-law Melissa Batya Cohen Biden to have her Esther moment and plead with the President not to succumb to pressure to stop Israel’s destruction of Hamas), to Rochel Leah, who targets the celebrities and influencers who libel Israel as genocidal on her popular Instagram page, to Shaina, who organizes the family’s spiritual efforts — challah bakes, Tehillim recital — for the safety of the hostages and the IDF.
From Israel, where my wife and I traveled for our IDF soldier son’s wedding, we went directly to Rome for senior meetings at the Vatican. Through my friend Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation (they are trying to pave the way for the sainthood of Pope Pius XII, which I utterly oppose, but they do amazing work with the Vatican to protect Israel), I had already met both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. But this meeting, again set up by Gary, was different. I was meeting with the chief advisers of the Cardinal Secretary of State to beseech (pressure?) the Vatican to put out an unequivocal statement from the pope about Israel and Hamas.
Did I believe they would accept all of it? The pope, who is a great, lifelong friend of Jewish community, had already and strongly condemned the Hamas attacks but had not declared categorically — as do the American Christian evangelicals — that Israel is the eternal, biblical inheritance of the Jewish people.
My argument to the Pope’s most senior advisers was simple. October 16, 2023, just two weeks before, was the exact 80th anniversary of the deportation of more than 1,000 Jews from Rome, on a Shabbat, that took them to Auschwitz, where all but 13 were murdered. Till today the legacy of Pope Pius hangs under dark clouds for not stopping the deportation. Didn’t those who love and cherish the pope — the senior priests who surrounded me — want to have an unequivocal statement for history — and of course morality — that historians could always point to when Hamas perpetrated the greatest attack against the Jews since the Holocaust?
After the meetings, Debbie and I got to meet the pope’s famed Swiss bodyguards, the oldest army in the world, who seemed even more enthralled hearing about our sons’ special forces IDF training than we were about the great honor they all have to personally protect the pope.
Then came a phone call from Piers Morgan, whose show has emerged as the critical debating platform on the Israel-Hamas war. Would I debate Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks podcast — with millions of listeners — who openly accuses Israel of annihilating the Palestinians and engaging in genocide? I quickly watched the interview he had on Piers’ show a few days earlier. My blood boiled. Careful, Shmuley. You lose debates when you get angry. But this antisemite was openly libeling my people with targeting Arab babies for murder. Then I remember a quote from my hero, Martin Luther King Jr., after he had been falsely accused by J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, of being a communist and being a threat to America. “He made my blood boil.” So men far greater than me got incensed at lies. I could too.
I agreed to the debate. He started with his usual lies, screaming like a lunatic at how much the Jews seem to be enjoying showing the Palestinians how powerful they are and killing them all in Gaza. “How long will you occupy them?” he screamed. “How long will you persecute them? How long will you deny them a state?”
It was my turn. “Cenk, you and I are almost the same age. And I’m worried about you. You can’t get this upset and scream like a lunatic. It’s bad for your health.”
Then I went through the history. “How long will we deny them a state? First, in 1921 Winston Churchill cut off 80% of historical Palestine, that had been promised to the Jews as a state in the Balfour Declaration, and gave it to the Hashemites to create Jordan. Of what remained, in the 1936 Peel commission, the Arabs were offered a majority for their own state. They rejected it. Then the U.N. partition plan of 1947, which offered the Palestinians a state, was rejected by them. Then when Israel conquered Judea and Samaria in the West Bank in 1967, Moshe Dayan immediately offered the return of the territories to create a state. The Arabs rejected it. Then in 2000 Bill Clinton brought together Yasser Arafat and PM Ehud Barak, who offered the Palestinians 97% of then Judea and Samaria. Arafat rejected it. Clinton later told him, ‘Mr. Chairman, I am a failure at peacemaking. And you have made me a failure.’ Then PM Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas, in 2008, even more, including Eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. And he rejected it. So Cenk, before you get on international TV to libel the Jews with murder, at least read a Wikipedia page.”
What followed was a blitz of global media that said that Cenk, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, had suffered a complete meltdown on the show, his last fulmination being “STOP KILLING PALESTINIANS.”
One antisemite down. Only a few billion to go. But it was a start.
A day later my phone rings on Apple Facetime. It’s the Israeli Speaker of the Knesset, Amir Ohana, from his armored car. He’s with former Governor Chris Christie, in Israel, on their way south to witness the Hamas killing fields where they slaughtered, raped, and burned alive 1,200 Israelis. “Shmuley, why didn’t you join me on my trip?” Governor Christie asks. “Chris, why didn’t you invite me?” “Well,” he answers, “I didn’t think I could compete with the Pope.” “Spoken like the good Catholic you are,” I responded.
And wow, it felt nice to joke for the first time since this war began, so we could all feel we were still human and not just experiencing horrors that would leave us permanently morose.
I tell Amir, who has been my close friend for nearly a decade, that Governor Christie showed tremendous courage in 2015 when our mutual friend Cory Booker decided to fund Iran to the tune of $150 billion, which it would take Israel 50 years to receive in American funding. Christie, then sitting governor of New Jersey, joined me in an unprecedented press conference to condemn the senator of his own state for voting to fund murderers.
Christie became the first presidential candidate to visit Israel after the war began. He went to the very dangerous border with Gaza and witnessed the kibbutzim and communities where the Hamas beheadings of Jews and baby burnings had taken place.
But the most moving — and painful — of all my experiences of the last two weeks was still to come. I did a live interview with Ricarda Louk, mother of Shani Louk, the beautiful and soulful Israeli-German 22-year-old who became the face of the October 7 massacre. A lover of music and peace, she had attended the all-night concert in the fields right outside of Gaza. Her mother had been awoken that morning at 6 a.m. by the sirens of rockets flooding in from Gaza. She reached Shani, who assured her she was going to be escaping with her friends and would be okay. That was the last she heard from her.
A few hours later, her son started screeching that in the terrible videos that the Hamas savages were now broadcasting, he was certain that the lifeless and near naked woman on the back of a pickup truck — dressed only in a bra and underwear — whose body the Palestinians in Gaza city were desecrating, was his sister. He could tell from the tattoos on her body. The family was in horror shock.
A day or two later Ricarda heard from a contact in Gaza that her daughter was alive, a hostage, and in the hospital. But anyone who saw the video knew that was highly improbable. Her leg was bent in such a shape as to make survivable almost impossible, and, worse, her hair was matted with congealed blood.
A week later the IDF, together with a rabbi, came to tell the family that a piece of Shani’s skull had been found, a piece that would make survival impossible. The family sat shiva and said kaddish, all with no body.
And then the full horror of what the Jewish people had just experienced hit me like a Mack truck. Here was the most beautiful young woman, being paraded around by barbaric monsters, naked and dead, as a trophy for these religious frauds who, in Gaza, brutalize Palestinian women for even showing their hair. Religious frauds. Hypocrites. Murderers. Savages. Nazis.
No, even the Nazis tried to cover up their crimes. Hamas lauded them. They were demented beasts that Israel had to destroy.
Ricarda then revealed to us, for the first time, that the IDF had subsequently contacted the family to say they had eliminated the terrorist monster who dragged her body through Gaza. Ricarda told me she took no solace, nor comfort, in hearing the terrorist had been killed.
But I did. Not out of revenge, but justice. Not out of fury, but out of a sense of kosher hate. As the Psalmist wrote, “Those who love God hate evil.”
I hated and loathed this man with all my soul because only a hatred of evil leads to the evisceration of evil, which is why I had devoted an entire book to the subject of “Kosher Hate,” where I argued that those who do not hate evil end up hating the innocent.
Don’t believe me. Look at Harvard, NYU, and Tulane, where the Jews are hated and where Hamas is praised.
Pretty sick stuff. But that’s the world we live in now.
Sick. Demented. Immoral. Antisemitic.
But with one twist.
It is joined by the most ferocious Jewish response to evil I have ever seen, with millions of Jews fighting the haters on Instagram, Facebook, and of course, the IDF fighting them in the fields of Gaza to ensure that “Never Again” is more than just an empty slogan but a firm commitment and promise to future Jewish generations. The Holocaust will never, ever, ever happen again.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “Judaism for Everyone” and “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.