Thinking about October 7

Thinking about October 7

Everything feels really different now.

There was the initial shock after October 7, the pause while we all started to understand the scope of the evil. There were the faces of the hostages, some of them adorable small children, some gorgeous young people, some lively older ones, smiling at us from lampposts.

Then the poster wars began, with normal-looking people ripping those posters, those faces, down from the poles and windows where they’d been hung, crumpling them up and throwing them away with such disdain that you’d think they were pictures of war criminals, not victims.

And it hasn’t changed. It’s just intensified.

The poster wars have become cat-and-mouse affairs. The posters are taped so snugly that they can’t be ripped off, so the other side — Hamas supporters? dupes? simpletons? rage machines? — scrawls black lines over them. It seems to have taken some time and effort to find pens with ink that works on tape, but they did.

That, of course, is symbolic. The marches, the speeches, the rallies, the political actions (taken by bodies that have absolutely no effect on the situation, but whatever) have not stopped. Last week, Chicago became the biggest American city to call for a ceasefire, as its city council, in a tie vote broken by the city’s mayor, Brandon Johnson, voted for a permanent end to the war. Neither Hamas’s barbarous attack nor Israel’s security needs moved the Midwesterners.

Our opinion pieces seem to reflect a feeling of betrayal. Where are our allies? they ask. That entirely reasonable question began to be asked soon after October 7, but instead of losing potency, it’s begun to trend, at least in the pages of this newspaper. And I doubt that we’re an outlier.

There are of course many reasons to hope. The Israelis, and the Jewish people in general, are resilient, and many are coming back to life. They are celebrating smachot, even though they’re necessarily bittersweet. We all are feeling a kind of unity that had escaped us before; our divisions still are real, but we cannot afford to lead with them now. And there are some real efforts at friendship, and they should be encouraged.

But it’s hard not to look back at the two other 21st-century days that have been so awful that we know them by their calendar names, and think about how different the responses to them have been.

We all know what the terrorists did on September 11, so it’s hard to remember how entirely novel the method they used seemed to us back then. It had never occurred to most of us that terrorists could highjack a plane and fly it into a building. I mean, who could do that? We found out who.

It was a different kind of mass murder. Hamas, monstrously, looked at their victims, looked at babies, and tortured and killed them. The 9/11 murderers killed more people, but they did it more antiseptically, less personally, and they died with them. (So did many of the Hamas murderers, but their deaths were more random, less inevitable.)

We on the Upper West Side were able to smell the burning buildings, and the people incinerated inside them, for months. It would happen almost every evening, when the wind blew northwest. (A bit of trivia that most of us had not known but learned then.)

Then there was January 6, a day when fewer people died — one of them, Officer Brian Sicknick, was Jewish and grew up in south Jersey — but it put our democracy greatly at risk, a risk that still threatens us.

In both those cases, the Western world reacted with great sympathy toward us. September 11 galvanized the West, and January 6 terrified it.

And then there was October 7. It was aimed at Jews, although the murderers didn’t check official documents, instead slaughtering everyone, Israeli Jew, Israeli Muslim, Israeli Bedouin, Thai worker, random concert-goer, with savage abandon.

And the world doesn’t seem to care.

So it seems that we have to take up the slack. And we will. Am Israel chai.


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