Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut

Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut

Given that it happened more than seven months ago and the horrors it unleashed continue to rage, October 7 continues to affect every Jewish and civic holiday or day of commemoration since then. It’s made us rethink, tone down, or at times even give up.

This week, it’s Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

The atrocities of October 7 have not faded from our consciousness yet. It seems that while the scale of the Hamas attack is of course minuscule compared to what the Nazis did, the barbarity and the ferocity draw some comparison.

Israel reacted as Hamas knew it had to react, and Hamas, whose charter makes entirely clear its desire to rid the world of Israel, surrounded itself with civilians, demonstrating yet again that it cares nothing for human life (except its leaders’ own lives; they’re quite comfortable — as in very, very comfortable — in Qatar).

Now, as we all know, most of the world seems to have forgotten the atrocities and the hostages, instead blaming Israel for going after Hamas. A state that has no right to exist certainly has no right to protect itself, the thinking seems to be.

Meanwhile, protests at Columbia seem to be dying down.

The protesters’ cause hasn’t been helped by the dangers of hilarious inanity to which they often fall prey. One of the pro-Israel online favorites is the press conference given during the occupation of Hamilton Hall by a graduate student in literature, a young woman with a Jewish last name (and unfortunately it does not help that her name is silly — there are real risks to hyphenation) who talks with passion about how the students (as it turns out, many of them were not students, but whatever) barricaded inside the hall are at risk for starvation and dehydration. (They’d been in the building for less than a day, no one turned the water off, and food was available in all the university’s dining halls and in dozens of shops and cafes and restaurants all around the campus.)

But the unfairness of it all! After all, this Ph.D. student protesting the war in Gaza said, she’d paid for a meal plan. Why wasn’t Columbia bringing their properly paid-for food to them?

Of course, the situation is deadly serious. Useful idiots are good for laughs, but they don’t change or fix anything.

By now, the campus seems to be quiet. There aren’t very many police cars there any more, and far fewer officers on foot. Most of the barricades are down. It’s springtime. Many students are in Riverside Park; you can recognize the pro-Palestinian protesters by their face masks, and the keffiyehs they often wear as scarves or shawls as they head to the outdoor cafe.

On Yom HaShoah, one of my dogs and I were walking on Riverside Drive, close to Columbia, when we came across a protest. It was organized by the Israeli-American Council, was not on campus, featured students talking about their encounters with people spouting hate at them, and drew a few hundred people, most not students, some of them draped in Israeli flags. (I did notice, though, that people tended to wrap the flags around their bodies once they reached the rally, clearly not feeling particularly safe doing so earlier.)

The talks were intense but polite. The feeling was serious but not impassioned. It was radically different from the anti-Israel scrums we’ve seen.

I talked to a good friend, who teaches graduate students at Columbia and has worked closely with some from all camps — Jewish, Muslim, Christian; involved in one side or the other of the protest, completely uninvolved — and she’s learned something interesting.

Many of her students, she says, know just about nothing about Israel, Gaza, Palestine, the West Bank — any of it.

They are filled with rage, she says, and Israel is a convenient target, widely available, unassailably politically correct in many of their circles.

Their rage, with which they may or may not be in touch, is much broader. It’s aimed at school shootings — there’s a horrific story about schools like the ones they graduated from, where kids like them die, and by the next week it’s out of the news with nothing done about it. The rage aimed at climate change, which terrifies them. It’s provoked by their feelings of powerlessness, amplified by social media, exacerbated by the pandemic that so influenced much of their adolescence.

The rage was sparked, and now it burns wildly. It feels like power.

I do not know if my friend’s insight is accurate, but certainly it’s food for thought.

We hope that our readers — both Israeli and American — can find some comfort in Yom HaZikaron and, even while surrounded by so much pain, find some respite in the resilience and ultimate triumph of Yom Ha’Atzmaut.


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