The entire world is a narrow bridge; the essential thing is not to become paralyzed by your fear. -Jewish proverb
I was in Israel just days before the Oct. 7 attack to attend my niece’s wedding. I stayed with my sister and her family, who made aliyah almost a decade ago. It was a lively and beautiful Sukkot, as it should be.
Something I rarely see expressed or understood is that, despite material comfort and breathtaking advances in technology and medicine, we are hardly more civilized than the world of 3,800 years ago — the world in which Judaism was born.
In the prevailing cultures at that time, state-sanctioned human sacrifice and child abuse was common. Judaism arose within a small tribe as a revolutionary idea — the idea of a unitary, just God and a set of fundamental morals and ethics uncommonly practiced at the time.
Tragically, as we have been reminded countless times in history, civilization is a thin veneer, a thin bulwark, against human pathologies, including human sacrifice. And we see it today. Who practices human sacrifice today? Well, Israel’s jihadist enemies do. They do so quite openly.
Of course, their contempt for life is not limited to human sacrifice. It cannot be emphasized enough — all the initial evidence of Hamas’ barbarity came from the perpetrators. They recorded and publicized their sadistic acts because they know a substantial part of the world celebrates and supports their savagery.
How do we know this? You do not have to look far. Countless of our fellow Americans, in academia, politics and elsewhere, celebrated Oct. 7. Far more keep silent, believing this is not their problem.
Well, it is your problem. It is a harbinger of civilizational decline. Jews experienced golden eras in many lands over the years — Ancient Egypt and Persia, Islamic Spain, the Ottoman Empire and pre-1933 Germany.
None lasted forever; as attitudes toward Jews in these lands deteriorated, so did the fortunes and cultures of these lands. Why? Because their intolerance for Jews indicated something sick in their societies, or something sick in their societies led to their intolerance for Jews.
We as Americans are not immune to this degradation. We already see it and feel it. We see it in the meeting of the U.S. political extremes on one common belief: Blame the Jews. We are sharply divided on fundamental questions like whether America is a decent country and its values worth defending.
This uncertainty extends abroad and is fueling growing instability and global disorder. When American power is questioned, the world becomes more dangerous. Indeed, we may already be in prelude to world war.
Most American Jews already know this: This is not Israel’s war alone. This is a war against Jews. Colleyville, Monsey, Jersey City, Poway, Pittsburgh and Kansas City are just the better-known attacks in the last decade.
Many Jewish schools in the U.S. closed on the Friday after the pogrom because Hamas declared a “day of rage” — they declared a day of rage after they murdered 1,200 people. Columbia’s Jewish student life center went on lockdown after the attack.
Thousands have marched at rallies chanting bone-chilling threats against Israel and Jews. At a Dave Chappelle show in Boston, some in the crowd chanted “Go Hamas” while Jewish attendees walked out.
Is this an emerging zeitgeist? How would these haters behave if they perceived even fewer constraints on their behavior? How will they behave when many elected officials inevitably turn on Israel?
If you speak up about George Floyd, Ukraine, the Supreme Court, Darfur or the Rohingya, Hunter Biden’s laptop, “Stop the Steal” or Jan. 6, climate or COVID-19 policy, preferred pronouns, or Fill in the Blank, then speak up about what happened on Oct. 7.
If you do not speak up because you are uncomfortable with Israel defending itself, or with this or that tactic, ask yourself how you would respond if atrocities were committed on your family, and babies, children, women, the elderly and numerous other innocents taken from their homes into Gazan dungeons.
If your response is “context,” “both sides” or “cycle,” then see above (Blame the Jews). Purity of victimhood is not moral; it is profoundly immoral if you have the means to defend your family and do not.
When Jews are strong, haters attack out of envy. When Jews are powerless, haters attack because they are weak. What we read in the Haggadah is not just descriptive. It is prophetic. “In every generation they rise up to destroy us …”
For American Jews, our comfort will not last forever. And Israel’s defense against its annihilationist enemies will have a great effect on American security and your personal well-being.
We are all Israelis now.
Robert Tanenbaum is an attorney and lives in Potomac, Md.