From the Editor | Must We Harden Our Hearts?

By | Jan 17, 2024
From the Editor, Winter 2024
hearts made out of stone

A few years back a prominent writer and Israel advocate visited the Moment office. While here she railed against the then-newish organizations that were taking Jewish young adults to places in the West Bank with the goal of teaching them about what life is like for Palestinians under Israeli rule. She felt that it was handing ammunition to delegitimize Israel to its enemies. I wasn’t surprised. I had gone on a few of these trips myself, and while I found them enlightening and even revelatory, what stood out to me the most was the negative reaction from extended family and friends when they found out I had gone. When I told her, as I had told them, that acknowledging another person’s perspective and daily struggles doesn’t have to negate your own beliefs, it was a bit like talking to a brick wall. It turns out suffering can be a zero-sum game.

I’ve been thinking about these conversations as I watch—from afar—the Israel-Hamas war unfold. Almost immediately after October 7, there was a minimization of the atrocities that had occurred during the attack. There were (and remain) those for whom no amount of evidence will prove that rapes took place and those who remain so cemented in their views on oppression and power that they would rather believe October 7 was a false flag operation than acknowledge the scope of Hamas’s actions.

But on “our side,” if we can even call it that, I’ve seen something similar—an inability by some to grapple in a meaningful way with the ongoing destruction and devastation of Gaza, the sheer number of lives lost, the children subjected to continuous air strikes, losing more and more family with each one. Some denial is extreme—charging that visual evidence of suffering is just “Pallywood” or crisis actors pretending to be injured for international sympathy. An English-language Israeli newspaper even published an article accusing a man of holding up a doll for reporters and pretending it was his dead baby. It was later confirmed that, in fact, it was his dead baby, who had gone into rigor mortis. (I feel sick writing this sentence.) Even when there is a pro forma acknowledgment of the death toll, it is often waved away as a situation caused by Hamas and a necessary evil to ensure the survival of the Jewish state and Jewish people.

Perhaps this is what you need to do when you are at war. Harden your heart to your enemies—as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Egypt. If not, you will be plagued by indecision that could lead to further catastrophe. During a previous Gaza war, a family member told me with a sigh, “At a certain point in life you just need to pick a side, and Israel is my side.” Maybe she is right. In a world that seems unbothered by Jewish slaughter, where antisemitic incidents are so common they are barely worth mentioning, where the youngest hostage Kfir Bibas’s first birthday can pass in captivity without an international outcry, how can you not circle the wagons? Maybe it’s our only way to survive. But I hope this is not the case. More than seven million Jews and seven million Arabs live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. No matter how much one side or the other wishes, neither group is going anywhere. If we can acknowledge the pain of those who we’re certain are our enemies and recognize our role in perpetuating that pain—even if we think the actions that caused it were justified—maybe there is a chance we can move forward without repeating the cycle of violence over and over.

In this issue we are publishing a few voices of people who have refused to give into tribalism or hate. These include a variety of Muslim and Arab voices who are speaking out against antisemitism while supporting interfaith work to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia and other bigotry. Deputy Editor Jennifer Bardi profiles the charismatic and courageous Eric K. Ward, chronicling how a Black punk rocker became one of the loudest voices fighting antisemitism in America today. In “Perspectives,” Fania Oz-Salzberger makes the case for embracing humanistic Zionism, while Letty Cottin Pogrebin delves into how intensely personal the political situation has become for her and so many other Jews. Arts Editor Diane Bolz highlights seven films featuring Palestinian protagonists that offer a more nuanced view of “the other” in the Middle East conflict. In “Jewish Word,” Jacob Forman examines the implications of Benjamin Netanyahu’s referring to Hamas as Amalek. And Moment critic-at-large Carlin Romano injects some levity with his profile of an eccentric Israeli used book dealer and his store, before and after October 7.

There’s so much more to explore in this issue. Digital Editor Noah Phillips tells the story of the recently shuttered Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and explores how this seemingly marginal movement has influenced Jewish American life. In “Literary Moment,” Special Literary Contributor Robert Siegel examines two books that take on historic post-World War II war crime trials—one in Paris and one in Tokyo—and ponders what lessons can be learned from them today. Plus, Babs! Moment contributor Glenn Frankel read all 900+ pages of the autobiography of the woman he calls “the single most powerful and enduring female Jewish cultural figure of my lifetime”—Barbra Streisand—and has plenty to say.

Speaking of enduring Jewish culture, the masthead tells us this is Volume 50, issue Number 1. That means Moment is entering its fiftieth year of publishing. This is a pretty big deal! Stay tuned for special editorial coverage and events throughout the year. In the meantime, make sure to regularly visit to keep up with the entire Moment universe of newsletters, online broadcasts, series and more.

3 thoughts on “From the Editor | Must We Harden Our Hearts?

  1. Davida Brown says:

    A very interesting perspective from Sarah Breger. I believe that there are fair-minded people in every people group. However, I don’t believe we can compare racism with anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, racism is most often based on the color of one’s skin (or country of origin) and anti-Semitism has nothing to do with that. Jewish people have lived all over the known world for thousands of years, often blending into the physical characteristics of their host country, which can only be explained by inter-marriage. I could see this plainly in a booklet we received in the mail one time from the Iraeli “Boystown” home for orphaned boys. They had a “year book” of sorts showing pictures of the boys and listing underneath their country of origin. They were all Jewish, but looked like the typical ethnic peoples of the host country. The only explanation that is plausible is the Spiritual. Consider that!

    1. David Penzel says:

      Antisemitism has everything to do with racism. The original German word ‘antisemitismus’ was coined by a 19th Century Austrian Jew-hater. Justifying hatred of Jews on religious grounds was not enough for the era. Instead, he cast a pseudoscientific veneer over his hatred, in keeping with the times, and named the Jews as an inferior and inimical race. Whether or not we are one, and that is a complex issue I won’t discuss here, it was making the age-old enmity to Jews into a form of racism, which at the time was not the dirty word it is today.

  2. Davida Brown says:

    Thank you, David, for responding to my blog entry. Loved the word: inimical. Had to look it up. I do understand your point, though. This man, in his hatred, was trying to disguise his true source of hatred, which was a dark and evil heart. Religion can, indeed, induce hatred. Each individual must first succumb to the wiles of hasatan (the devil) who is the source of all Jew-hating. This isn’t religion…it is true Biblical spiritual fact. What it all boils down to is based on the heart of God (the ultimate Jew lover) or the influence of the devil. Modern religions do not talk much about heaven, hell or the devil, so it’s left up to us seeker souls to sort out what it’s all about. What I seek is the heart of God. As to the Jewish race, God made them who they are…each one decides how to respond to HIM. He named me “Davida” in 1993, the year I went to Israel. He said to me: “David, Davida…beloved, you are after my heart.” Why do I tell you this? Because I love the Jewish people with His love and have dedicated my life to them. God loves that because He loves you!

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