Join our email list

A Nation That Can’t Sleep

The following is a transcript of Episode 158 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Identity Crisis, a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer. We’re recording on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023. 

As we record this introduction, we’re about 72 hours into one of the worst crises the state of Israel has ever faced. We’re still reeling from a day in which Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel and killed more Jews in a single day than on any other day since the Holocaust. And still, from afar, we are obsessively, anxiously following along as our friends and loved ones are enlisted to military service, are being buried, or are still missing. 

There’s not much news that this show can offer on the story. Not much more than you probably already know, or will be obsolete by tomorrow’s news cycle when the show comes out. Truthfully, I don’t have a lot of stomach for political analysis right now. Much like the Israeli people, who are generally relentless and restless political animals, but who know the difference between the time to mobilize in service of their country, and the time to mobilize against the government for its clear failures.

But there’s a text I’ve kept going back to for the last few days. I spoke about it with a friend on Shabbat as the news started to peter into our synagogue, effectively ending our observance of the holiday. And I talked about it with the Hartman team here yesterday, as we began our preparations to adjust our work for the foreseeable future.

The text is from the first Mishnah in the third chapter of the Tractate of Brachot, and the sages say, מִי שֶׁמֵּתוֹ מוּטָל לְפָנָיו, פָּטוּר מִקְּרִיאַת שְׁמַע, מִן הַתְּפִלָּה וּמִן הַתְּפִלִּין.

A person whose dead body lies before them is exempt from reciting the sh’ma, from reciting the prayers, and from wearing tefillin.

That possessive term, their dead body, connotes that the person we’re talking about is obligated to that dead body. So maybe it’s their close relative, or at least their charge. They are the person responsible for the burial of this person and the mourning for them. And we might ask about this case, why? Why does a specific responsibility to the dead exempt us from these other really important daily mitzvot? And there are two clear possibilities.

One explanation, which a lot of the traditional commentators prefer, is about distraction. Reciting the Shema and praying, putting on tefillin, these are obligations which require focus and intentionality. You’re not allowed to do them pro forma. The rabbis know that in a moment like this, it’s too much to ask of a person while they’re mourning their dead, that they focus on anything else, and they thus are granting compassionate permission to the mourner to stay in their place of mourning.

There’s a second possibility, a second way to read the text, which is less about state of mind and merely about the question of urgency connected to a larger rabbinic principle that when a person is engaged in doing a mitzvah, in an obligatory commandment, they are exempt from other mitzvahs. But it can’t just be any mitzvah, you need some sort of hierarchy. The lesson of the Mishnah in this reading is that the obligation to our dead supersedes a lot of other really important mitzvot.

It shouldn’t be lost on us that in this particular case, we’re talking about a mitzvah that is rooted in chesed towards others. Acting with lovingkindness towards the dead, the people who can never thank us. That’s understood to be its own reward. It supersedes mitzvot like prayer that are entirely about the spiritual state of the person doing it.

This is where we are right now. Many of our people are literally, right now, those individuals that are responsible for their dead. They cannot and should not be asked to do much beyond the basic obligations of chesed, to care for their loved ones. But it might be that all of our people, the Jewish people right now, are in this state as well.

Because maybe not all of us bear direct responsibility to bury our relatives, but all of us are called into a world of obligation that looks vastly different today than it did just a week ago.

The underlying truth of the Mishnah, after all, is that Jewish tradition sees our fundamental human condition as rooted in one obligation or another. Either you’re obligated right now to do this mitzvah, or you’re obligated right now to be doing a different mitzvah. There’s no way to be a Jew who’s not constantly obligated. The only thing different this week than last week is that our world of obligations has just seen a radical reordering of our priorities.

I’ll admit that from my perch, it’s not been obvious which meets vote, befall us here right now, and what those of us who work in education should be doing as the top priority. As a private citizen, I’m spending more time than I usually do staying in touch with loved ones, making donations, praying, crying, and doom-scrolling.

As the leader of an institution, I’m striving to figure out how the voice of the Shalom Hartman Institute can best serve our people right now, not as entertainment, not anything that would distract us from our urgencies, but the kind of stuff that would reinforce our will and our resolve.

For this week’s episode, I decided to hand over the microphone to Israelis living through this unprecedented trauma. I reached out to a bunch of friends and colleagues, all Israelis who at one point or another had immigrated to Israel from North America. I thought it would resonate and humanize these stories for a principally North American audience to hear Israelis speaking in unaccented English about what the last few days have been about. 

I was inspired to do this because I got a voice memo from my friend Elizabeth. I think Israelis are leaders in the world in sending voice memos. Elizabeth is one of the voices that you’ll hear, and she was just sharing with me what was going on. 

None of these are scripted monologues. You’ll hear how tired they are. The places where they’ve begun to draw some tentative conclusions, and other times when they just sound, as you might expect, scared, anxious, angry, and grieving. A bunch of them arrived to me in the middle of the night Israel time, as the output of a nation that can’t fall asleep. They all sent me these reflections as voice notes in WhatsApp, and I cried listening to all of them. We’ve edited them lightly and strung them together for you, seven stories among millions ore. 

The first clips you’ll hear, we’ll introduce our guests this week, where they were when they heard the first sirens and how they learned about what was unfolding, given the realities of Shabbat and Simchat Torah.

Elizabeth: You know what it felt like for us on Saturday night? When we knew things were happening. Our neighbor came over in the morning. 

Yehuda: Elizabeth Mayman is an educator and social activist living in Zichron Yaakov. We are dear friends from college. 

Elizabeth: We went to Shul because we didn’t really know what was going on. And actually no one knew what was going on then.

Dina: So, believe it or not, this is the first time that I’m using my voice to talk about what’s going on. 

Yehuda: Dina Rabhan is a marketing management and growth strategist and consultant. She lives in Hashmonaim, which is right near Modi’in in the center of the country. 

Dina: My 12-year-old daughter who is the youngest of my seven daughters has not let me leave her side since we started to find out what was going on, so I haven’t had the opportunity to process anything verbally. Everything has just been in text with family and friends.

Yehuda: Avidan Freedman teaches at the Hartman Institute.

Avidan: This will be impromptu and scattered as our thoughts are in these days. 

Yehuda: and is also the founder of Yanshoof, an organization that works to create oversight over Israeli arms sales, especially to dangerous regimes. He lives in Efrat. 

Todd: I’ve been through wars before. I was in the first Gulf War. 

Yehuda: Todd Berman also lives in Efrat. 

Todd: I sat with a gas mask in a room with Israelis at Yeshiva Har Etzion. I’ve walked in Mea Shearim as I was bombed. I’ve been shot at, stoned, you name it. 

Yehuda: He’s an educator and director of institutional advancement at Eretz Hatzvi, a men’s gap year yeshiva in Jerusalem. 

Anna: So, these attacks took me, by surprise, just like everybody else, of course. 

Yehuda: Anna Bronstein is a longtime colleague of mine at Hartman in Jerusalem. We actually started at almost the exact same time. And she now runs data management and systems applications at our main campus. 

Anna: I live in Arnona in South Jerusalem. We’re part of this amazing community. Tensions in Israel for internal politics have really been building up and it was just nice to have a holiday.

Dyonna: We were getting ready on Shabbat morning to go to shul, 

Yehuda: Dyonna Ginsburg is CEO of OLAM, a network of Jewish and Israeli organizations working in the fields of global service, international development, and humanitarian aid. She’s been a guest on this podcast before, and she lives in Jerusalem.

Leah: my life’s work has in many ways been devoted to, the space between the particular and the universal. 

Yehuda: Leah Solomon is chief education officer at Encounter. She’s been on this podcast before as well, and she too lives in Jerusalem. 

Leah: I deeply believe that the only way for us to live in safety and security in this land is to fully recognize that there is another people living in this land who deserve just as much as we do to live in security, in freedom, in justice, in equality.

 And since Saturday morning, that simply shattered.

Todd: I’ll tell you what happened with this particular event. 

Anna: We were slowly getting ready to go back to shul for Simchat Torah services in the morning. 

Todd: My whole family decided to daven at the early minyan, which started at six in the morning. We got to synagogue at six, or even five to six. It was pitched black outside. By 6:35, that’s when we had to start saying the amida, the silent amida, the silent prayer. And while we were doing that, I heard grumblings 

Avidan: I’m walking to shul, on Shabbat morning, and somebody says to me, let’s add some more prayers for those booms going on. And I said, what? 

Todd: From my synagogue you can really hear so much. We heard grumblings, rumblings in the far distance.

Avidan: She pointed to the sky, and I hadn’t heard anything until then, and all of a sudden I was hearing booms, booms. Didn’t know what was going on. I thought, okay, some rockets. We go and start praying. 

Todd: So we’re all standing outside around nine o’clock, having kiddush, a little scotch, a little herring, some other wonderful things were prepared by the person joining the kiddush.

Avidan: And in the midst of the priestly blessing, in the midst of the Kohanim’s blessing, before they get to the words, וישם לך שלום, and He sets peace upon you, we hear the siren.

Dyonna: my father had actually been the Shaliach Tzibbur, leading services when the first siren had gone off.

Anna: A little bit after 8 o’clock I think. 

Todd: All of a sudden the siren went off. 

Anna: My husband and I kind of looked at each other and we were like, is that, yeah, that’s a siren. Okay. We grabbed our kids and we ran out into the stairwell. 

Avidan: Quickly disperse into the protected areas, into the safe rooms, and into the stairwell. 

Todd: We ran the synagogue into the room to be protected there. We squished in, the early minyan only had about, at kiddush time, probably had 25, 30 people, but there was another 40, 50 people in the synagogue for the regular minyan, which started 8:30, so they smushed in as well.

Elizabeth: You know, we were in Zichron. We didn’t have sirens. The police came and then, you know.

Anna: Our apartment does not have a mamad or a safe room in it. We do have a miklat, a shelter, a communal one for everyone in the building, which of course was locked. So we just went out into the stairwell, which is supposed to be one of the safer places in a building, and we were out there with some of our neighbors. Nobody knew what was going on.

Elizabeth: we heard snippets over Shabbat, right, from people that shared little bits of information as things were unfolding. But it wasn’t in our immediate space. 

Dyonna: We went upstairs again, and I turned to my mom and I said, I think I’m going to go check on Zev and the kids, but first I want to stay for Halel, both because I love the songs of this part of the service, and also because I think I had a glimpse that I probably wouldn’t come back to Shul that day, and that this Simchat Torah was going to be really different than others.

My husband and I have been through this before. We got married in 2014 in the middle of Operation Tzuk Eitan. The entire wedding was punctuated with sirens and going in and out of safe rooms. My sister-in-law, had to stop on the way to Jerusalem and lie on the highway in her gown because of a siren that had gone off. I made my way back home and I was still trying to convince my family that we should go to shul.

Anna: At our shul, like at many others, they let all of the kids have an Aliyah. And had offered any kid who wanted to read his own Aliyah to lain it. And I had taught my son one of the Aliyot. We were really, he was really excited about that. Both of my kids were really excited to go and see their friends again, and of course they got lots of candy.

Dyonna: But then the third siren and I think the fourth siren went off. I lost count, but there were something like six or seven that morning in Jerusalem. 

Elizabeth: You know, people started getting called out to come to war, and we were like, oh, like the Yom Kippur War? We had no Hakafot, and you know, we didn’t do Torah readings. 

Dyonna: We still tried to keep things pretty joyous. We invited our neighbors from downstairs and their kids to come upstairs and do impromptu hakafot. We danced around the coffee table and recited some of the traditional verses and found candy to give our kids. 

Todd: There was a rumor from someone in synagogue that 50 terrorists had taken over Sderot. So that was just a rumor flowing around. We didn’t want to make a big deal about it.

Elizabeth: It seemed pretty serious. 

Dyonna: We weren’t particularly scared. 

Elizabeth: Nobody had any idea, nobody had seen the news. Nobody had checked their phone. 

Leah: At first we thought it was quote unquote, just rockets, just another, you know, skirmish with Gaza.

Elizabeth: We went to someone’s house for Shabbat lunch, thinking what we thought was horribly the worst. 

Todd: My wife turned to me and said that this is just, this is just, it’s a game changer. I can feel it. It’s totally different than before.

Anna: I normally don’t use the phone on Shabbat or any electricity. But I made the decision that there was no way I was going to get through the day without knowing what was going on. 

Avidan: When we all come out, there’s somebody in army uniform, giving us a briefing and telling us that the situation is awful, is a catastrophe. 

Anna: I checked the news, saw immediately that two hours earlier there had been a barrage of rocket fire at south and central Israel for the past two hours.

Avidan: Maybe we’ve lost the South, really, really extreme language. And I’m thinking to myself, what are you talking about? Why are you getting people so, so stressed out? And he told anybody who was on active reserve duty to open their phones and to get ready because they’ll probably be called up.

Anna: So we spent the next several hours in and out of the shelter. 

Avidan: I went home in order to see how my family was doing. We heard another siren and I made a run for it and made it to my home and found my family in the safe room. 

Todd: Obviously we sat in pins and needles until Havdalah. We ended the Chag and we managed to turn on our phones.

And then there was just a crisis. 

Elizabeth: It turned out after Shabbat when we actually learned.

Anna: The invasion of southern Israel by Hamas by land, sea, and air. 

Dyonna: The reality of what had happened and what had, what was still happening began to sink in. I first looked at my WhatsApp groups, and there was one that really stopped me in my tracks. It was a group of mutual friends and colleagues, one of whom posted a message about hiding in her safe room while terrorists surrounded her house in southern Israel. 

And then there were all these messages that were probably written over hours, but I was reading them in the course of seconds, asking how she was doing, and radio silence on the other end.

Anna: When Shabbat and Chag ended, basically for the past 48 hours since then, I have been 100 percent glued to my phone, everybody checking in with each other, a million WhatsApp groups, sending updates, asking questions. and just seeing all of these stories, the same ones that everyone is seeing, right, these horrors, these total horrors in the South, what people went through, the hostage situation, people missing, people not being able to find their family members, people discovering that their family members were murdered. The videos that Hamas posted of them killing people, abducting people. Just really being unable to tear myself away from that, I think, like, many people.

Todd: It was just more horrible than we could even imagine. We pulled out Tehillim and started saying Tehillim.

Avidan: There were entire Kibbutzim that were out of our hands. When we finished Chag, the number of dead that we started to hear was a hundred, even though I’d already heard the number a thousand, which is what we seem like we’re getting to, but the first number they were telling us was a hundred that were killed and maybe dozens who were taken into captivity, and, and it just got less and less believable as the hours went on, to see that Israel is not able to get its own borders under control.

Todd: Nothing in my recollection has felt anything like this. It’s what people said about ’73, the Yom Kippur War, and then hearing the horror of it and just everywhere you turn, everywhere you turn, someone you know is suffering. My next door neighbor, one of his sons was in the army, was killed. Another person in my neighborhood, son was killed. Someone I’m friendly with on Facebook, son went missing and they thought he was kidnapped.

I don’t know if you can hear in the background, you can hear the airplanes, we heard airplanes all day, 24 hours a day, you hear airplanes, and then the sirens and just nothing has ever been like this. And the feeling that something finally has to change and the barbarism of all the new stories coming out. Unbelievable. Just shock. 

Anna: Saturday afternoon, we have been hearing in the skies above us non-stop airplanes.

Elizabeth: Usually, like, I jump to empathy, I jump to empathy about, you know, my friend in Gaza, you know, all these kinds of things that, um, you know, think about all the innocent lives that will be lost because someone decided to do something like this.

But this is, like, this scale that I don’t even know how we’re going to get out of. 

Leah: The army, the government, even this government that I deeply mistrust. All I cared about was them doing whatever they could to keep me and my family safe. And that was the only thing that mattered. And somehow I lost the ability to see beyond that at all. Like something just broke. 

Yehuda: Our guests shared stories with us about what these moments reminded them of, what resonances they surfaced from the past, personal and national memories, and they reflected on how the first days of war are affecting them and their families and reshaping Israeli society right now, responding to this moment. They talked about the resilience of Israelis and Israeli societies and the close connections that everyone has to what’s unfolding.

Elizabeth: This feels to me, sitting here, like some version of a 9/11, also, beautiful blue sky here, yes, on Saturday, beautiful blue sky, the same 9/11 blue sky, beautiful blue sky.

Anna: I was in Manhattan at Columbia Uptown on September 11th. There were a lot of the same feelings then that I have now of being very close and also very far away. I remember after 9/11, New York was so quiet. That’s how I feel about Jerusalem also. Aside from when there’s the sirens and of course, like I mentioned, the airplanes overhead. 

School has been cancelled. People are scared. People are just going out, going to the supermarket, doing what they have to do. We’ve been out to visit friends in the neighborhood, really, like within, you know, the few blocks around our apartment, have been feeling a lot of deja vu about the very beginning of the first lockdown that we had for COVID back in March 2020, the utter uncertainty and again, fear. 

There are people on the streets, but not a lot. Cars on the roads, but not a lot. Just very, very quiet. My kids who are five and eight, they go back and forth between being really scared and understanding that there’s a war and sort of understanding what that means and saying, well, there’s no sirens. Like, isn’t the war over? My eight year old, we’ve told him a bit of what’s going on in the South. Not too much, I hope.

Dina: Basically we hear 24 hours a day, the rumbling of the jets in the sky. It’s like a noise that does not stop. And we hear the explosions in the distance. we live right at the edge of what would be considered the settlement area and therefore we’re at high risk of terrorist infiltration.

You know, I’m an American with American sensibilities and the fact that those words are coming out of my mouth is crazy to me. Like, I’m not worried about rockets falling on my house, but I am worried about, um, being maimed or murdered by terrorist infiltration into my community and now into my house.

Elizabeth: I vigilante have to protect my, my family’s, like, front door. Like the Los Angeles riots. Like, my son Noam likes to do with, like, you know, knives and his own, like, homemade, sharpened Nerf bullets. I mean, right, that’s what it feels like. Like, I need to protect my own house, and I’m not exaggerating about that. Even though I’m in Zichron, so I really actually feel very personally safe in this exact space, but am I? 8

Elizabeth: And then it feels like something I don’t know, that feels like something I don’t know. And uncertainty never feels good. And part of me is scared that it’s not uncertainty that I feel, right? It’s not uncertainty. It’s like, it’s like when you know the diagnosis or you know the thing and you just don’t want to believe it. And that’s what this is.

A friend of ours, unfortunately diagnosed her own sister’s breast cancer. And when she looked at, like, the, you know, the scans, she was like, oh, that’s interesting. I haven’t seen something like this before. I don’t know what that is. And then she went home and realized it wasn’t that she hadn’t seen something like that. She just, in her head, couldn’t acknowledge that her own sister-in-law had cancer. And then, obviously, you know, the doctor kicked in. You know, everyone got treatment they needed. But that initial shock, and, I am afraid that that’s what’s going on here, for me.

Dina: In addition to feeling like in a semi dissociative state where I just, I feel like I’m in a fog because I don’t, my brain doesn’t want to believe that any of this is real, but it is real. 

Anna: The other feeling, of course, that’s very similar to September 11th is the sense that something very fundamental has changed the world’s order. Or the national order has changed, 

Avidan: We’ve been thinking about the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and that we’re 50 years on and, and everybody here knows and talks about the conception, the conception of, of how safe we felt. Nobody really thought that we could, we could be back there and certainly not against Hamas. We’re fighting a terrorist group that certainly has weapons, but it’s nothing that we would have thought could possibly challenge the power of and the technology and the abilities and the capacities of the Israeli army in 2023. 

Anna: Thinking that our military and our governments were super prepared, that Hamas was weak, that we Israelis could not be attacked like this on our own soil. 

Avidan: We were surprised and we’re coming to terms with a sense of fragility 

Anna: A total crashing of all of these illusions.

Avidan: And with a sense of the complete breakdown of, of government and of the basic responsibility of the government towards its people.

Anna: And of course all of the anger and especially the fear that comes with that. This is going to take a long time, this war. I have the sense that it’s not going to end very well. I don’t know for whom, hopefully for Israel, it will, we will be safe in the end. But whatever the results are, it will be different. 

Leah: But there’s no going back. There’s no going back to what was before.

Elizabeth: I look at my 12 year old who hasn’t let me leave her side as having the most normal reaction to this insanity. We’re all armored up with our defense mechanisms that are letting us function and get up in the morning and do the things we need to do. 

And when she found out the number of people who were killed, it was, you know, just something that wanted to make her, you just saw her brain exploding from it. Like, it’s not possible to understand. And I look at how she’s reacting, and I think, wow, like, it is not possible to understand. And somehow my brain is figuring out how to keep putting one step in front of the other despite being confronted with the horror show that we’re living in.

Dyonna: The numbers are still hard to wrap my head around. The sickening brutality and also the fact that this happened to be really personal. Many, many, many Israelis are personally impacted and or know someone with one degree of separation who is. 

Avidan: I mean, the numbers are just unfathomable. How many people were killed in one day and in what ways. And we still don’t know everything, 

Leah: I have a friend, 74 year old peace activist friend, who as far as we can tell, is being held hostage in Gaza. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since I found out, which was very shortly after apparently she had been abducted. 

Todd: A friend in America’s mother in law, 85 year old mother in law, went missing and is probably one of the people who was kidnapped.

Leah: I have a friend who lost both parents. Both parents were killed by Hamas terrorists and countless other people who you know, one degree of separation, have had loved ones brutally murdered or abducted or still missing and don’t even know where they are.

Todd: Every Jew that I speak to in America is also one, you’re not six people removed. You’re one person removed from a tragedy it’s just, it’s unfathomable. 

Avidan: We still have a hostage situation that we don’t know how it’s going to be dealt with. 

Dina: We have a 19 year old who’s in the Air Force.

Todd: We only have one daughter who served in the army right now. My son-in-law immediately after Shabbat Simchat Torah, checked to see if he’s been called up for reserves, which he was not. His unit still hasn’t been called up. 

But everywhere I go, all my colleagues have kids that have been called up into Miloim, into very dangerous situations and everyone is so incredibly on edge, I mean 300,000 people were called up. So you just imagine that. So you can just imagine that it’s everyone, you know. 

Avidan: It seems like they’re going in with a ground invasion, and that’s going to be high casualties and everyone’s on edge about that as well. Ground invasions always mean casualties. Casualties means more sorrow. More sorrow, more funerals, and it’s just, it’s just, it’s very, very, very difficult. 

In my life I’ve been to way too many funerals of young people who deserve to live their lives, you know, live their full lives.

It’s just, you know, apropos for this week’s Torah reading, the Mishnah says if you kill someone, you don’t just kill them, but you take away all their future, every child they could possibly have. If you save someone, you’re also saving their future and building an entire world. Too many worlds have been destroyed and it’s emotionally very, very difficult. 

People who were much more on left wing understanding of the Palestinian situation are not so after this, uh, these events and most of it happens in a few weeks.

Leah:  I have no answers to this, but what is hard for me today, I hear people, my 17 year old has been telling me that his friends are saying they don’t care how many children we have to kill, we should just level Gaza, that they’re just animals. None of these Arabs, none of these Palestinians are human. They’re not even human beings and we just need to kill them. 

And it scares me. It scares me for the people that he’s talking about, but it also scares me for my, for myself, for my kids. What I so despise of the incidents that the atrocities that, the terrorists who infiltrated into this country committed against my people and some of whom I actually know personally. 

At the core of that was dehumanization. At the core of that was a complete lack of acknowledgement of the human being standing in front of them, and it is simply unfathomable, unforgivable, horrific. 

And the last thing that I want to be is someone who can’t see other human beings. I’m scared that in our fear and our trauma, we’re somehow losing our humanity and I don’t really know what to do with it. It’s very hard for me right now to figure out how do I hold both the particular and the universal, that the only way that the Jewish people can live safely in this land is if the other people in this land are able to live safely as well and are able to thrive. Our destinies are linked. I know this, but I can’t find my way back there, to really feeling that deeply. And I’m just sitting in that messiness right now. I don’t have any answers. 

Avidan: I was involved, over the last nine months in the protest movement against the judicial reform and before that against the Netanyahu government and I was a person who received many, many, insults and much criticism of people who are anarchists and who are against the government. 

And it’s been amazing to see how the entire organizational infrastructure of the protest movement that was dedicated to mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people over the course of nine months instantly, instantly switched over to doing everything it can to provide support, to organize donations, to bring things to families, to literally organize convoys of people to save families that were still under siege.

Dyonna: People are stepping up. In thousands of different ways. Often at the same time when they’re juggling crazy things at home, kids underfoot, spouses, children, loved ones, in the army, perhaps personal losses. 

Anna: All of these grassroots pop up initiatives to get supplies and food to soldiers in the South, you know, socks, underwear, flashlights, batteries, all sorts of drones I saw they need, and just people banding together, tons of WhatsApps of, these people need this, here’s a drop off point, who can bring, who can drive, who’s going down south, etc., and also collections of clothes and food for people who are displaced from the South. 

Dina: This is a two truths type of situation where we’re just grieving, and so deeply, and we’re so devastated and the whole horror show of what’s happening. And at the same time we’re seeing everybody is just digging deep and bringing their best best selves out to do everything that needs to happen. 

Anna: In my neighborhood, the Tzofim Youth Movement has been leading this amazing, amazing collection and sorting effort. I’ve taken my kids to go buy food and gone through our old clothes and games with them, sort of to both to give my kids something to do, but also to involve them in this feeling of being able to do something useful and something helpful, and just having something to do. 

So we’ve done this together and then gone down the block several times to drop things off and it’s just really incredible to see what these teenagers have put together. All of these people in reserves were called up and, um, just dropped what they were doing 

Avidan: And of course, all of the so-called refusers, who, all along we said at a moment’s notice when Israel needed it, would all stand up and we all do what they needed to do, all reported for duty, all reported to their bases and to their flights, they’re all now serving with bravery and valor in order to protect ourselves, in order to protect our families.

They’re not there to serve a government that we feel has failed us, but we are there as we were in the protest movement to serve our country and their people. Just as we defended the country protesting, now we are defending the country by helping and by volunteering. 

Dyonna: For the last day or so, I have spent most of my time, trying to do my small part to provide connections and support for two members in our broader network who are currently missing, and are presumed to have been kidnapped. I have a lot of connections with non-Jews, both within Israel and abroad.

One of the first phone calls that I got after, I turned on my phone on Saturday night was from a young, Eritrean asylum seeker who lives in the center of Israel who was calling to check in on me and my family. I was embarrassed that I had not thought to do that to him right away. But he has spent the last day or so posting like any other Israelis on social media, sharing initiatives of fellow African asylum seekers in Israel who have donated supplies for Israeli soldiers. 

And I’ve also received countless messages, both from people within the Jewish community, but also people in the non-Jewish community. A wonderful Rwandan CEO of an organization that works on leadership skills for vulnerable girls, who happens to get funding from the Israeli Embassy in Rwanda to do work with teenage moms, reached out to me with a beautiful message today of solidarity.

Dina: I mean, I keep reading people talk about our civic society and how we are coming together in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time because of our political upheaval. It’s both true. We’re not okay and we’re devastated and we’re filled with hope and inspiration for the strength that we have as a people.

Avidan: And it’s something we knew existed. And it’s something that we believed in. Even when our critics called it into question, and it is the strength of Israel, it is the Netzach Yisrael that will bring us through. And it is a faith that is rooted in a commitment to, not just to the physical survival of Israel, but it’s really a faith that’s rooted in a commitment to Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state. And so we know that after, please God, we finish this fighting and, please God, get to the other end of this crisis, that we will do everything we need to do to continue to ensure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Leah: On Shabbat morning when we were sitting in the safe room, really just going crazy for three and a half hours trying to understand what was happening, the first person to reach out to me was a Palestinian friend in Hebron who wrote and said, I’m reading the news and I just wanted to see if you’re okay. It’s so horrible what I’m seeing. Please tell me how you’re doing and how your kids are doing. 

It’s a very little thing. It’s one person. There have been other friends who have reached out the last couple of days, but that’s what I’m holding on to right now.

Todd: I can’t recall in 30 years of Israel never felt the power of this moment. Like this moment.

Yehuda: Thank you to this week’s guests, to Anna Bronstein, Todd Berman, Dyonna Ginsburg, Elizabeth Maimon, Avidan Friedman, Dina Rabhan, and Leah Solomon. Thank you to them for sharing their stories, their thoughts, and their reflections of hope. Identity Crisis is produced by M Louis Gordon, and our executive producer is Maital Friedman.

This show was produced with assistance from Miri Miller and Sarina Shohet. This episode was edited by our assistant producer, Tessa Zitter, and our music is provided by Socalled. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at We’ll see you next week and stay safe.

More on
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics