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Ukrainian Refugees and Holocaust Comparisons

The following is a transcript of Episode 46 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Monday, Friday, March 18th, 2022. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is Ukraine and the place of Israel in the world. In each edition of for Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself, discuss the current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. 

This is our third podcast on the tragedy and crisis in the Ukraine. We feel that it’s difficult to talk about anything else. As you, our listeners, know our feelings and sensibilities have changed and evolved over the last four weeks. The reality we experience is changing us and what we know, understand, or feel today is not what we knew, understood, or felt a couple of weeks ago. Unlike politicians, we all are proud of the fact that our opinions change and that we grow and are influenced by events, arguments, and other people.

Today, given the current state of discourse in Israel, we feel it’s really important to discuss the way the crisis in Ukraine is impacting on the way we think about the place of Israel in the world. Ukraine is a universal tragedy, that poses a very different specific challenge for Israel. A the state founded on the mission to protect the Jewish people, there remains a nagging question at the heart of the Jewish state and many of Israel’s citizens: is that our only mission, protecting the Jews? What are our responsibilities to the rest of humanity? I know we send units to earthquakes zones and we are now funding a field hospital, just like we did for Syrian refugees, on the border of Ukraine. But these efforts are often more symbolic or at least don’t significantly task Israel’s limited resources. 

Beyond providing safe refuge to Jews, do we have a moral responsibility to extend our energies and resources for others? The Ukrainian tragedy has evoked complex reactions to these questions. The Israeli government initially presented an absurdly low ceiling of 5,000 non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees that Israel was prepared to take in. Following public criticism, which was really interesting, that number has been expanded. And today, for those with family or friends in Israel, basically, all the Ukrainians who are actually seeking shelter in Israel, as distinct from going to Europe, there are now no quotas. 

In the public discourse, many cited prime minister Menachem Begin’s decision in 1977 to offer refuge to a group of Vietnamese boat people stranded and sea. And he cited his insistence that the Jewish state, given the history of the Jewish people and the Holocaust, has a particular moral responsibility to be sensitive to the plight of all refugees. But many Israelis remain ambivalent. And there’s still a lot of political debate. Israel is bracing itself for a massive influx of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, mostly from Ukraine, but possibly from Russia too.

What should our place be amongst the nations, especially at a time of world crisis? Especially when it, when Israel has its own challenges. Is Israel Israel when it principally takes care of its own. Yossi. Hi, it’s nice to see you. 

Yossi: It’s good to see you. 

Donniel: And happy Purim. Today’s Purim in Yerushalayim. 

Yossi: Yeah. And to you, even though it’s a heavy, it’s a heavy Purim.

Donniel: It’s a heavy Purim, you know, and it’s interesting that, as I was listening to the Megillah yesterday, the Megillah is not a simple book. It’s a book, where we’re being attacked and singled out, but it gives birth to a completely Jew-centric consciousness. You know, the assimilated Jews of Persia, at the end, it’s all about saving the Jews. It’s about us. It’s about, you know, can we fight for one more day? And it really has, uh, maybe it’s one of the less universal books, or it parallels a non universal trend in the Jewish tradition. 

But what I wanted to ask you Yossi was, you know, you and I, we live in two countries, at least two, or two areas. We live in North America. We live in Israel. This podcast, we’re in Jerusalem. We’re talking about Israel and we’re reaching out. And our audience, is a North American audience. For much of North American Jewry, particular Jewish identity is translated in universal terms. You can’t be a Jew without a universal consciousness.

And the primacy of Tikkun Olam represents that for so many Jews. To be a Jew is to care about people qua people. But as you know, and I know, the whole role of Tikun Olam in this sense in Israel is not what it is in North America. It’s far more diminished. So where are you on the universal responsibilities of Israel? Where are you? Why? How does this connect to Ukraine, and how does this go beyond Ukraine? Share with us where you are, Yossi. 

Yossi: So, you know, the old joke that, uh, universalism is Jewish particularism and, uh, I think in America that’s certainly true, in Israel it isn’t true at all. And you know, Donniel, listening to you talk about the Megillah, it helped crystallize something for me, which is really looking at the Torah as a whole.

Now the Torah is overwhelmingly the story of the Jewish people. Almost all of the Torah deals with the Jewish people. But the parts that don’t deal with the Jewish people are really crucial. We’re talking about the beginning of the Torah, where the Torah chooses to begin its story, which is in creation, in the story of universal humanity, in the story of humanity being created in the divine image.

And it’s not Jews, the Torah begins very deliberately with humanity. And it ends with humanity. It ends with a vision of uh, Isaiah’s vision. It ends with a messianic vision of humanity gathering in prayer and pilgrimage to Jerusalem. So the framing of the Torah, beginning and end, is universal.

But you know, when you say, where do I live? Where I live physically and where I live spiritually is in the overwhelming bulk of the Torah’s story. In the story that’s framed between the universal bookends, but I try never to lose sight of the fact that in a way being Jewish is a means to a universal end.

Now one has to live fully that particularism in order to be faithful to the movement of the Jewish story, but that movement must be anchored in our shared humanity. And it must aspire toward fulfilling our shared humanity. That’s the geography of the Torah. 

Donniel: So how does that geography, Yossi, get placed on the geography of Israel? Now, as an Israeli, as we see the way that tradition gets fit and placed in a particular space in current Israeli discourse, where are you?

Yossi: So let’s, let’s look for a moment at how Israel is playing out the Ukraine story on the ground, in Ukraine, because it tells a very complicated story. When the Israeli government decided on rescue in Ukraine, it focused on two groups: Israeli citizens, and Ukrainian Jews. Now, Israeli citizens did not mean Israeli Jews. It meant Israeli citizens. 

As it happens, most Israeli citizens who were in Ukraine were Arab. There were thousands of Arab Israelis studying in Ukraine. Israel directed its rescue efforts towards saving Israeli citizens, which means that Israel at that crucial moment, that moment of truth, Israel embraced all of its citizens, whether they were Jews or not. So there was a kind of acknowledgement, that built into Israeli identity is something more than Jewishness. So that was one piece of the response. 

The other response was, rescuing anyone who is eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. And treating the two groups entirely equally. Now there’s something beautiful about what was playing out on the ground, which is the embodiment, practical embodiment, of Israel’s dual identity as Jewish state and democracy. Jewish state is as particular as you can get. Democratic state is already more expansive. 

Now that’s the beautiful part of what was playing out. There’s a less beautiful story here, which is the very grudging way that we’ve dealt with the non-Jewish Ukrainians, those who don’t fit under either category of democratic, Israel, and Jewish Israel. And there, you know, it’s as if we were saying to them, listen, we’ve exhausted our capacity for generosity. In fulfilling these two identities, don’t expect us to do anything more.

Donniel: But was Israel being Israel, Yossi, or was Israel violating its core mission?

Yossi: Israel was being half Israel. When we took care of all Israeli citizens and any Jew who wants to come, we were fulfilling our role as Israel, but it can’t stop there. If we take this structure of the Tanakh seriously, the biblical structure, and especially as you say, at moments of world emergency, it’s not enough for us to fulfill even the limited universal identity that’s built into Israelis, into the democratic nature of Israelis. 

It’s not enough. It was embarrassing. It was agonizing, watching this government thrash about, well is it 5,000? Do we cap it? What about the families of Israeli citizens?

The first half of our response was Israel at its best. The second half was Israel at its worst. 

Donniel: See, I want today to try, cause we spent a lot of time on the particular responses to Ukraine, uh, to the crisis, to Ukrainian citizens. I, I want to go a little meta today, because these are moments where a society has to reflect on its core values. You know, and the president of Ukraine is actually, I don’t know if you’ve been following his speeches to each different country 

Yossi: Very much. Very much. 

Donniel: And he gives the same speech, but he changes. What he does is he gives a particular memory for each country.

So for Germany, he says Never Again. For America, he speaks about Pearl Harbor. For England, he speaks about Chamberlain. For Israel, he speaks about the Holocaust. Each country, he’s trying to make his concern, a particular concern, to try to remind people of their moment. He’s trying to get people to be Universalist very much in the language that you said, that universalism is Jewish particularism. But to get you to that moment where you see, given your particular story, and I think methodologically it’s really interesting. 

He’s not asking people to embrace the creation narrative. In other words, he’s not doing that. He’s not saying, look at Genesis one. He’s going deep into the core of your belly button. Who are you? How do see yourself?

Yossi: It’s such an interesting, it’s such an interesting Jewish approach because he’s saying that you get to universalism through your particular story. 

Donniel: Right. And that’s the only way to do it. So in many ways for, so let’s see. It’s neither Genesis nor Isaiah. It’s not utopia. Go to your most painful moment. And through your particularism, I want you to see me. 

Yossi: Beautiful. Beautiful. 

Donniel: To see me. It’s a remarkable educational moment and I think he’s a remarkable man, but the, at this moment, what are we learning from this? What we’re going to be doing is more or less set, you know, it’ll change, another week. I, that’s not my critical issue right now. At this moment, Israel has ultimately responded, uh, there’s an unlimited amount of Ukrainian refugees who want to come to Israel who could come, just about. We’re going to hee and haw about what we do when they come and we’re going to have to fight that as a civil society. We’re watching it, they’re filming it and every time it’s not right, we’re responding. I’m trying to understand why for many Israelis, what you’re saying Yossi, is self-evident and you saw a rebellion in Israel against Shaked, against the interior ministry and her, her narrow-mindedness, but for others, it’s still a serious debate.

She’s holding a line because there is a serious voice that is asking her to hold that line. And for them, as I said, in the introduction, every time Israel doesn’t focus on what’s good for Israel or the Jews, somehow it’s deviating from its mission. And I think one of the challenges, and I want to know how you feel about, I think one of the challenges is how do we talk about Israeli particularism? What’s our place? Is it the role of Israel, to be, you know, everybody else is taking care of their interests. Is that our role? Or does Jewish particular, in general, and Israeli nationalism, in particular, have to give expression to something different? 

There is a phenomenal line in the, I think it is the 1976 or eighty, no, 76, 86 or 96. I forget which one, um, the Rform Movement platform in San Francisco, where, they have this line, “We embrace nationalism, all the while that we transcend it.” I loved that articulation. And for me at the core, Israel is not Israel, unless it embraces nationalism and wants to transcend it. 

And that’s, why did we come to the world? And part of the challenge is that some of these universal definitions of Zionism were pre-Holocaust, Yossi. Before the Holocaust, we said, yes, we want to create a state that’s going to be good for the Jews. And where could it be good for everybody. But our, the Holocaust shrunk, our universal aspirations. It just shrunk them. It changed our focus. And I think how we reflect on that, is going to be critical for the future for Israel. 

Yossi: You know, I think that the impact of the Holocaust is ongoing. It has hardened a part of the Jewish people. Uh, the Holocaust combined with 70 plus years of war and siege, part of the Jewish people went into a kind of emotional shutdown. And that part of us is only capable of responding to our own self-interest. I want to say that that’s a betrayal of Judaism and the Jewish people, but a large part of me understands that, I’m speaking emotionally now, and I, when I was younger, I was completely there. And so I understand, that hardheartedness. 

On the other hand as a citizen of Israel, I’m consistently appalled at the policy expressions of this hardheartedness. You know, Donniel, you and I were involved with the African asylum seekers. And the Institute got behind this issue, in a beautiful way. We ran a daycare center in south Tel Aviv, uh, for a few years, which the Institute sponsored. It was so out of, our area of responsibility. And yet, there was something so beautiful about seeing Hartman fellows, and uh, Moshe Idel, an Israel prize winner, with a two year old asylum child on his lap. And it, it was a really fantastic experience. And in part, we were responding to the hardheartedness of the government toward these people. 

And they were treating them as a demographic problem rather than as human beings. And, you know, once you start getting in that mindset, the Palestinians are a demographic problem. And I understand that, but then where does it end? The African asylum seekers, there were 30,000 of them, and yet they are a demographic problem.

The Ukrainian refugees. Demographic problem. And so there’s something in us that as soon as there’s a whiff of threat, the Holocaust and the terrorism and the wars and everything gets activated, and that’s what we have to push back against. 

Donniel: I hear you. Could, I, I want to push this even a little further cause you, I mentioned it, you mentioned it, we opened the door, and Zelensky opened the door. I put it this way. I think American Jewry has moved in this direction already. 

And you can look at a lot of the Holocaust museums in North America. There’s a very big difference between Yad Vashem and Holocaust museums outside of Israel, where the Holocaust will always be a Jewish story. And it’ll always activate a core sense of never again. But to what extent is the Holocaust also a universal story?

Yossi: Now we have an argument, Donniel. 

Donniel: I don’t want to, I don’t, I’m not looking for an argument. 

Yossi: We’ve been agreeing too much in this episode. 

Donniel: It’s true. I was trying to wonder, like, what’s wrong with me? I was saying like, one second? Where is, what the? Uh, but I, I’m not looking for an argument. I I just, you see, both you and I, we want Israel to do the right thing, be the right thing. And we’re searching for it. And as we’re emotionally experiencing events, we’re looking at Israel and trying to see, who are we?

And so when Zelensky calls forth and says, I want to speak from Yad Vashem. Okay. Maybe he shouldn’t speak from Yad Vashem, but what is he trying to do? He’s trying to take Pearl Harbor, all these moments, which caused you to look at your own belly button to say, okay, what’s happening to me, he’s challenging us. 

Yossi: Okay. All good. Yes, I got it. 

Donniel: To take our particular moments. And I know that. I know now that’s what he’s trying to do. Just like our tradition says, that’s what we did with Egypt. Egypt was our particular experience. And we said, Hey, Israel, you weren’t just slaves in Egypt. You become the model for embracing and caring for the disenfranchised.

Like we used Egypt, and it was a particular experience which we universalized. And I’m wondering whether, when I look at modern Israel today, and I look at Menachem Begin, what he said back then in the seventies, Israel is not still stuck in a place that it can’t, or is not sufficiently learning the universal obligations of the Holocaust.

Yossi: So Donniel, it depends, 

Donniel: I don’t want to, I’m not asking, whether 

Yossi: Donniel, listen, listen. 

Donniel: Let me just let me let it, Yossi, just one more thing, just cause I want to make sure I’m clear. I’m not measuring who suffered more and whether it’s the same, I’m not getting into that dimension, but whether the notion of suffering to that extent, doesn’t obligate you to a vision of the world, of correction and responsibility to fight evil, that that switch, without showing disrespect to our ancestors, is not a necessary move, that has to make aliyah to Israel. And now I’m going to be quiet, Yossi. Sorry for taking so long, especially on a subject that I 

Yossi: No. It’s it’s, hard for me. Hard for me to restrain myself. 

Donniel: That’s okay. I appreciate that. 

Yossi: Let’s, let’s. 

Donniel: And I, I apologize. Cause I know that. 

Yossi: no, no, no. Let’s, let’s unpack some of the points you made. You talk about the move universalizing slavery in Egypt. It isn’t a great stretch to universalize slavery in Egypt because slavery really is a universal experience.

When the black slaves in the south adopted the Exodus narrative, it made perfect sense. Now, we have a saying, in Judaism, you don’t judge fellow until you’re in his place. And so what I’m going to say now is not meant to judge Zelensky and I, really mean that, but I am intensely uncomfortable when he invokes the Holocaust. 

His move to speak to Yad Vashem. And yeah, at, to my mind, Yad Vashem was absolutely right to turn him down. That’s not the frame with which to view Ukraine. Now, Pearl Harbor, I’ll go further, Donniel, the Nazi invasion of Europe, Nazi invasion of Russia. You want to compare what Russia is doing in Ukraine?

There is a comparison. Why am I so protective of the Holocaust? It’s not because we suffered more than anyone else. I hate that logic. I hate that argument. It’s obscene. How do you measure the suffering of a child in the Holocaust with the suffering of a child in a slave hold across the Atlantic? It’s impossible. 

And I don’t believe that those who insist, as I do, on the historical uniqueness of the Holocaust are really going there. That’s not what this is about. This is about understanding history. We are a people of history. If we don’t respect the integrity of our story, no one will.

And so when I talk about preserving the uniqueness of the Holocaust, it’s about understanding that yes, of course, there are many examples of genocide, there are examples of genocide today. Maybe Ukraine will turn into an example of genocide. And there is a school of thought that says that the destruction of a nation, even if you don’t murder every last person in it, is a form of genocide. Politicide. There are various ways of understanding genocide. 

But there has never been an example of mass industrial murder. That’s number one. And number two, that a people was sentenced to death, to it’s last person, anywhere in the world. The Holocaust was global. It wasn’t just intended for Europe. And so this is the story that we need to protect and we have to be jealous, 

Donniel: Can I, do you feel,  could I come in without you feeling being cut off a second? 

Yossi: Yes. 

Donniel: Cause here, I hear you and you know what I feel, Yossi, that we’re like two strangers in the night, passing and we’re not even seeing. And I think this is the problem, or a challenge. I wasn’t even talking about or comparing anybody’s genocide to this.

I wasn’t even talking about that. But I know the minute I talk about this, that’s what you hear. And I appreciate it, but, see, I’m trying to say something else, but you can’t hear me. Now that doesn’t mean that you’re not right. Maybe I’m trying to do something that can’t be done or for that, for you can’t be done.

I’m not comparing genocide and genocide at all. I’m talking about what is it, the, the experience, not of the genocide, the experience of loneliness, the experience of being attacked, the experience of nobody’s standing up for you, the experience of a world in which particularism for too long trumped the universal moral call and we suffered for it. 

Can we learn anything from the Holocaust? Can we allow some of it to be universalized without claiming that there are parallels? And I want to tell you, Yossi, my feeling is that it’s precisely when you can’t, that there’s something flawed, and that you see it in Israel because that’s where it’s coming from. 

Because your history, your suffering is supposed to be a corrective. And when we don’t do that here, we just, we’re again, hunkering down and I want to give you here the last word, cause I know I would be morally wrong, to have the last word, even though, if I’m convinced that I’m right. So Yossi, you have the last word completely on this because you deserve it. And then we’re going to turn to Elana. 

Yossi: So you’re not making the comparison. But others are. And Zelensky’s appeal to Yad Vashem was really implicitly making that comparison. And that’s why Yad Vashem was so insistent on turning him down. 

Now you’re right in terms of the lessons that we need to adopt, in terms of how do we treat the other? How do we treat those who feel alone? Even though Ukraine today is so much not alone, that th the comparison there is also not legitimate. But, you know, when you think about what Menachem Begin said, Uh, and you touched on this, when he brought in the Vietnamese boat people, and he said, we remember what it was like wandering from port to port and not being taken in. Now, that’s a legitimate Holocaust comparison.

That’s a legitimate self-rebuke. And I think that that’s really where you’re coming from. That’s what you mean. But again, Donniel, there’s a wider conversation that’s happening here in which the Holocaust is invoked. No matter what happens, children on the Mexican border, never again is now. And it drives me mad. 

Donniel: I appreciate that, Yossi. I would say, even though I promised to give you the last word, I have to say something and then you can respond. I feel that as a people who are supposed to embrace nationalism all the while that we transcend it, if we don’t use the Holocaust as a catalyst, it is always going to be used as the hindrance. 

And Israel’s not going to be the Israel that you want or that I want. Did that aggravate you? Do you want, I’ll give you a last word before we turned to Elana.

Yossi: It has to be done with a great deal of care. And when Begin made that comparison with the St. Louis and the Vietnamese boat people, that was a specific and precise comparison. All right, Donniel, go ahead. Say, say what you need to. 

Donniel: Fair enough. No, no, I really want to end this with you. I really, cause it should be. You know, one of the nice things, Yossi, is that we talk, we could disagree, we’re not trying to convince each other. We’re not trying to get, it’s just it’s it’s, and I think what’s had to be said, was said, and I appreciate very, very much. 

Yossi: On this particular issue, I am trying to kind of convince you. I have to be honest. 

Donniel: Ah. Good. Good. Fair enough. Good luck. Good luck. Let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us. 

Hi Elana. How are you?

Elana: Wow. Listening. Wow. Wow. Wow. Um, we could do a whole podcast just on this question of Holocaust comparisons. Um, I want to pull us away from the Holocaust a little bit if that’s okay. 

Yossi: Oh my. 

Donniel: I don’t know, you have to ask Yossi. It’s ok with me, actually, I’m calling for I’m calling for more Holocaust that, actually we’re reversed. Yossi wants less Holocaust now. I want more Holocaust. Go figure.

Elana: Yeah. So I’m going to pull back, I think in a sense, a big question here, which I think is a very contemporary question in a lot of different arenas is whether difference implies hierarchy. Or difference requires hierarchy. So if you’re saying, we recognize that there’s a particular Jewish story and that particular Jewish story is different from other stories, or we have particular responsibilities to Jews that we have differently to outside of the Jewish community, does that mean that we’re basically, hierarchically, saying, we’re better, we’re, right?

I think that’s a question in many, many realms today of difference and hierarchy. And I think we’re touching on it here. And what I actually want to do is. I, I don’t believe that difference necessarily means hierarchy. I just have to say that up front. But what I want to do is, instead of thinking about that question in general, I actually want to think about that question in this moment, in a moment of emergency and urgency.

And I think it’s interesting that we are recording this on your Purim, and the day after my Purim, because there is an expression of giving in Jewish law, right? Not just prophetic values, legal values. There is an expression of giving in Jewish law that does not distinguish between Jew and those who are not Jewish.

And I think it’s significant to bring it up here. And it’s based in the Jerusalem Talmud. And it’s also based on an earlier source, but the Jerusalem Talmud says it the clearest. The Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Megillah, it’s talking about one of the four main mitzvot, one of the four main commandments and practices on Purim, which is to give to the poor. And it says we should not be too exacting in this commandment of Purim, that is to give to the poor. Rather, whoever puts out their hand to take, we give them. 

Right, now, this source is not referring to Jewish and non-Jewish, based on what I understand, the context that I understand is it’s basically saying, there’s no litmus test. If you’re in the Jewish community and its Purim and somebody raised, you don’t say, well, how poor are you? And how much do I have to give you? And na, na. You just give. You just give. But what’s interesting is that over time there developed a practice in Jewish communities to give to whoever put out their hands, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or if you’re not from within the community per se, it’s anybody.

And I think it’s really interesting to see how Nachmanides, Ramban, explains this practice. And this is what he says. He says, we are not too exacting with money on Purim, rather anybody who puts out their hand to take, we give to them. And so there is a custom in all of Israel, even to give to those who are not Jewish, right.

We’re not, this is not post-enlightenment. This is not, you know, our contemporary situation, you know, this is a long time ago. Because he says we are not supposed to be exacting on Purim. And because we’re giving to everybody, if we don’t give to those who are not Jewish, who put out their hands, it will cause animosity. And we learn in the Talmud, we give to the non-Jewish poor, along with the Jewish poor, for the sake of peace. 

So when you read this Nachmanides, there’s like two things that jump out, right. The first is, he’s saying, you know, if we’re in a time where we’re giving, we’re not asking you to prove to me what you need, but we’re saying, we know there’s need, and we’re going to give, there’s something off about discerning between Jew and non-Jewish right.

That’s not to take away from the real politik concerns that, da da da, but there’s something, this is a time of urgency and giving and this, we’re giving. And so I’m not going to ask you are you Jewish are you not Jewish, I’m gonna give. Right. 

And he also mentions, however, and this is the second thing. He mentions that there is possible animosity. This is not the way to make friends. Now, is that a utilitarian, you don’t want people to be mad at you, you don’t want people to commit violence against you, or is that something that’s a little bit more humanitarian, right?

So there are people who look at this last line in Nachmanides, or really look at the quotation from the Talmud itself, that we support the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, for the sake of peace. And they ask what’s that with, with the Jewish poor. So some people say with the Jewish poor means, well, when you’re giving to the Jewish poor, if there’s non Jewish poor and they’re watching, of course you have to give to them because it’s not, it’s going to cause animosity.

And there are other people who read the with as without distinction, maybe like with, like Jewish and not. It’s all, right. I’m very taken by the idea that even if Israel as a state, and this is me talking, I’m sitting here in New York. Right. But this is an opinion, that even if Israel as a state has to prioritize Jews in general, I think there’s a question of a moment where discernment is morally off.

It’s just discernment is just morally off. Um, and I think, we’re in one of those moments and maybe we didn’t know we were in one of those moments at the beginning. And I’ll be the first to say it that I think in American Jewry, sometimes we assume that difference means hierarchy, so we never wanted to discern, right. Between members of the Jewish community in its most expansive understanding and those who are outside the Jewish community. So I’m the first to push on each side, but I think there are particular moments. So that’s the first thing I want to 

Donniel: Before you go to that second, can we just stay with this a minute or two, Elana?

Elana: Of course.

Donniel: Because what you’re adding to something that Yossi and I didn’t talk about. You know, we talk about balancing, and you’re adding in the component of time. You’re saying, of course, Israel has to be particular and utilitarian. And of course, Israel has to be humanitarian and universalist. At which time? You know, there’s a time, you know, like, I don’t know why you’re not quoting Ecclesiastes. Like there’s a time and a time. And there is a time for particularism and there’s a time for, get over yourself. 

Now. It doesn’t mean that therefore Israel has to now embrace universalisms as the sole, there are times. And I think the addition of the component of time is a really helpful addition to this conversation. I just, I felt it. So I wanted to stop for a moment and now go to your second point, I’m sorry. 

Elana: Yeah, look, I want to say one more thing in what you’re bringing out for people as to what this adds, which is, there’s a question of what makes for a virtuous person. Right? And I do think that taking care of your own is virtuous, that’s really what it is. It’s saying that there are times when that’s not virtuous, where you’re only taking, you know what I mean? Okay. 

The second thing I want to put on the table is actually much more general. It’s not for times of emergency it’s big thinking and it’s not classical Jewish texts. It’s what I would call contemporary Jewish texts because it was proposed during Corona in this brilliant article written by a law school professor at University of Haifa, Dr. Sagit Mor. And she’s asking in Corona, are we all truly one human tapestry? That’s the name of her article and I’m not going to quote all the different pieces. She comes up with four categories of human solidarity. And I think these are great categories to think with. She’s got bookends, right? Her bookends are from the most intimate, like the end of the spectrum is the most intimate version of solidarity, to the most abstract version of solidarity.So let’s start with those. 

Communal solidarity is the most intimate version of solidarity. It’s, I know you, you know me, we eat together, we see each other, we send our kids to school together, we go on the bus together. Right. That’s a kind of solidarity that’s rooted often in sameness. It’s rooted in belonging. It’s rooted in the personal relationship. 

All the way at the other end of the spectrum is what she calls human solidarity. I don’t know you. I may never know you. We’re so different. You may not even ride a bus, but it doesn’t matter. You’re human. And because you’re human, sometimes I need to stand for your dignity. Sometimes I need to take care of you and I’m not going to get much out of it, but you’re going to get something out of it. And then there’s these two categories in the middle where it’s sort of like, you don’t necessarily know each other, but there’s something that binds you. 

And one of those, she calls liberal solidarity and it’s based on shared interests. You know what, sometimes I’m going to need you. So when you need me, Imma take care of you, right? It’s not Machiavellian. It’s just shared interests. Like, let’s be real. People have shared interests, right? And it connects people who don’t know each other, who are not friends, who are not the same, but they recognize that they need to help each other because  the wheel of fortune may turn. 

And then the one that I find most intriguing is what she calls solidarity of mutual recognition, where she says you don’t know each other, but there’s something about your faith that’s shared. You’re in the same society somehow. Right. And that’s not about interests, that’s about recognizing, like, we’re part of something together. And I think what Zelensky’s trying to do is he’s trying to do this category of basically saying, we’re all in this together, because what happened to you, what happened to us, right? It’s not just about interests. It’s like, this is who we are. But I think these are good categories to think with like, to whom does Israel have a sense of communal solidarity?

And I think Yossi, I love that you brought up that Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, were people who Israel took care of, there’s a communal solidarity, we’re in this together in some way, right. With whom do we share a human solidarity? So of course, what you’re going to do is going to be a little bit less, but it’s going to be something. To whom is it about interests, and to whom is it, well, we actually have somewhat of a shared fate, even though we’re different. I just think they’re good categories to think with. So I want to put them on the table. I think there’s a lot to do with them.

Donniel: Thank you, Elana. And in many ways, the question that we’re asking, where does the universal come in? It comes in in human solidarity, but it also comes in in mutual recognition. 

Elana: Yes, that’s. That’s

Donniel: Those are two

Elana: That’s what I think Zelensky’s doing. 

Donniel: Those are two features of trying to move you into a larger sphere. And maybe that’s the division between the four. And the question is, how do those two and where do they play themselves out.

Elana: I want to add one more line if I could, which is, what I’m realizing also is, you know, to Yossi’s concerns about comparing the Holocaust and things like that. When you do this mutual recognition version, when you want to say what our fates are bound up even though we’re different, you have to be very careful about how you do that, because it can easily move from mutual recognition to elision of your stories. And that can be really problematic.

Donniel: One of the features of our tradition is that we are challenged to always learn from different moments of experience. And this moment, this crisis and tragedy in Ukraine requires of all of us to ask ourselves, not just how we respond at this moment, but what are we learning from this, about who we want to be and who we ought to be?

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M. Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our shows are now available on our website, typically a week after the episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at

We want to know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you all in two weeks. And thank you for listening. And Yossi and Elana, a pleasure. Thank you both very, very much.

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