fbpx

In the Wake of War: Facing the New Tough Realities

We are encountering a totally different moment in our Jewish consciousness.
[additional-authors]
January 11, 2024
Amir Levy/Getty Images

We are in a moment of darkness that began infamously, on the single most murderous day in Jewish history since 1945. But is this the darkness before night or before dawn?

The statement “Everything has changed since Oct. 7th” no longer represents merely a slogan. As we reflect, we are experiencing a fundamental repositioning of not only how Jews see themselves but also how they are perceived by others, including former partners and lapsed political allies.

No doubt, the impact of these last several months has created various ripple effects in our community. But as we move beyond these immediate events, I believe that we are likely to see a fundamental recalibration of the American Jewish communal experience.

This is a new moment in time for Jews.

Let us unpack what has transpired since Oct. 7th to define the nature and scope of changes unfolding over these past three months.

The Stages: Since early October, we have moved through a series of emotional and political experiences, with each phase being distinctive and challenging:

• Trauma and shock after the first several weeks following Oct.  7th.

• Mobilization and unity, culminating in the demonstration in Washington on Nov. 14th.

• Questions and challenges since the Nov. 23-30th ceasefire.

• Uncertainty and concern: Some of the glue of unity is now coming undone as the possibility of a wider war may be on the horizon.

Psychological Impact:  As we step back, we realize the profound imprint that this moment has had on each of us. As we unpack our emotions and reactions, only now are we able to identify the scope of what this ultimately may mean. We continue to experience along with Israelis the trauma of the events surrounding Oct. 7th, as we remind ourselves: More Jews were murdered on Oct. 7th than any single day since the Holocaust.

Are we prepared to create the tools of reconnection, exploring Zionist thought and Israeli history, as well as introducing other avenues of Jewish learning and engagement?

Are We One People?: As the events of Oct.  7th unfolded, we were reminded about the centrality of peoplehood, as Diaspora Jews reconnected with Israel and as Israelis embraced the global Jewish community. Are we prepared to create the tools of reconnection, exploring Zionist thought and Israeli history, as well as introducing other avenues of Jewish learning and engagement? Can we preserve this sense of the collective as we move further away from Oct. 7?

A Financial and Cultural Breakthrough: The Jewish community raised more money in support of Israel over these past three months than at any point in the history of the State’s creation. Further, we are experiencing an outpouring of poetry, music and liturgy designed to provide context and comfort as this war unfolds. 

The Awakening: Similar to June 1967, we are experiencing a “return” as significant numbers of nonaffiliated and disaffected Jews are seeking to reconnect with the Jewish people. Whether out of concern for Israel or borne out of their own fears concerning the rise in antisemitism, this phenomenon ought not to be dismissed. Community leaders are reporting inquiries by folks seeking to connect, learn and engage. Are we prepared to embrace these individuals? 

Political Homelessness: While American Jews were already concerned about the rise of antisemitism on the political right, as reflected by the 2017 gathering in Charlottesville, in the fall of 2023, we confronted anti-Zionist assaults on Israel and antisemitic attacks on us driven by the progressive left. Our alleged whiteness now defines us as privileged; our Zionist credentials make us unwelcomed; and our Judaism labels us as “the other.”

Where we embraced DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) as a formula for engaging minorities, this equation continues to be employed against Jews. Intersectionality, critical race theory and woke culture identify us as “colonialists,” “occupiers,” and supporters of so-called apartheid. 

Not only are we experiencing a world that has limited room for Jews, but also we are feeling that politics has rapidly become a zero-sum game: A person is either with us or, more readily, they are against us. There appears to be no middle ground at this point.

Suddenly without allies, Jews in this country have been taken aback by the absence of support for us or Israel, in some cases by longstanding friends, and in certain settings, the outright hatred that these former allies are projecting onto Israel, Zionism and American Jewry. When it comes to finding legitimate partners, how do we move forward from this moment?

All these outcomes are occurring against the backdrop of what will be the most challenging political year in modern American history. So, where do we go politically as we confront these new realities?

The Jewish Voices Outside: Even beyond the notions of “Jewish unity,” we are confronting those Jews who sit today “outside,” blaming Israeli politicians and policies for all of this, and who, in some cases, feel that in this moment they have no real “Jewish” home. This includes some of our college kids and other Gen Z and Millennial constituencies, as they push back against Israel and in turn direct their anger on us. In some settings these critics feel we have failed them, having provided them with what they now view represents a false, problematic narrative of Zionism and Israel.

The Day After, Victory or Pushback: What if this war does not produce all the outcomes that Israel has articulated? Should this war be “called” at some point, what will be the response of Israelis and Diaspora Jews? Will some see this as the failure of the IDF to achieve its goals or will there be a great psychological relief? What will be the potential fallout should the hostages not have survived this ordeal? And finally, what if this war is expanded beyond Gaza?

Jewish Trauma: We acknowledge that some of our community members are scared, uncomfortable or possibly unwilling to be in Jewish public spaces. A new type of Jewish angst appears now to be present. For some, the negative pushback and acts of hate that we are experiencing has generated a feeling of being under assault, moving them to adopt a militant position where the need for self-defense has become apparent as they fear for their security and that of their community.

The Economic Fallout: In the aftermath of Oct. 7th, numerous communal, synagogue and organizational groups delayed or even cancelled their fundraising initiatives, realizing that this was not the moment to seek support from their traditional donors. As a result, a portion of the American Jewish infrastructure is experiencing serious financial pressures. In the wake of this war, as donors shift their giving priorities to meet the humanitarian crisis facing Israel, some of our social service, educational and religious organizations are being economically challenged. 

Jewish nonprofit execs celebrate this outpouring but are quietly anxious. As priorities shift to the defense of and support for Israel, what will happen to the bottom line of the schools, social services agencies, cultural centers and other Jewish institutions that don’t have an obvious Israel portfolio?

Our religious and communal institutions must weigh the issues of security and the associated costs of managing the safety for those who enter our Jewish spaces.

Reflections: In the end, we are reminded how these past several months have profoundly altered our lives, beliefs and actions. Just as Israel is undergoing a significant transformation, the Jewish institutions around which we have built our lives are experiencing profound disruption and change.

We are encountering a totally different moment in our Jewish consciousness. Physically and emotionally, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable and uncertain place, as we awaken to the full impact of this tsunami of hate and disruption that is transforming the Jewish people.


Steven Windmueller is an emeritus professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found at www.thewindreport.com.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Print Issue: Hide No More | Mar 1, 2024

We, the Jewish people, have risen to this time in history for a moment like this. A time in which we proudly explore and publicly honor our Jewish identity. A reclamation of the word Jew. Not used as a word to denigrate. But used as a word to self-celebrate.

CyberWell Is Monitoring Online Antisemitism

Since Oct. 7, CyberWell, the first real-time database of online antisemitism, observed almost an 86% increase in online antisemitism across major social media platforms.

Moses for President

Moses begged G-d to find another person to perform the daunting task of leading the Israelites to freedom. But once he agreed to do so, he succeeded brilliantly.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.