November 20, 2023 — Woodland Park, NJ
The following column originally appeared on NorthJersey.com and other USA Today Network newspapers in New Jersey.
The American Jewish community has made Facebook and Instagram our communal gathering spaces as we respond to the horrors of the Hamas attack on Israel.
As the news filled with reports on Oct. 7 of the mass murder at a music festival, killing sprees through kibbutzim, babies being beheaded, women raped, families burned alive, and more than 240 people taken hostage, we have turned to social media to cry out while others remain silent, to comfort and console, and to make sure the world understands it is Israel’s right and responsibility to defend herself and her people.
I have not been immune to doom scrolling Facebook, to post and repost in support of Israel. Much of what I read — the obituaries, the stories of those held hostage, the pain of parents and children — is deeply affecting, but one post stopped me in my tracks. A young woman whose bat mitzvah I had officiated at many years ago simply posted, “’Never Again’ Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date.” In seven words she said it all.
After the Holocaust we said, “Never Again”, and we meant it. My father, who survived the Holocaust by being among the fortunate few who obtained a visa and escaped to Shanghai in 1940, was a passionate Zionist. He grew up infused with the understanding at the core of Jewish identity that yearned for a return to our ancestral Jewish homeland.
Even as a very young child, his heart was in the east with prayers for a rebuild of the Jewish State. That passion became a deeply held conviction after the Holocaust. As he taught his grandchildren, because of Israel, Never Again would Jews facing danger have nowhere to call home, and Never Again would Jews around the world be left with no country to speak out on their behalf, to have their back as others do.
There is much more to Israel than just Jewish sanctuary and guardian, but those ideals are central to both the Jewish and Israeli psyche, especially in this critical moment.
“Never Again” has taken on renewed meaning and a deeper resonance among Jews and non-Jews, who stand together against those who would seek a world without us. “Never Again” is why Israel must defend herself. It is why Hamas must be eliminated. It is why, though we grieve the loss of both innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives, we cannot cease from this battle between good and evil.
Sadly, there is a separate battle being waged in my social media feeds. Each day brings sickening videos and images from anti-Israel protests. Many protesters chant the slogan “Free Palestine From the River to the Sea.” To some, it may sound catchy. But I wonder how many of them really know what it means. Despite revisionist attempts to characterize its intent, the slogan is used as a rallying cry for a Palestinian state that would run from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which can be accomplished only by doing away with Israel.
I’m also skeptical about how many of these protesters know “From the River” is also popular with terrorist groups like Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the death of all the world’s Jews.
It is troubling when so many people here — including some Jews on the left — do not believe that Jews have a right to self-determination and to live in their ancestral homeland. It is distressing when a loaded word like “genocide” is thrown around so casually when talking about Israel, but nothing is said about the atrocities committed by Hamas. Instead, Hamas is considered a band of “resistance fighters” whose wanton attack was a “military action,” as a letter from Columbia University professors stated.
How sad. How scary. But these warped views cannot silence those of us who recognize what is good and human versus what is evil and depraved.
Because “Never Again” does not have an expiration date.
Rabbi David Levy is New Jersey regional director for American Jewish Committee.