JULIAN RESNICK writes from Israel

So much has been written about the war in Gaza, and I am talking only about the people writing here in Israel. 

Some of it has been filled with anger, some with pain, some with regret – and none of these are mutually exclusive. Writing can be filled with more than one of these.

Some has been filled with hyperbole, some with pathos and some with bathos (yes, I am a UCT English Literature graduate – thank you, Dr John Coetzee).  Some has been very aggressive, some has been gentle poetry, and some has been beautiful music.

Some has preached unity, some has been biting in its barely veiled attack on those whose political views are different. Very little has been written, with honesty, about the most difficult conversations right now in Israel, you know, what is likely to be the outcomes of the war in terms of the total defeat of Hamas and the return of the hostages.

And then, there are those, not too many, whose writing is filled with nuance, depth, searching and honesty. In short, thoughtful. I can name a few for you to read (and listen to, of course, as we are living in a podcast world, all of us): Danny Gordis, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein Halevy, Micha Goodman, Yonit Levy.

Very soon I will be travelling out of Israel for the first time since the war began, and my destination will be South Africa. I will be guiding a group of North American Jews on a two-week Jewish Journey through South Africa (FYI, my notion of what a Jewish Journey looks like might not be the same as yours, so be prepared for some surprises if I ever write about it). Some of them are extremely anxious about visiting South Africa especially after the performance of the SA legal team at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. I have told them all that I am confident that it is no more dangerous for travellers in South Africa today than it was before the war in Gaza.

I will be back in what for me was my home until I made a decision, just under 50 years ago, that I wanted to live the rest of my life in Israel and not in the Diaspora. And here I want to join two strands.

About three weeks ago Danny Gordis was in NYC to receive the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Book Prize awarded at Yeshiva University. A number of other wonderful Jewish Institutions in NY used Danny’s presence in the city to run events. One of these took place at the 92nd St Y, one of the most impressive venues in the intellectual life of NY Jews. Danny was in conversation with Rabbi David Ingber, the senior rabbi at Romemu Renewal Congregation in NY. (Read about Romemu on their website and prepare yourself for something a little different from what you might be used to).

It was a stunning Jewish conversation and, of course, as Danny Gordis lives in Israel and writes and talks a great deal about Israel, much of it dealt with Israel and particularly the impact of the war on Jews outside of Israel; in this case the focus was naturally mainly on NY Jews.

Rabbi Ingber shared a stunning remark made by someone he described as a wonderful, thoughtful young Jewish woman, which has stayed in my mind ever since I listened to the conversation between them. She said to him in his study, not in a public forum, “Rabbi, I prefer to be hurt than to hurt others.”

I want to say it again so it sinks in, “Rabbi, I prefer to be hurt than to hurt others.”

I am not going to write about this sentence now, as I do not want your reading of this sentence, and hopefully your thoughts about this sentence, and, if you will allow me some optimistic moments, your discussions about this sentence, to, in any way whatsoever, be influenced by my responses to this sentence. If I get the message that my responses might be useful, my next piece will be partly about my responses to this sentence and partly about being in South Africa.

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah in 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and seven grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the February 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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