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Spare us your explanations about what’s happening in Israel — now is the time for grief

Nearly every Jew knows someone directly affected by the violence in Israel, and in a sense, we’re all sitting shiva

In Pirkei Avot 4:18, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, “Do not appease your friend at the time of his anger, and do not comfort him while his dead still lies before him.”

The wisdom in this advice is clear: When grief, pain, and rage are too raw, it is not skillful to try to assuage them. Human beings need time to feel what they feel.

Like now.

Almost every Jewish person I know is in a kind of shock right now. First and foremost, of course, are those facing unimaginable loss: entire families slaughtered, tortured, kidnapped, or put on display in front of jeering crowds. Children, grandparents murdered. And there is the shock of the invasion itself, unprecedented in its scope. The war came to people’s front doors, into their homes.

But all of us feel this pain to some extent. It’s a small enough Jewish world that almost everyone knows someone directly affected by the violence. I knew one person who was murdered (not well, but still), I have friends who have lost relatives. Maybe you do too.

In a sense, we’re all sitting shiva right now — one of Judaism’s wisest customs, derived from the same principle that Rabbi Shimon sets forth: that when we’re raw, hurt, and grieving, we need time to just be.

Of course, in Israel, there’s no such luxury. Reservists are being called forth, and of course, for the families of the 150 hostages now in the hands of bloodthirsty murderers, the terror is ongoing, minute by minute.

But I want to suggest that, for some of us, the wisdom of shiva can be especially helpful right now. It’s OK to just let yourself feel hurt. You don’t have to alchemize that pain into action — not yet, anyway. It doesn’t have to be changed into rage or policy pronouncements or arguments. It can just be pain.

To be sure, there are a lot of important questions to be asked. About the failures of Israeli intelligence systems to see this coming. About the involvement of Iran, which, some have suggested, urged Hamas on in order to sabotage Israel’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s strategic and religious adversary. And even about whether the current government’s provocative actions over the last year led, in part, to this weekend’s events.

But not yet.

Worst of all are the many opportunists on right and left who are using this traumatic event to justify their preexisting opinions. On the right, a preposterous and offensive nugget of misinformation has circulated, claiming that Hamas’s weapons were paid for by U.S. tax dollars. That’s entirely false, and Iranian dollars unfrozen in a recent prisoner-swap deal didn’t have anything to do with it either — they’re in a monitored bank account in Qatar and only disbursed for humanitarian aid.

But set aside the factual inaccuracy of this claim. Several senators tweeted it out before the literal blood was dry on the floors of Sderot. Could you at least let us bury our dead, Senator, before exploiting them for your own gain? It’s like Dara Horn said — people love dead Jews.

Even more painful, for me at least, has been the moral blindness on the left, where the murdering of grandparents has been cheered as an act of resistance, or liberation, or whatever. Rep. Rashida Tlaib wrote a 111-word social media post saying she “grieve[s] the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost yesterday, today, and every day,” but then spent over half of those words criticizing Israeli actions and making no mention — let alone condemnation — of the child-kidnapping, the mass-murdering at a music festival, the raping, the parading of dead bodies before adoring crowds. Apparently none of that merited comment. Lives were merely lost, in the passive tense, as if by accident.

It’s been personal, too. I have friends in my social circle who have supported the actions of Hamas, who as a reminder are genocidal, theocratic kleptocrat-terrorists who use their own people as human shields, as if supporting Palestinian liberation — which I do as well — means supporting the murder, rape, exploitation, torture, and kidnapping of innocent civilians. Forget about the moral argument. It hurts.

After all, if massacring civilians is an acceptable part of “resistance,” why not start with me? I once attended the Boombamela music festival not far from Gaza. Had it been the Nova Tribe trance festival instead, I guess my friends would’ve cheered when my car was sprayed with bullets and my lifeless body was thrown into a mass grave with 200 others.

But I also know that, in many ways, the worst is yet to come. We all know that this hard-right government’s response will be merciless, severe and deadly. And as much as I identify with the Israeli victims of Hamas terrorism, I also strive to identify with innocent Palestinians who are soon to be caught in the crossfire of the Israeli response. They, too, are parents, children, and grandparents. They want to live their lives. And they have nowhere to run.

This is the challenge, set forth in Exodus 22:20 (“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”): to move from our own pain toward empathy with the pain of others. We do this not for their sake, but for the sake of our own humanity. And in a sense, this capacity for empathy is the gift of the pain you might be feeling right now. By making space for our grief, loss, and confusion, we enlarge our capacity to feel the pain of others as well.

Of course, nothing makes this OK. Nothing should. Nothing ever will.

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