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Its in the Bones

10/12/2023 10:47:16 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

Many of you have called and texted or stopped me to ask, “What do you think?” or “What is happening?” or “How can/should I understand this?” I believe that, in the most complicated and convoluted, and yet simple of ways, it is a matter of what Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stated at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in the past couple of hours:

"This is a moment for moral clarity. Everyone must condemn Hamas. Hamas doesn't stand for the future the Palestinians want for themselves. Hamas has only one agenda: to destroy Israel and kill Jews.”

This message was emphatically framed by President Biden just yesterday during one of his addresses: 

“You know, there are moments in this life — and I mean this literally — when the pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world. The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend.  The bloody hands of the terrorist organization Hamas — a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews. This was an act of sheer evil. More than 1,000 civilians slaughtered — not just killed, slaughtered — in Israel.  Among them, at least 14 American citizens killed.”

On this past Saturday, October 7, 2023, more Jews were killed than on any day since the Shoah (Holocaust).  Before the Holocaust, pogroms were not uncommon. Our reality, for a very long from 70 CE until 1948 CE, was frequently marked by those who had been indoctrinated to hate us. This is anti-Semitism; please do not imagine that it is ANYTHING ELSE.  Of course, there are hate and violence and abhorrent acts perpetrated against various peoples, but there is none with the longevity of Jew-hatred.  

You may have come across the latest studies in the field of “epigenetics” and its relevance to the concept of “generational trauma.”  In lay terms, this is violence inflicted on one generation that is so profound that it impacts one’s DNA itself, and can then be passed down to succeeding generations, genetically.  My brother-in-law, Orie, is a third-generation survivor of the Holocaust. He is the child of an Israeli mother, whose parents are survivors. He lives in LA, and he has lots of family in Israel. We commiserated over his fears (and mine) for his first cousin, who has been activated for the inevitable Gaza incursion. Orie shared with me waking up yesterday morning, fueled by what he described as a visceral and prepared response to impending trauma. “It wasn’t that I was dreaming of being threatened by Nazis, it was as if I was fully in it. Like I was experiencing something that no one had specifically shared with me. Scotty, its in my bones.” I believe Orie - that this is in him.  That having grandparents, who survived Nazi atrocities, means that they witnessed countless acts of brutality.  It means that the fear that they experienced seeped into them, and even though they survived, and moved forward, and built lives, that they were not only changed forever emotionally, but genetically. I present this for your consideration because I wonder whether harboring, perpetuating, and acting upon anti-Semitism can be a form of trauma that genetically influences subsequent generations.  

There is no intention here to absolve Hamas, or any other anti-Semites, from their responsibility; instead it is to hold them even more accountable. Because no matter how deeply “inbred” trauma can be, even on a generational level, epi-genetics teaches us that the genes have to be “turned on.”  That they may be there in more profound ways that exaggerate their possibilities, but that it is our job as human beings to overcome tendencies towards violence against our fellow human beings. Hatred is a weakness in the human spirit; anti-Semitism is its most profound expression. It is most unfortunately in the bones of humanity.  And it is why President Biden was so correct when he said yesterday, “I firmly believe that were it not for the State of Israel, no Jew would be safe in the world.”

I know that for too many folks, this will fall on deaf ears. It is much more convenient to believe that Israel’s story neatly falls within the horrific saga of colonialism.  It is so much easier to believe that Israelis are just the descendants of another group of “white people” who set sail for distant lands, but unlike the British, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, or French, didn’t finally leave.  It is so much easier to believe things that lead to a person in a recent “pro-Palestinian” parade, to boast a sign declaring, “Queers for Palestine!” One has to wonder what this person imagines might happen if they beheld this sign in Gaza City, Damascus, or Beirut.  

I have written plenty about my disappointment in Israeli leadership.  Even today, a true expert in Israeli politics and international engagement, author Yossi Klein Halevi, recently published a crucial piece in The Atlantic, entitled The Reckoning", focusing on the “two reckonings to come” - the one coming to Hamas, and then the one coming to Netanyahu. Please read it.

Moral clarity is essential when life and death are at stake.  This is that moment.  Thank you to President Biden and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, as well as author, Yossi Klein Halevy, for clearing the way.  May we all reach a better time when we can dissect and deactivate the genes of hatred within our human genome.

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784