Bearing Witness: The Awakening of October 7 and the Emergence of New Realities

Since October 7, Israel has been engaged in a state of war with Hamas, profoundly disrupting the lives of Israelis, numerous Jewish communities, and individuals worldwide who hold a concern for Israel, myself included.

My personal characteristic is always a tendency to observe first and to dampen my emotional reactions initially. This has served me well over the last five months, enabling me to act and explore all aspects of the current war in Israel, Canada and the US in person and on media channels without being weighed down by emotional reactions. But after five months of continuous observation, learning, and firsthand experiences, I want to share my observations and reflections.

Personal Impact

Since October 7, any projects I had been working on were immediately put on hold due to the ongoing crisis. This pushed me to closely monitor mainstream and social media in both Israel and Canada, as well as to join new WhatsApp groups. After five months, I have become more adept at navigating social media and have developed a critical eye towards the ideologies influencing news channels. While scientists are aware of their personal biases in research, few people are mindful of how news outlets may be influenced by the biases of their reporters or owners. This newfound awareness is a crucial benefit that should be addressed by all of us.

Francisco Gil-White, notes that most people shape their understanding of reality and truth based on the information they receive from the media.*1 During Hitler’s rule in Germany, the German people were constantly exposed to propaganda that demonized Jewish people through stories, films, and cartoons. One of the primary propaganda newspapers was called Der Sturmer. According to Der Sturmer, “Jewish businessmen were often portrayed as doing almost anything to obtain financial wealth, which included, “being a usurer, a traitor, a murderer.” In the summer of 1931, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Sturmer focused much of the paper’s attention on a Jewish-owned butcher shop. When the philanthropic merchant started operating a soup kitchen, Der Stürmer ran articles accusing him of poisoning the food being served. Der Stürmer criticized and cherrypicked every single price increase and decrease in Jewish shops, as well as their charitable donations, denouncing them as a further form of financial greed.” *(2)

Julius Streicher, was one of those convicted and sentenced to hang for ‘crimes against humanity’ by the Nuremberg court trial of Nazi leaders after the war because “he was found to have continued his vitriolic antisemitic propaganda even while he was well aware that Jews were being murdered.”*3 Those who promote lies are just as guilty as those who commit criminal acts! But most people have no way of judging whether the media they consume presents a truthful or, as journalists call it, a ‘balanced’ picture of reality.

A Call for Nuanced Media Consumption

In conflict situations like the Israel war, it is crucial to approach the news we consume with a critical eye. We should strive to ensure that the perspectives we encounter are balanced and that we are not inadvertently influenced by one-sided propaganda. It is also essential to consider whether our chosen news sources provide a platform for a range of voices, including those of Israeli sources and mainstream leaders of the Jewish community.

I’ve recently compiled a list of media outlets favouring either side of the conflict. One criterion I use is whether they consistently feature pro-Palestinian spokespersons discussing topics like “genocide” in Gaza and “famine” without providing an Israeli perspective. Unfortunately, even usually reputable outlets like CBC News have been flagged for this form of bias, as illustrated by many posts by Honest Reporting, an NGO that monitors media bias against Israel.*4

To hold the media accountable, I’ve started monitoring various platforms, including traditional print and broadcast channels and online and social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and private WhatsApp groups. What’s alarming is the rapid spread of anti-Jewish and antisemitic sentiments globally, particularly on social media. These sentiments range from expressions of joy over the tragic events of October 7, to the denial of atrocities committed by Hamas. There have been videos of defaced posters of hostages held by Hamas since Ocotber 7, disruptions of public spaces, and the perpetuation of victimhood narratives propagated by sources linked to Hamas such as the Hamas Heath Authority and UNRWA, without adequate representation of Israeli sources or mainstream Jewish community leaders, who are readily available for commentary.

Impact of the October 7th attack on Israel and the Diaspora 

Before October 7, many Israelis and Jews around the world had strong faith in the the capacity of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to safeguard Israel. The State of Israel was established by a UN vote as a safe haven for Jews escaping the scourge of antisemitism worldwide.  However, on October 7th, this confidence was rudely challenged when all of Israel’s meticulously developed defence systems were breached and rendered ineffective along the southern Gaza border.

One of the miracles of October 7th is that the forces unleashed against Israel got no further than they did. They were stopped by ordinary citizens responding to the call to help and save fellow brethren wherever they were to be found.

During my visit to Israel on October 7th, I witnessed the remarkable assistance provided by Israeli citizens to over 200,000 Israeli familes displaced that had to be evacuated due to threats from Hamas in Gaza in the south and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria in the north. For more details onwhat happened on October 7, I refer you to my blog post, “My Journey in Israel from October 7-12: A Chronicle of the Jewish Community’s Resilience.”

Subsequently, from October 12th to January 4th, while in Montreal, I observed the mobilization of Israel supporters within the international Jewish community. This collective effort manifested in a powerful display of solidarity with Israel. at the Washington, D.C. Mall, on November 14, 2023. 200,000 individuals from diverse backgrounds congregated to denounce Hamas violence and antisemitism to stand in unwavering support of Israel. You can participate in this amazing rally here: Americans March for Israel, the Rally at the Washington Mall, November 14, 2023.

A Witness Mission to Israel’s Communities

On January 4th, 2024, I returned to Israel. I had the privilege of being a part of the Montreal Federation Mission of Witness to Israel, Januay 14 -19. Visiting the devastation that had struck the beautiful kibbutz of Nir Oz was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had. Despite the pain of the experience, it was an honour to be guided by a kibbutz member who knew every family and their stories. The trip also included visiting Sderot City Hall, where we were shown the brutal events of October 7th on their TV screens which had captured the first moments of the invasion on on their Main Street, on Saturday morning at 6:30 am on October 7 and the attack on the sole car carrying a family with children. We saw the courage and resilience of the people of Sderot, who have faced constant attacks over the years. Despite all the challenges, we also witnessed the beauty of human kindness as ordinary citizens risked their lives to rescue those in danger during the Nova Festival and in every location.

“We visited the Beer Sheva City Hall and met with their charismatic Mayor who continues to follow up on the welfare of his citizens evacuated all over Israel to hotels housing displaced families. We were taken to see new housing developments in Beer Sheva, which are being offered to families currently housed in hotels around Israel to provide them with a semblance of normalcy for the daily lives of their children, via schools and daycares while the war is going on.

We were taken to Siroka Hospital that has a helipad to receive the wounded and to Ben Gurion University where we visited with two amazing research units: one that researches 3-D printing for bones required for reconstructive surgery of all kinds at Siroka Hospital across the street. This is already happening with custom-fitted bones being 3-D printed for specific needs. And we visited with the Director of the Social Work Department, Dr. Talia Meital Schwartz Tayri who has developed an app that can keep a record of all displaced families in Israel, keeping track of their welfare by noting who is addressing their needs, whether they be physical, i.e., housing, food, schooling, or mental, addressing trauma, etc. This app can keep track of the welfare of all of the families all over israel and how they are being addressed! Something that could be very useful in Canada as well where services are rarely digitized as yet, even in hospitals.

We also learned that financial support and volunteer services began flowing from the worldwide diaspora from day-1: money to provide army supplies, ammunition, and equipment of all kinds, and volunteer services to replace the labor of reservists called up to serve. We were taken to Centers for nourishment, pop-up cafes, feeding stations, and warehouses for supplies that were instantly created by volunteers on the ground in Israel to supply the needs of the soldiers and the displaced families; These continue to be supplied and staffed by volunteer labor and we could see how the soldiers of the IDF are supplied daily on a wing and a prayer.

Many of the visiting foreign missions like ours also provide volunteer labor; One day we participated in bagging hamburger lunches provided by a reataurant in Jerusalem, beutifully bagged with notes of encouragement; another day we assisted with a barbecue with all the trimmings for a platoon of soldiers set up in a large field; We also went to an orchard to supplant workers to pick bushels of oranges along with other volunteers who had shown up.”

Through this mission, we gained a deeper understanding of the plight of these communities and the power of human empathy and compassion.

The Hostages

The plight of the hostages remains firmly etched in the consciousness of Jews worldwide and Israelis alike. Over 200 individuals were taken captive by Hamas, with more than 100 still enduring the ordeal. In Tel Aviv, adjacent to Hostage Square, a huge plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, a prominent digital clock serves as a relentless reminder, marking the days, minutes and second that the Hostages are still in captivity – now exceeding 150 days – since their captivity began.

Close by, a dedicated office building stands equipped with the necessary resources, including computers and communication facilities, generously provided support for the familie of the hostages. Here, they find refuge, sustenance, and solace free of charge, fostering a community where mutual support and solidarity thrive. These families have embarked on journeys far and wide, amplifying their voices on behalf of their loved ones. I have witnessed their presence and impassioned pleas during intimate gatherings at privte homes and in public places in Montreal and elsewher: This has been a sobering experience.

In Montreal, demonstrations advocating for the release of the hostages have unfolded in various locations, from the offices of the Red Cross to the steps of City Hall and Place des Arts. Through these collective efforts, a sense of unity prevails, underlining the importance of standing together, particularly in times of adversity.

Honoring Fallen Soldiers

It’s with heavy hearts that we confront the frequent announcements of young soldiers fallen in battle. Each day, the nation collectively mourns the profound loss of these brave souls who willingly make the ultimate sacrifice. Our commitment to supporting their grieving families remains unwavering. Recognizing this solemn reality, the IDF has established a website to honour and memorialize those who laid down their lives in this conflict and the website also has statistics collected daily by Israeli authorities.

I am grateful for my deep-rooted Jewish identity, ingrained through heritage and upbringing that has enabled me to navigate this crisis without being overwhelmed, When adversity strikes, our rabbis counsel us to bolster our spiritual practices—embracing acts of kindness, prayer, reciting psalms, and active participation in communal gatherings. And all of thse things are powerful supports.

Lessons of Resilience

Last summer I undertook a journey with my congregation from Montreal and our revered Rabbi Poupko. Visiting key Jewish sites in Poland with our guide, Tzvi Sperber, including the haunting remnants of concentration camps, illuminated the enduring legacy of Jewish existence in the region, spanning centuries. Witnessing the resilience of our ancestors in the face of unimaginable horror, as well as their subsequent contributions to the founding and prosperity of Israel, instilled in me a profound sense of pride in how are peoplle addressed the impossible hurricane of the Nazi assault and recovered afterwards. It reaffirmed my belief that we will emerge from this crisis more vital than ever.

Summary

While personal pursuits were temporarily set aside due to the events of October 7, this pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by countless others. The veneer of invincibility was shattered and exposed the pervasive threat of anti-Semitism. Yet, amidst the chaos, ordinary individuals displayed extraordinary courage, fostering global solidarity as a formidable defence against ongoing hostility. Our struggle for the return of our  hostages, alongside our greif for the loss of so many young and promisig lives and ongoing support for our bereaved famiies, serves as a poignant reminder of our interconnectedness as a worldwide Jewish community.

My Jewish heritage is a guiding light in these turbulent times, imparting resilience and fortitude. It fuels my unwavering belief that, as we have throughout history, we will overcome all adversity with our steadfast unity and determination to overcome all challenges.

 

Footnote:

*1 Francisco Gil-White, The paradox of antisemitic thinking and how it is influenced by the media

*2 Der Sturmer, Nazi antisemitic weekly newspaper, editor Julius Streicher

*3 Julius streicher, editor of Der Sturmer

*4 Honest Reporting, an NGO that monitors media bias.

 

Honest Reporting

One thought on “Bearing Witness: The Awakening of October 7 and the Emergence of New Realities

  1. Excellent analysis of the Hamas attack and the taking of hostages on Oct 7 and still ongoing. We must keep this horrific event in view and continue to pressure for release of the hostages. It is so painful to imagine what they are going through, men and certainly women.

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