Bearing Witness to the events of October 7 in Israel and the Diaspora

I have been following the conflict between Israel and Hamas since October 7, 2023. The ongoing war has had a profound impact on the lives of Israelis, Jewish communities, and people worldwide who support Israel, including myself.

My usual approach is to observe first and not react emotionally right away. This has helped me over the past five months to understand and explore all aspects of the current situation in Israel, Canada, and the U.S., both in person and through the media, without being overwhelmed by emotions. However, after five months of continuous observation, learning, and firsthand experiences, it’s time to share my observations and

Personal Impact

Since October 7, all the projects I had been working on were immediately put on hold due to the ongoing crisis. This situation led me to closely monitor mainstream and social media in Israel and Canada and 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 acknowledged 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 served. Der Stürmer criticized and cherry-picked 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! However, as Francisco Gil-White reminds us, most people cannot judge whether their media presents a truthful picture of reality.

A Call for Nuanced Media Consumption

I have made it a practice to view many media outlets. In conflict situations like the Israel war, it is crucial to approach the news we consume with a critical eye. We should ensure that the perspectives we encounter 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.

One sure sign of bias is when the media source consistently features 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)

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 capacity of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to safeguard Israel. The State of Israel was established by a U.N. vote as a safe haven for Jews escaping the scourge of antisemitism worldwide. However, on October 7, 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 7 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.

I was in Israel on October 7, and I witnessed the remarkable assistance provided by Israeli citizens to over 200,000 Israeli families internally 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. I wrote about my experience in “My Journey in Israel from October 7-12: A Chronicle of the Jewish Community’s Resilience.”

Subsequently, from October 12 to January 4, 2024, 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. On November 14, at the Washington, D.C. Mall, 200,000 individuals from diverse backgrounds congregated to denounce Hamas violence and antisemitism and offer unwavering support to Israel. Both Jews and non-Jews spoke eloquently, and you can watch the video below.

 

Montreal Federation Mission to Israel

From January 4 to 19, I travelled back to Israel as part of the Montreal Federation Mission of Witness to Israel. One of the most poignant moments of the trip was witnessing the devastation in the beautiful kibbutz of Nir Oz. Despite the heartache, it was an honour to be guided by a kibbutz member who intimately knew each family and their stories.

During our visit, we also toured Sderot City Hall, where we were shown footage of the October 7th attack, capturing the harrowing moment of invasion on Main Street. We heard of a tragic incident where a large family was ambushed, resulting in the loss of the parents and the children left orphaned.

Amidst the horrors, we also witnessed acts of extraordinary kindness as ordinary citizens risked their lives to rescue others during the Nova Festival and beyond.

Our itinerary included meetings with officials such as the charismatic mayor of Beer Sheva, who tirelessly oversees the welfare of evacuated citizens dispersed throughout Israel. We saw new housing developments intended to offer displaced families a semblance of normalcy, particularly for their children.

At Siroka Hospital and Ben Gurion University, we encountered groundbreaking research, including 3-D printing for reconstructive surgery and innovative apps designed to track and address the needs of displaced families.

We learned that support from the global Diaspora was immediate, providing financial aid and volunteer services for military and civilian needs. Volunteer-run centers, including nourishment stations and supply warehouses, sprung up to meet the demands of soldiers and displaced families.

Our mission also involved hands-on assistance, from bagging lunches, organizing barbecues for soldiers and even picking oranges alongside volunteers across the country.

Through these experiences, we gained a profound understanding of the challenges faced by these communities and the remarkable power of 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 vast plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, a prominent digital clock serves as a relentless reminder, marking the days, minutes, and seconds that our hostages are still in captivity – now exceeding 150 days – since their captivity began.

Close by, there is an office building that has been dedicated to the needs of the families of the hostages. It is equipped with all necessary resources, including computers and communication facilities, where they can sleep, eat, and join together for support and networking to bring the hostages back. 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 private homes and public venues in Montreal. 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.

Honouring 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 have willingly made 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 my heritage and upbringing, which 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. All of these activities are potent supports.

Lessons of Resilience

Last summer, I went on a journey with my Montreal synagogue congregation and our revered Rabbi Poupko to visit key Jewish sites in Poland with our guide, Tzvi Sperber. We saw the haunting remnants of concentration camps, which illuminated the enduring legacy of Jewish existence in the region that spanned hundreds of years. 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. It reaffirmed my belief that we will emerge from this crisis more vital than ever.

Summary

Amidst the events of October 7, personal pursuits were momentarily set aside, yet these faded in significance compared to the sacrifices of countless others. The illusion of invincibility shattered, revealing the prevalent anti-Israel bias of many mainstream media outlets. However, ordinary individuals demonstrated extraordinary courage amidst the chaos, fostering global solidarity as a powerful defence against ongoing hostility.

Our struggle for the return of hostages, coupled with our grief for the loss of numerous young and promising lives, as well as our continuous support for bereaved families, serves as a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness within our global Jewish community.

My Jewish heritage is a guiding light in these turbulent times, instilling resilience and fortitude within me. It strengthens my unwavering belief that, as we have throughout history, we will triumph over all adversity through our steadfast unity and determination to surmount any challenge.

 

Footnote:

  1. Francisco Gil-White. “The Paradox of Antisemitic Thinking and the Influence of the Media in Perpetuating It.” YouTube.
  2. Der Sturmer. Nazi Antisemitic Weekly Newspaper. Edited by Julius Streicher.
  3. Streicher, Julius. Editor of Der Sturmer.
  4. Honest Reporting. NGO That Monitors Media Bias.