One day after the brutal murders of five Israelis in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, Israeli author and educator Daniel Gordis offered a downbeat look at the future in a talk at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
“We are the first generation of Israeli parents that does not say to itself, ‘If our kids just do what is best for them, their kids won’t have to go to war,’” said Gordis, vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. “We are under no illusion that our children’s children will not have to go to war.
“And so, what died was the sense that anybody in our lifetime was going to live to see peace.”
Born in New York, Gordis is a Conservative rabbi and founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Judaism University in Los Angeles. He made aliya in 1998.
His Nov. 19 address, “The Upheaval of 2014: What It Means for Israel’s Future,” was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s Metro NJ region, and drew, according to AJC, about 350 individuals.
“We are living through very, very sad times,” he said. “We held onto the basic assumption that this was a battle about Palestinian statehood…. They wanted a state, and we wanted them to have a state; I still want them to have a state.”
However, during the war in Gaza last summer, “Hamas changed the tenor of the conflict,” said Gordis. “Hamas makes no pretense that this is about territory. They are totally honest, as is Hizbullah,” According to Hamas ideology, “This will be over when we are over.”
He said the current struggle over what Israelis called the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary has morphed into acts of murder. Unlike the terrorist bombings during the Second Intifada, many of these attacks have been carried out by Palestinian drivers who careen into bystanders.
“You can’t make a decision not to be on the sidewalk,” he said.
The lone wolf aspect of these attacks has changed the security calculus, he said. “Israeli intelligence is basically worthless on all this stuff,” he said. Israel is facing “a battle over where Jerusalem is going to become livable for Jews. This is not about territory.”
Gordis also described the murders in the Jerusalem synagogue as a “pogrom,” akin to the Kishinev pogroms of 1903 and 1905 when nearly 100 Jews were slaughtered and several hundred were severely injured by angry mobs.
Gordis said the killers in Jerusalem “walked into a shul not with a suicide belt but with a gun and an axe. You don’t go into a shul with an axe to kill people; you go into a shul with an axe to butcher people.”
And while the Jordanian government condemned the Jerusalem attack, Gordis shared a report that Jordan’s parliament began a session with a moment of silence and prayers to honor the murderers.
“It is not a territorial conflict anymore; it is a religious conflict,” he said. Such crimes indicate “the resurgence of a worldwide disease that cannot be solved by getting out of 100 percent of the West Bank.”
Telling the audience that he and his wife are about to become grandparents for the first time, Gordis said he is hoping the baby will be a girl. “How crazy is that?” he asked. “My first reaction was, ‘I don’t want the kid going into battle.’”
But, he said “the Jews have been in much worse places. We have been in places where we couldn’t defend ourselves…and we stuck or way through it, and we saw light at the end of the tunnel.”
Gordis predicted the current struggle “is not going to be quick and is not going to be pretty and is not going to be easy. But they are not going to win.”
He said that in the future “people in this synagogue will say of us not that we gave up but that we did everything we had to do to make sure the greatest days of the Jewish people lay not in the past but in the glorious future.”