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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Rabbi Korngold's Thought about Passover During the War

On Shabbat, I was on a mountain bike ride south of Boulder, when my 14-year-old cousin texted from Jerusalem.
“The bombs are coming here,” he wrote.
I stopped riding and immediately checked the news. Drones and missiles were heading toward Israel. I jumped on my bike to ride home and all the while I stayed on with him. We texted back and forth and eventually, we switched to a phone call and then I could also check in with his parents, Molly and David. I attempted to reassure him, to comfort him with our connection, but truly I mostly tried to distract him. What could I possibly offer from so far away in Colorado?
My young cousin was terrified that he and his family would not survive the Iranian attack, or that they would survive, but the house would not. Or that the house would, but Israel would not. And alongside his existential fear, was the very normative disappointment of a kid who was supposed to go on a hiking trip for Spring Break, but now couldn’t go. He seethed, “Those stupid Iranians ruined our Spring Break,” right alongside, “We all might be dead in two hours.”
Meanwhile, his two younger sisters focused their fear on their Dad's vulnerability. David was supposed to be headed to Gaza in 8 hours for active duty. He did not enter the safe room. Rather, he stood outside the safe room, gun in hand, to protect the family in case their neighbors attacked. Let me explain.
My cousins live in a part of Jerusalem with side-by-side Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli neighborhoods. Before Oct 7, Molly had been working at a start-up incubator, helping her Arab neighbors bring their own start-up companies to fruition. Just six months ago, she was attending their graduation parties and weddings, and now she and David were realistically scared that their neighborhoods might attack them.  
The explosions grew louder and more frequent. Molly explained that they were both the Arab neighbors celebrating the attack with firecrackers and the Iranian missiles and drones being blown up by the Israeli protective shield. Both were equally terrifying to my young cousin.
And then, it seemed the bombing had stopped. My cousins, their house, and the State of Israel had survived.
We are all so thankful for the technology, intellect, bravery, and alliances that stopped 99% of the rockets, missiles, and drones.
Many of us have similar stories. There is no shortage of them.
I have not often shared my thoughts during this terrifying war nor written enough about the hostages facing unimaginable horrors. I find that I write something to send out, and then the situation changes so quickly that it is no longer relevant.  

How do I feel today? 
I, like many of you, remain steadfast in my support of Israel, even if I don’t agree with the current ruling coalition.
I, like many of you, remain steadfast in the need for a Jewish state, especially amidst the growing antisemitism in the world.
I, like many of you, understand that in order for the Jews to live in peace, the Gazans also need to live in peace. There are two peoples on this land, and neither of them is going anywhere.
I, like many of you, understand that Hamas must be destroyed, not only for the Israelis’ future, but also for the Gazans’ future.
I, like many of you, NOW understand that many groups who I thought were Jewish allies, such as the progressive left, are not our allies. They do not see us as vulnerable. They see us as oppressors. They do not know the history or the context of the Middle East conflict. They do not know important pieces of our history – the Pogroms, the Holocaust, the countries (such as Spain, England, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Morocco,) that evicted their Jews, or the countries (such as the US and Canada) who closed their door on Jews seeking sanctuary during World War II. They know neither the modern nor the ancient history of Israel. They do not understand that Hamas’ goal is the annihilation of Israel.
I, like many of you, NOW understand the latent antisemitism thrums right below the surface, ready to break free. It is ugly. It is scary. It is here.
I, like many of you, NOW understand the danger of binary thinking. The war is bad, but ending the war before Hamas is destroyed, is worse. Most Israelis have accepted that this is not a binary situation. Rather it is a tragic one. There are only bad options. If Israel does not destroy Hamas, Gaza has no future. Why? Hamas will shoot missiles at Israel and Israel will retaliate. No one will invest in the rebuilding of Gaza knowing it will be destroyed. If Israel does not destroy Hamas, Gazans will have no future.*
I, like many of you, NOW understand that Israel’s survival is not assured. If Israel does not destroy Hamas, what kind of future will Israel have? Micah Goodman, one of the most influential public intellectuals in Israel, explains that if Israel does not destroy Hamas, the Middle East will lose its fear of Israel, knowing that Israel doesn’t have the strength to go through to the end, and the Jihadists forces will start bullying Israel. Israelis will lose their trust in Israel to keep them safe, as Israel deteriorates into a civil war of a blame game. Then there will be an economic crisis because who will invest in a country that can’t protect itself? The wealthy and educated will leave Israel. Without them, Israel will grow weaker. Then, when only the weakest are left, Iran will come in and destroy what is left.*
I, like many of you, NOW understand the incompatibility of the goals Israel must navigate. Israel needs the West to love them so that the West will support the war politically, financially, and militarily. But at the same time, Israel needs the Middle East to fear them. Fear and love? How to do both? Everything that Israel must do to restore fear in the Middle East will lose the love of the West. But without the support of the West, they cannot finish this through to the end and win the war.
The West loved Israel after Oct 7, but now, Israel is reviled. Although perhaps the Iranian attacks will remind the world of how vulnerable Israel actually is? I don’t know.
I, like many of you, feel frightened, shocked, and overwhelmed. But I also feel immeasurable proud of my Israeli family – in this case meaning all Israelis – for their bravery and fortitude.
The final words of the Passover seder are, “Next year in Jerusalem.” For two thousand years, while the Jewish people lived in exile from Israel our homeland, these words reflected our hope that someday our people would return to Zion, to Israel, to our ancient ancestral birthplace.
This year, let us read “Next year in Jerusalem,” as an expression of hope that next year, a new paradigm will thrive in Israel. We pray for a future in which Gaza is rebuilt and money goes not to tunnel building but to schools and health care. We pray for a future in which Israelis no longer have to fear their neighbors not because they are hiding in safe rooms but because they are living in a safe country in a safe region. We pray for a future in which a 14-year-old boy calls his cousin to talk about biking rather than bombs and mountains rather than missiles. We pray for a future in which Israelis and Gazans live in peace.

We pray, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
 - Rabbi Jamie Korngold, D.D.

Rabbi Jamie Korngold is the founder of Adventure Rabbi and Adventure Judaism. She holds a DD and MHL from Hebrew Union College and a BS from Cornell University. She is the author of 11 books and these days can often be found skiing or biking. For more about her work please visit

*From Micah Goodman’s conversation with Amanda Borschel-Dan on the Times of Israel podcast "What Matters Now"