Jews should celebrate their heroes and warriors: they will need them

Since the vicious Hamas attack on October 7, I have spent time in both Israel and the United States. And I have noticed a fundamental difference in how the horrific events of that day have been covered.

In Israel, about a quarter of the news was not about victimhood but about heroism.

They included incredible stories from ordinary Israelis:

  • A bus driver going back and forth within the music festival, risking his life to get as many people out as possible.
  • A grandfather who learned that his son and grandchildren were hiding in a safe room while terrorists rampaged through the city grabbed a gun and drove there to lead the charge that freed them.
  • A woman who found a way to keep terrorists at bay by offering them food and drink, delaying her certain death long enough to allow the IDF to rescue her.

We heard the stories of the elite soldiers who fought that first day. Israel’s Channel 12 interviewed four commanders of the Egoz commando unit, all in their 20s.

They wore masks to maintain operational safety, but we could still see the steel in their eyes as they described, with the casualness of military men, how they stepped over the wounded body of their commander on a stretcher and charged forward as fast as they could. .

“We wanted to make sure that if the terrorists found anyone, it would be us and not civilians,” one said.

Another was asked what the nation could do for them. “We want them to stay strong and united behind us. Because that is the strength of our people.”

A third was asked how he imagined the future.

“I look at these burned kibbutzim and imagine them rebuilt, thriving more than ever,” he said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”

These stories have been a source of immense strength for Israelis. But they’re not exactly new.

This heroic element is deeply rooted in Israeli culture.

We have always studied biblical heroes in school and revered the pioneers and warriors of the pre-state era.

Even our Holocaust Day is officially called “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” and its official ceremonies include references to the ghetto uprisings, partisans, and others who fought back.

Yet American Jews, for a long time and for complex reasons, have largely avoided heroism as a Jewish value.

For decades, I heard American Jews mock the idea of ​​Israeli heroism as a nasty form of “machismo” or “militarism.”

American Holocaust museums and cultural products tend to focus almost entirely on Jewish victimhood.

The hope, it has been explained to me, is that by showing the world what happened in Nazi Germany, we can help America avoid the kind of bigotry, racism, and bigotry that led to such horror.

It is not clear that the elimination of Jewish heroism from American Jewish life can be sustained after October 7.

This month, here in the United States, I have seen a Jewish community stunned by the calamity, even as it began to mobilize to help Israel through a thousand different channels.

Many spoke of shock, loneliness and fear, not only because they identify deeply with Israel and have personal connections there, but also because of the sudden outbreaks of anti-Semitism sweeping American cities and college campuses, and the expressions of support for Hamas coming from people who They thought they were their friends.

But while some have mobilized, large numbers of American Jews today remain gripped by fear and confusion.

Generations of anti-heroic teachings about Jewish identity have resulted in many Jews simply lacking the warrior instinct necessary to confront the hatred they now face.

There seems to be a great need for inspiring stories of Jewish courage, sacrifice, and self-improvement, a need that is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

In a recently published collection called “Jewish Priorities,” which I edited, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, founder of the Birthright Israel program and author of the 2022 memoir “Jewish Pride,” proposes creating a “pantheon of Jewish heroes” in the United States, who he would choose a series of heroic figures from throughout Jewish history and build exhibitions, institutions, and educational programs around them.

Young Jews, he writes, “need to know that it is possible, even desirable, to care so much about being Jewish that it is worth sacrificing, taking risks, fighting for, and even dying for.”

American Jews need this. Because while Israel can destroy Hamas in Gaza, the forces of anti-Semitism that have been unleashed around the world will not disappear, and Jewish communities will increasingly be targeted.

They will need immense spiritual resources for what may become a generational battle for their own security and legitimacy.

They will need the comfort, strength, and examples that only a solid education in heroism can provide them.

David Hazony is the editor of “Jewish priorities: sixty-five proposals for the future of our people” (Evil Son, 2023). He lives in Jerusalem.

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