This is the end of any delusions for Jewish people
The piece has been published in the Australian Financial Review by ECAJ co-CEO Alex Ryvchin.
In the months before he died leading the rescue mission to free Israeli hostages at Entebbe, Yoni Netanyahu, the older brother of Israel’s prime minister, was despondent. He had observed that his countrymen, who craved peace and acceptance in their region above all else, had succumbed to delusion. In letters to his brother, Yoni warned that the hatred against Jews living autonomously in the Middle East was so ingrained, so visceral that peace was a mirage. “We believe because we want to believe,” he said.
Many things changed forever following the mass atrocities of October 7. The lives of the survivors, the psyche of the nation, the resolve of the Jewish world. More than anything, it marks the end of delusion.
The people of Israel believed that the horrors Hamas inflicted upon them were beyond the realm of the possible. Many catastrophic scenarios had been envisaged. A third intifada of suicide bombers, a nuclear Iran commanding Hezbollah to begin a war on Israel’s northern border. Perhaps even another conventional war launched by Syria on the Golan Heights. But certain things were impossible. Israeli ingenuity and restless devotion to building, inventing and solving meant that certain things, had forever been left behind, confined to the annals of human barbarism we find in museums and books of history.
The rape of young women beside the warm corpses of their friends was not possible. The discovery of forty infants and babies slaughtered in their cots, some beheaded, was not possible. Parents covering the mouths of whimpering children as uniformed killers searched for Jews door to door, was not possible. Parents burned alive in front of children, children in front of parents, the survivors dragged into a savage captivity, was not possible. The violation and execution of captives broadcast to the victims’ families on their phones was not possible.
This delusion, our believing simply because we wanted to believe, is no more.
As Jews, we are raised with a belief in basic humanity. Every human being is endowed with dignity and a soul. This is perhaps the most fundamental tenet of Judaism, from which all others flow. That too has been shown as delusion. No human being with a soul or dignity could bring themselves to carry out the crimes to which we bear witness.
As Australians, we also clung to certain delusions. I see that now. We did not believe it was possible for some of our fellow Australians to see the same footage and hear the same accounts as we have, and rejoice. We believed, that no matter the depth of feeling, tribalism, bonds to ancestral lands or kinship with one’s co-religionists, no Australian could learn of these atrocities and utter words such as “today I’m smiling, I feel happy,” and for other Australians to respond with “God is great,” in a foreign tongue.
Any lingering delusion that the antisemitic mob belongs to another time and another place is gone with the scenes that disgraced our entire nation. “Gas the Jews” chanted by a mob of dozens at the steps of our most iconic landmark is a vision that will long haunt us unless it is displaced by something more horrific still. Australians Jews now not only look at what is happening in Israel with horror, we are looking over our shoulders.
Many have sought to place these events in the arc of Jewish and human history. To be sure, they are the deadliest and most traumatic events since the near annihilation of European Jewry. These are words I write without embellishment but with absolute disbelief. The sadism and relish of the crimes invokes the Nazi killing squads that threw candy at Jewish children as they flailed in terror in a pit of quicksand. They invoke the Cossack horsemen and Crusaders who hacked open the stomachs of pregnant women and flung their unborn children to their dogs.
And they bring to my wearied and tormented mind the words of two Jewish poets, Agnon and Bialik who wrote poetry to process the destruction they could not unsee. Agnon wrote of his despair after a massacre of Jews in Hebron by their Palestinian neighbours in 1929. He said of the Palestinians, “now my attitude is this. I do not hate them and I do not love them; I do not wish to see their faces.” Bialik reflected on the slaughter of Jews in Kishinev, now Moldova, in 1903. He wrote, “Arise and go now to the city of slaughter, into its courtyard wind thy way, there with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of thine head, behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay, the spattered blood and dried brains of the dead. Tomorrow the rain will wash their mingled blood, into the runners, and it will be lost, in rubbish heap, in stagnant pool, in mud. Its cry will not be heard. And all things will be as they ever were.”
Only this time, I know things will never be as they ever were.
Alex Ryvchin is the Co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry