OP-ED: Stuck In The Middle With Jews

You sit down at your computer and realize that you’re almost in too good of a mood. You need to do something to drop that positivity down maybe a notch or two. And so you log in to your Facebook account, but this time you’re not interested in finding out which Golden Girls character you are (I’m Dorothy!), or who is worthy of mustering a “HBD!” out of you today. Instead, you want to discuss Middle East politics because nothing levels off that high more than this.

Twenty minutes later, after perusing your Wall, clicking on link after link, watching viral videos of people you normally don’t agree with saying something you agree with (Maher, Stern, Beck, etc.), scrolling through the comments made by your friends, who, by the way, have all become professors of Middle East politics when you weren’t looking…after all this, you’re feeling low. Like maybe too low. Like, maybe you did too good of a job of evening out the giddy You, and now you’re just beyond depressed. Saddened beyond comprehension. Somewhat confused and paranoid that maybe your mom is right and everyone really does just hate Jews.

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It’s been a few weeks since the Matzav, or the Situation,” as the Israelis say, has escalated to a point of no return, and I have found a once guilty pleasure is now a frighteningly fraught place. It is not only stress-inducing and mean spirited, it is a rabbit hole of the Megaphone’d. In the last twenty-four hours alone, I have debated two people on Facebook– one of which I barely know, and the other I don’t know at all. And in the end, both have succeeded in submerging me into a swimming pool of malaise in which I’m doing laps in bad vibes. And the fact that this is even possible–that anyone has that power on me, sad face emoticon–is a crazy thing because both were actually incompetent debaters, armchair activists armed with nothing more than a barrage of throwaway buzzwords, hashtag heroes hellbent on status updating “the oppressors” into submission.

Right at this very moment, I am sitting here asking myself, why? Why do I bother responding when, deep down, I worriedly suspect that there’s nothing I can say that will make any difference? In a certain respect, I find that I am doing so out of responsibility, out of my personal love for Israel, out of an indelible belief that I cannot stand idly by. Deep down, I am also naive in assuming that we are all capable of saying exactly the right thing at the right time which will then change the minds of many, so that motivates me as well. Yet if anyone has ever truly broken through via social media, in the history of its existence, I would consider it borderline miraculous. Ultimately, with all of our acquaintances and our mutual friend connections, it means that many, if not most, of the people we’re engaging in dialogue with on Facebook are debating at us instead of with us.

However, when I’m not actively involved, I am observing. Taking it in like a sponge sitting in toxic waters. Sure, I could make the same points your friends are making ad nauseam. I could even share with you the recent Pew poll that 63% of Gazans have an unfavorable view of Hamas. But I’m not sure if any of that does any good.

As someone who’s been with Heeb since it launched in 2002, I can say that I’ve encountered the gamut of Jews and opinions, especially when it comes to Israel. And while I don’t speak for the rest of the staff at all, I can also say that, in the past week, I have seen that my sampling was actually rather limited. Because of Facebook, I have been reminded of the Hasidic Jews who would rather side with those in the Arab world who unilaterally denying the existence of Israel than be a part of  am echud b’lev echud – one nation with one heart. I have also encountered secular Jews who will rush and trip over their own buried ancestry to question the value of a Jewish state and employ every opportunity to speak out against it. Which is ironic considering that whenever I watch a video of Arabic propaganda, the interviewee refers to the “occupiers” not as Israelis, but as Jews implying, accurately, that we are all related.

But that is not to say I only get agita from the left side of my heart. I’ve also encountered some of us who take too much pleasure from the suffering in Gaza. I need only remind you of how we, as a people, are to never take joy in the pain of others, which is why we pour drops of wine out from our cups during the Passover seder. The Palestinians are victims, caught in-between the ruthless “martyr”-motivated Hamas and the nation of Israel whose very existence is questioned daily throughout the countries surrounding it.

I don’t have any answers. I just know both ends of the spectrum are problematic and inconclusive. If Israel did suddenly refrain from the defensive–or the offensive, depending on your view–then the message we send to the world is that we’re willing to be victims again. That to be completely pacifistic also means we’re showing weakness, and we all know where weakness gets us (if you don’t, just ask your European grandparent). It could be that you, along with many, are uncomfortable with seeing a display of our strength having relegated us as the Woody Allens of the world for too long.

computer_frustration_jpg__600×399_But to be coldly resolute, bloodthirsty in our determination, unwavering in our detachment means that we are not acting as Us. It is inherent in our character to be humanistic, to value life, to consider resolution foremost. We do not take joy in loss and, if we feel that way, we definitely do not pronounce that on social platforms. It’s behavior like that which feeds the flame for the purported statistic that 50% of Israelis are racist, an allegation that has gone viral on Facebook.

My intent here is not to purport like many that I have a solution–it’s actually staggering how many of you feel that resolution is so clear cut like this was a game of Risk. Rather, this is a lament, an expression of how exponentially stressful like can be for Jews and for Israelis in a time of social media. In fact, I can’t remember any time like this where I’ve felt the way I do now–my soul is anxious, saddened, and exhausted. But it seems that this is a feeling I may have to get used to, because our hyperbolic self-critical brethren are getting louder and louder, and the extremists are tapping in to a frustration and harnessing it. And in the time being, for the rest of us, our only alternative is to pray, hope and  worry, and maybe spend less time on Facebook.

But then this morning, on my way to work, while I reminded myself to minimize, if not completely refrain from subjecting myself to the impassioned chaos on Facebook, I noticed some new graffiti spraypainted on an Upper West Side crosswalk. It said “Free Gaza, Boycott Israel.”

What do you think?

About The Author

Arye Dworken

Arye Dworken lives in a tastefully decorated home in Teaneck, New Jersey, with his wife, son, and dog named Barrett. Barrett is named after one of the original members of Pink Floyd yet Arye wouldn't necessarily consider himself a big Pink Floyd fan. It just felt like a good dog name. You can find more Arye on aryedworken.tumblr.com or twitter.com/aryedworken.

9 Responses

  1. Mark Goldberg

    Awesome. You totally convey how I, and most of my Jewish friends on Facebook feel every time “the situation” escalates. I’d share this on my FB wall but you know….the comments. ugh. the comments.

    Reply
  2. Hope

    This is exactly what happened to me, and for exactly the same reasons. I am still in shock and pain from it all but your article has made me certain that I am neither insane or alone in this…which helps a lot.

    Reply
  3. Irwin kula

    Arye this is a wise, eloquent, heartfelt, heady, powerful post. You have captured the space where i believe so many of us are -across more generations than you might imagine. This is the space from where we can breathe together and just maybe begin to nurtue and evoke solutions for this moment. Can we speak? My email is [email protected]. Respectfully, Irwin Kula

    Reply
  4. Azil

    Just a small point to add, you wrote about the “Hassidic Jews” that side with the Arabs, just to get the facts right, there are about a half million hassidic jews in the world and about 200-400 self hatred jews are going together with the Arabs, you can find this in everywhere. (and actually these small group are also against other hassidic Jews)

    Reply

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