Written by Joshua Rothstein
I met David in May 2018 on my Birthright Trip to Israel. Like me, David is 26 and loves basketball, music, and ice cream. In fact, on one of our only nights out on the trip, we skipped the club and instead had a lively Michael Jordan vs Lebron James debate over a few pints of ice cream.
David and I are similar in several ways, so similar that on our trip people started calling him Josh #2. The bond we formed in only a few days in Israel together will last a lifetime, and in January 2020 I was so happy to introduce him to my family when we were last in Israel, and to my wife a few months before COVID when he was last in the States. But the way we spent October 7th could not have been more different. On October 7th I had the best day of my life when I married my Wife Catherine. On October 7th David had what I’d imagine was one of the worst days of his life as Hamas carried out heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks against Israel and David was called back to the IDF after already completing his service a few years prior.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read that G-D sends Noah and his family onto their famous Ark with every animal species to save the world. It is Noah who has the responsibility, the ultimate weight on his shoulders, to re-populate a living society and create goodness on earth. So away he goes, for an entire year, living aboard a boat as water levels rise above him. Of course, we all know what happens next: Noah emerges with his family, and his 3 sons go on to re-populate the world and save all of humanity. But I’m most interested in a part of the story that I can’t seem to find any scholarship on: what happened on that boat for a year? Gosh, that is a long time to be stuck in a floating object, regardless of how big it was, with only your family and a bunch of livestock running around. But even though Noah was isolated, from literally every other living thing that had ever existed, he was not alone. His support system was smaller then maybe he would have liked, perhaps he would’ve been happier with a few friends on board, but it was there as he did his sacred work and saved the world.
These past 2 weeks for myself, and I’m sure for many of us in this room, it’s felt like we’ve been alone. After vocally supporting, donating to, and marching for countless movements and causes, it has been extremely hurtful to see so many people we fought with, people we thought were in our corner, abandon us in our time of need. I too have felt a heavy weight on my shoulder. A weight to educate, a weight to advocate for, and the weight that comes from having to make some very hard decisions. How do I react when people who have been my friends turn their backs on a key part of my identity? If you don’t stand with the Jewish people, how can you stand with me? And what does that make us? How do we move forward as friends? It’s a question I am still grappling with, and one that I do not have the answer to just yet.
But I’ve also spent the last few days focusing on who is standing with us. Ten colleagues and I sent a letter to the CEO of our company asking that they release a public statement condemning Hamas, and hours later the company released that statement on its social media for all to see. My Wife and I brought 8 friends, none of whom are Rodeph members, and some of whom are not even Jewish, to Friday night services last week, and after we hosted Shabbat dinner in our apartment where we raised money for Israel’s Red Cross. Our support system may be smaller than we had thought it was only a few days ago, but it is still there, and it is stronger than it has ever been.
Now is not the time to shrink. We must continue to do the important work of expanding our community, educating our peers, and opening our doors, as hard as it may be. When people spread false, antisemitic statements about Israel, we must correct them. When our bosses ask how we are doing, we should tell them what the past 2 weeks have been like for us. If we do not stand for ourselves, who will stand for us?
But as we do this important work, we must never lose sight of recognizing who is standing with us now, and who has been there the whole time. It may feel like we are all alone, floating around the world in an ark with some chickens running around, but like Noah, we have our circle keeping us from jumping overboard.
There’s something almost tragically poetic to me about two 26-year-old friends, one spending his day getting married, and the other going off to fight in a war that he did not want to be in. Although we spent our day on opposite ends of the world doing the most different things imaginable, we are still bonded by our shared, Jewish, experience. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in Israel fighting right now, but I’ve tried to make sure David feels loved and supported from 5,000 miles away every day.
May we all continue to do our part, and rely on our circle while doing so. The circle may feel small, but I assure you it is mighty.
I pray that we will all exit the ark soon and step into a world full of goodness, a world that we all helped create.