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What Matters Now to Micah Goodman: Vowing to stand with Israel when it fires back

The influential thinker and author describes the nation’s cocktail of emotions following the murderous Hamas infiltration from Gaza: ‘Shock, grief, frustration, inspiration, pride’

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Welcome to What Matters Now, a weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now.

Israel is at war. And, while we are fighting on our southern, and increasingly, our northern border, one of the biggest battles is global: for the hearts and minds of those who could support Israel in this time of need.

Because the battle is international, it’s not only about the Palestinians versus the Israelis. It goes far beyond that.

“Hamas is just a front of Iran. It’s one large, organic monster. So we weren’t attacked by the local militia, we were attacked by the Persian Empire,” according to Dr. Micah Goodman.

Goodman, the author of influential works such as “Catch-67,” has appeared on What Matters Now in the past, speaking on politics and on the judicial overhaul.

But on a morning in which we both have received terrible news of fallen loved ones, we had a raw and very real conversation in which Goodman makes a unique plea for help.

In this week of terrible tragedy, we ask Dr. Micah Goodman, what matters now.

The following transcript has been slightly edited.

Times of Israel: Micah, thank you so much for letting me join you today. And what we’re going to discuss is something completely other than what we’ve ever discussed before. So, first of all, can you just break down for me what you, what many Israelis are feeling now?

Micah Goodman: I’ll share with you everything that I’m feeling, and not because I’m unique, but because I’m not unique. I’m just an Israeli here. This is what I am feeling. I’m in a state of shock, overwhelmed, because what happened in the massacre of Simchat Torah is unthinkable. We’re just shocked.

But I’m not just shocked, I’m also filled with sadness and grief because people that I love — this is every Israeli — has someone that they love in the hands of the monsters in Gaza, and people that they love that were murdered in Be’eri and Nahal Oz, in Kfar Aza, in Sderot, in Ofakim, Hativat Golani.

Blood covers the floor of a bedroom of a resident of Be’eri, on October 11, 2023. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

But we’re not only experiencing shock and grief, we’re also experiencing frustration. Frustration because when we needed the military, it wasn’t there. When we needed the intelligence to tell us it’s going to happen, it didn’t function because the entire military establishment and political establishment from the top, failed us. And we are so frustrated.

But I’m also feeling admiration, it’s another emotion. Because we admire the spirit of our people. The amount of stories of absolute bravery of men and women in Be’eri, in Kfar Aza, in Nir Am who fought to kill terrorists, to save lives, to save their families, to save other people’s families. These stories of Israeli heroism are appearing more and more, and we’re filled with admiration for the spirit of these amazing Israelis.

Another emotion that I’m experiencing, very powerful, is inspiration, inspired by Israeli solidarity. Amanda, do you know that 150% of Israelis showed up to duty? They called reservists and you ask how many reservists are going to show up? 70%? 80%? Mathematically, it’s impossible, I know: 150% of people showed up. People who are now in Thailand, people who are now in India, people who are now in London are doing everything they can to cut you know how Israelis don’t know how to stand in line. Well, we’re not standing in line. We’re doing everything we can to cut lines, to get on a plane, to come back, to fight for this country, for this nation. So we’re filled with inspiration of Israeli unity, of Israeli solidarity. We went to try to donate blood the other day, and they told us to go back home because way too many Israelis showed up to donate their blood. We’ll have to come back in a few more days.

We’re also experiencing rage. Rage like we’ve never experienced before. Rage directed at the monsters of Hamas. This rage is going to speak very, very loudly in the next few weeks and months to come.

Oh, and Amanda, actually, maybe to summarize what I am feeling, what every Israeli is feeling is a cocktail of emotions: Sadness, grief, shock, inspiration, rage, solidarity, admiration. And maybe above anything else in this cocktail of emotions, I feel pride. I’ve never in my life felt more proud to be an Israeli.

So this is me. This is us. We’re a cocktail of emotions. That’s what we are. That’s what we’re carrying with us. This is what we will be carrying with us while we get together to fight back and win.

Donated clothes, toys and other items pile up at the Herod’s Hotel in Tel Aviv for evacuees from Kibbutz Nir Am near the Gaza border, October 9, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Everything is so raw. You’re an analytical thinker, and you have historical breadth. Can you please in some way compare what’s happening now to what happened 50 years ago with the Yom Kippur War?

This is very, very interesting. In 1973, Israel was taken by surprise. But there wasn’t one surprise. There were three surprises, bad surprises and there was one good surprise. Let me just try to think about this. War, as Napoleon said, is the kingdom of uncertainty. It’s a magnet of black swans. Like strategic surprises happen in war all the time. The Yom Kippur War, 50 years ago exactly, there were three bad surprises. But one good surprise. There’s also good surprises. The one good surprise more than compensated for the three bad surprises.

Well, here are the three, let’s map this out: The three bad surprises. One, we were taken by surprise. That was the surprise. The Israeli intelligence community was supposed to deliver a warning a few weeks, a few days before the war broke out. It failed. It didn’t. That was one bad surprise. Second bad surprise, the Israeli Air Force was supposed to be highly functional in the first 48 hours of the war, but for many reasons, the Israeli Air Force in the Yom Kippur War in the first 48 hours was not functioning. Third bad surprise, the Southern Command of Israel with a standing army with no reserves, was supposed to put all the soldiers in its posts around Sinai for different reasons. It didn’t. These are three bad surprises: The standing army wasn’t there ready, the air force wasn’t functioning, and the intelligence community didn’t deliver a strategic warning. Those are the three bad surprises.

But then there was one good surprise. The good surprise is that the Israeli reservists showed up much quicker than they were expected to. The first reservists were expected to show up with all their gear ready to fight within 48 hours. They were there after 12 hours, Amanda. They showed up after seven hours, and they were ready to fight after 12 hours. We were supposed to have all the reservists ready to fight after five, six days. But the surprise was the reservists in ‘73 were there with all their equipment, with all the divisions within 48 hours. They just left their shuls, left where they were, colleges around the world, left where they were, came back home to fight and to protect our country. That good surprise more than compensated for the three bad surprises.

An IDF Navy soldier marries his girlfriend at his base, ahead of the Yom Kippur War, October 1973. (State Archives)

Now, let’s map this out: The three bad surprises were from the top, were from how the system, the establishment from the top did not function in the first days of the war. But the good surprise came from the spirit of the people. It came from the bottom. It came from the spirit of our nation. This is the Israeli story: On the top, things seem rotten. From the bottom, things seem inspiring. It was the spirit of our people from the bottom that saved us from the dysfunction of the system on the top. That was the story of ‘73. Amanda, this is the story of 2023.

Let’s add one more element to your analogy, and that’s, of course, the background that, in fact, the last time we spoke, we were talking about a horribly disunited people because of the judicial overhaul process.

Exactly. Just like we are horrified and surprised by the cruelty of Hamas slaughtering men, women and children in Be’eri, and in Nahal Oz, and in Kfar Aza and in Sderot. Just like we are shocked and surprised by the cruelty of Hamas, we are also shocked, taken by surprise by the solidarity and the unity of the Israeli people. Just a month ago, we were talking about civil war and Israelis not liking each other anymore and hating each other. And I think this is the reason why our enemies in Tehran miscalculated. They thought they could attack us because we’re divided and they miscalculated. They miscalculated because also we are shocked and surprised by the solidarity, by the unity. There’s not one Israeli that’s not waking up in the morning every minute of these days and asking one question: how can I help?

Altruism is the new Israeli norm now in the streets of every community in Israel. My girls yesterday, they asked, what can they do? So they got this. WhatsApp that there is a family that the husband went to miluim, to the reserves, and they need some help. So my girls made them some cakes, and they go over to the apartment to help, and they come back frustrated that the family, the apartment is filled with cakes and everything. They came back frustrated. There’s nothing we could do to help, they said.

Illustrative: Parcels of food, clothing and other items in Tel Aviv, in a donation drive organized by the Brothers and Sisters in Arms, on October 8, 2023. (Courtesy)

They were frustrated and I was inspired because they’re just like we saw the face of evil, we’re also seeing the face of solidarity, of love, of goodness, of unity. Now this great surprise will compensate for all the horrible surprises of Simchat Torah 2023. We are in ‘73. The spirit of the people from the bottom will compensate for the dysfunction of the establishment from the top. That is why we are going to win.

It’s not only people here in Israel who are asking themselves every single moment what they can do to help. It’s also people abroad from around the world. I’m receiving messages all the time. Where can I put my money? What should I donate to? What can I send? How can we help? And I think part of what we need to drill down and discuss today is that this is going to be so necessary, so needed, and yet we need to also discuss the different Israel that we’re going to have.

So there was a myth, of course, of deterrence. We had a myth in our head: Israel, the high-tech startup nation, we have this border, we have this high-tech way of defending the border, but all of it turned out to be false, a legend, a myth.

You know, Amanda, how some people are so disoriented socially that they have no idea what other people feel about them and think about them? Like, some people are not funny and they think they’re funny. Some people are not smart, but they think they’re smart. I think we also have that collectively: we thought we were scary. We thought that our neighbors in this tough neighborhood were afraid of us. Because the only thing that really was supposed to protect Nahal Oz, Kfar Aza, Ofakim, Sderot, is not that fence that was torn down with a tractor. It was the fact that they’ll never dare to mess with us, that if they touch the fence, all hell will break loose.

What we’ve learned is that we are disoriented. Just like the person who thinks he’s funny, but he’s not. Israel thought it was scary, but it’s not. Here’s maybe my best take at this moment — when we speak about our international relationships, there are two emotions we have to be thinking about: love and fear. We want love. We want Western civilization to love us. We want Bono to sing songs about us. We want Madonna to share stories on Instagram, about how much she admires us and loves us. That’s what we want. In the West, we want to be loved.

Israeli army soldiers walk near a self-propelled howitzer stationed near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on October 12, 2023. (Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)

In the Middle East, we don’t want to be loved. We want to be feared. It’s a different emotion. We want that Hezbollah will have a panic attack when they think about the Israeli Defense Forces. We want Iran to shiver when it thinks about the possibility of a military interaction with Israel. We want the Middle East to be in fear of us.

We want two things. We want love and we want fear. We want love from the West. We want fear from the Middle East. But here’s the problem, Amanda. There is a zero-sum game between these emotions because here’s how it goes: Everything that we are going to do to restore the fear is going to erode the love. Everything we do that will guarantee that the Middle East is afraid of Israelis, of these crazy, unpredictable Israelis, everything we do in order to build that myth back again is going to make people in the West not like us, not love us.

The other way around, if we try to keep the West loving us and writing songs about us, we will not restore the fear of the Middle East from us. So it’s a zero-sum game. If people are asking questions about what they can do to help us, here’s what you can do: Break the zero-sum game.

Micah, I think there are many other myths that have been busted during this war, during the infiltration itself. And one of the myths that I think Israelis have held is that Hamas are “just” terrorists, that they’re just this ragtag operation of terrorists. And what are terrorists, anyway? They’re with guns or throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails, simple rockets, this kind of homegrown weaponry. But this is not the case. We’re seeing what we saw was such a pre-planned, coordinated attack. That, for me, is one of the more shocking elements of the failure of our intelligence, of course. But the fact that this Hamas, that we’ve always felt that we were so much stronger than — no, they actually have a standing army. They have an air force. They have a navy. They have every wing of an army that we do as well. Do you see that this myth also is being busted in Israeli society?

Maybe the myth was just like we thought, we are not united, and we are also waking up to realize that we thought, it was “just” Hamas, but it’s not. They are united. Hamas is just a forefront of Iran. It’s one large organic monster. It’s one.

A dead body after the devastating assault by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 11, 2023 (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

We weren’t attacked by a local militia. We were attacked by the Persian Empire. We were attacked by Iran. Just like we realize that we are all connected to each other much more than we ever imagined, we realize we’re connected to each other. We have to also realize that they are also connected. They are also one axis of evil. So if you think it’s just us versus Hamas, it’s “just” Hamas. It’s not Hamas — it’s a large, powerful, sophisticated network of military forces that are training and were designed to bring Israel down.

But they miscalculated. They miscalculated because I think they were looking at Israel the past eight months, and they saw two things. They saw America distancing itself from Israel, and they saw Israel collapsing from within. They thought: “Hey, if we attack them, they’re not united, and America’s not behind them.”

But as we saw last night —

As we see, President Biden, the Winston Churchill of this generation, made it very loud and clear they’ve miscalculated. America stands with Israel, and Israel is connected and united more than ever. We thought that they were weak. We miscalculated. They thought that we were alone. Now they’re the ones who miscalculated. The price they are going to pay for their miscalculation is a price that is going to be so loud and so clear that no one in the Middle East will ever want to pay that price.

How do we know that we won? What does victory look like? I’ll tell you when people will be willing to go back to Kfar Aza, back to Be’eri, back to Nahal Oz, back to Nir Oz, back to Nir Am, back to Sderot, these amazing Israelis going back to live in those communities, raising their children in their communities. I know of many Israelis who are right now saying: “The day after the war we are going to go and settle Otef Aza,” the area surrounding Gaza. That will be the testimony of victory. People will be willing to raise their children around Gaza again. They will be willing to do that and to live there only if they know that there is a barrier that’s protecting them. The barrier is not our cameras, it’s not the fence. It’s a barrier of fear. The fear of Hamas, the fear of our enemies never to pull a Kishinev on us again.

A photograph taken following the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, when 49 Jews were murdered following a ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish community. Here, the victims are laid out wrapped in prayer shawls prior to burial (public domain)

There have been other kingdoms of Israel. We’re not the first. It fell because of internal strife in the past. Right now we’re feeling very unified. But do you feel like this is some kind of wake-up call as well?

Yes. The Israelis that you were seeing today, and this is important that all the lovers of Israel know, we’re not the same Israelis that we were before the seventh of October, before Simchat Torah.

This is what happened to us: For 12 hours, between 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening — roughly 12 hours — the State of Israel didn’t exist in the area between Sderot and Alumim, in the area that surrounds Gaza. The State of Israel wasn’t there. It wasn’t there to protect the civilians who were massacred and butchered in their homes. I hope the people who are listening to us know what happened in Be’eri and never, ever forget what happened in Be’eri and in Nahal Oz, never forget what happened there. The State of Israel wasn’t there to protect them. They were slaughtered, they were butchered.

I would say those 12 hours are a black hole in Israeli history. Officially, the State of Israel exists. Officially, it happened, the pogrom happened in the land where Israel, where Jews are sovereign — officially. But actually, for 12 hours, there was a black hole of Jewish sovereignty. There was a black hole for 12 hours, no state, no one to protect us between Alumim and Sderot, no one was there.

In the long term, that will change us. I’ll tell you why it will change us. The founding fathers and mothers of the State of Israel knew that Israel is not to be taken for granted, knew that Jewish sovereignty should not be trivialized. The reason why they knew it can’t be taken for granted was because they were there in a world where Jews didn’t have a state. They were there when Jews had a state. They knew that this should not be taken for granted.

Illustrative; Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Southern Front Commander Yigal Allon (to his right) and Yitzhak Rabin (between them) pictured on the southern front during the 1948 War of Independence. (IDF / Wikipedia)

What happens to us is that after a while and that’s true about everything in life, the most amazing miracles become normalized and everything gets taken for granted. What happens is that the second generation kind of still knows it’s a miracle and we can’t mess this up. The third generation forgets and the fourth generation starts screwing things up because it takes everything for granted.

We just got a text message from Jewish history. Jewish history says hello. Jewish history showed us this is how it looks like, those 12 hours, this is how it looks like when Jews don’t have a state. We saw how it looks, it looks like a Kishinev. So here, Jewish history called us up and said, hello, this is a reminder.

Now we have the perspective that the founding fathers and mothers of Israel have. We saw what it looks like without a state. We know what it looks like with a state. We will never take our sovereignty for granted. Actually, I’m exaggerating, we will, in a generation or two, will forget. But we just now gained a few years, maybe decades, where we will know that we don’t mess. We can’t do what we’ve been doing for the past eight months — weakening this important historic project called Zionism. We can’t do that. We got a reminder from Jewish history that now we know what the founding fathers and mothers knew, and we’ve forgotten that the alternative to Israel is Kishinev. And that is why there is no alternative. President Biden quoted [prime minister] Golda Meir. We actually have nowhere else to go.

Composite photo: Left – the newly-elected Democratic senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 13, 1972; Right – prime minister Golda Meir is shown speaking at the United Nations, October 22, 1970 (AP photos)

President Biden can quote Golda Meir because he met her. He had that first-person experience with her. The next generation of leadership in the United States does not have that. The one after that definitely does not. They’re so often — even those who the political party that has traditionally been on Israel’s side, the Democrats, is now much, much less — they’re the generation that we here, you and I, are trying to reach with our conversation today because, as you said, Israel cannot go it alone. Joe Biden definitely made clear that from his perspective, we are not alone. But while we’re the flavor of the minute, we’re the people to support right now, we’re the Davids, not the Goliaths, what is going to happen, Micah, when inevitably Israel will hit hard with an iron fist like Israel has never hit ever before?

I’m afraid that the way we are now, the way Israel is after the massacre of Simchat Torah. This is how many people in the world, this is how we need to be for many people in the world to like us, to love us.

But that is so anathema to the new Zionists, to the strong Zionists.

Exactly. Now, many of these people who like us after we are hit will not like us when we hit back. I want to say something to all the lovers of Israel, my Jewish brothers and sisters in Europe, in the United States and all over the world, and also non-Jews who love Israel and understand that there is a very long and tough journey in front of us. What you feel now towards us, you’re not going to be feeling in a few weeks and months. The Buddha taught us that nothing is permanent, especially not our emotions. But emotions always appear with an illusion that: “This is the new me. This emotion is going to stick. I’m going to be feeling forever.”

But emotions are impermanent. The love, the love directed at Israel, Bono singing songs, all these things, this is impermanence. This is directed at us after we are hit. Many of these emotions are going to evaporate after we hit back strongly.

What I want to ask the lovers of Israel and the people of Israel: Please remember how you feel now at this moment of moral clarity. What you feel now, you’re not going to be feeling in the future. That’s fine, that’s natural emotions are impermanent, but loyalty isn’t. I want to ask you to be loyal to this moment and then during the next moments, loyal to what you see now, and stay loyal to what you see now, even when you won’t feel what you feel now.

Remember, Amanda, how just 15 minutes ago we were discussing the zero-sum game between love and fear? That we need the Middle East to fear us and we need the West to love us. But it’s a zero-sum game because everything we do in order to restore the fear in the Middle East will erode the love in the West. Well, this is what we’re asking the lovers of Israel. Please break that zero-sum game. Stay with us with love while we restore the fear. Because if you do, President Biden, the administration, the force of America will stay with us. If the force of America will stay with us, we are going to win.

Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses a pro-Israel rally in New York City on October 10, 2023. (Luke Tress via JTA)

This is for the first time in Israeli history, the relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews is upside down. It’s upside down. I know it’s distorted, I know it’s reared, but temporarily, it’s upside down. The State of Israel was created and formed in order to save the Jewish world. Right now, we need the help of the Jewish world in order to keep Israel strong, we need their help.

The help is: Stay loyal not only to Israel. Stay loyal to the moral clarity you have now regarding Israel. I’m telling you, in the future, you will not feel what you feel now, but stay loyal to what you see now. In halacha, in Jewish law, there is this idea of a neder, a neder is when you make a vow that the different versions that you are going to be in the future will stay obligated to this moment in the present.

I’m asking the lovers of Israel to make a neder now. To make a neder, to make a vow that weeks and months from now, you will stand with us. You will stand with us when we hit, and not only when we get hit.

So this is me and you, Amanda, Israelis experiencing this cocktail of emotions and we know that now we are not alone. But we will win, if also in the future we won’t be alone. If you will help us break the zero-sum game of fear and love. While we restore fear in the Middle East, you will protect the admiration and support for Israel in the West. If we can do that, if we can work together, we’re going to win this and rebuild our communities in Nahal Oz and in Kfar Aza. While we defeat the forces of death, Israelis will continue to express love, and solidarity and choose life. We’re in this together.

Please go to your rabbis, go to your leaders together now, before we hit back. Now, when you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing and seeing what you’re seeing, this is the time for the neder. This is the time for the vow. Make this vow: We will support Israel throughout the period where it’s fighting for its existence.

Micah, thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you, Amanda. There are two words that Israelis are saying to each other these days, b’yachad nenatzeakh — Together we will win.


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