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Listener Feedback: Israel at War

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we listen and respond to feedback from the 18Forty community on the conversations of our Israel at War topic.

Jews live in two different worlds—one before Oct. 7, and one after. The last few months have transformed the Jewish People across denominations, communities, and countries. Prompted by your feedback, we reflect upon those changes. Together, we reflect on those changes. In this episode we discuss:

  • Why are American Jews misunderstanding the Dati Leumi community?
  • What does it mean to be a Jew in a post–Oct. 7 world?
  • In what ways can diaspora Jews aspire to live more like Israeli Jews?

Tune in to hear a conversation about how we might continue forward in pursuit of being a unified Jewish People.

Feedback messages begin: 9:28

References:

Exodus 3:5

Surfin’ Slivovitz” by Andy Statman

Shomer Yisrael” by Omek Hadavar

Yossi Klein Halevi: What’s Next: The Future of Liberal Zionism

Jonathan Gribetz: What’s Next: Teaching the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

David Bashevkin: 

Hi, friends, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month, we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities, to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin. Today, we’re actually going to be going back and responding to a lot of the listener feedback. Though not all of it, there is, thank God, so much. We haven’t done an episode like this in a long time, and there’s so much to do, but that’s what we’re going to be exploring today. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org, 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you could also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. 

One of the great joys of 18Forty, and comforts honestly, is the fact that we have created a community of sorts. It is digital, it is online, and it crosses geographic boundaries. There’s obviously an advantage and a disadvantage to that. The advantage is that we’re able to connect all together and kind of talk about these issues in our lives, disagree about issues throughout the world. Really, we, thank God, have listeners in our community and we get feedback from so many people, from so many different walks of life, and that is one of the great prides. The obvious disadvantage is that that closeness of feeling part of a community and all together in the same room, obviously we don’t have that. We don’t have a brick and mortar place to gather, though obviously having a gathering like that is very much on our agenda. Something I would love it is a dream of mine that I hope we have the capacity to build. 

One of the issues that we have is that we do close every episode with our voicemail number. That number, of course, is 516-519-3308. We listen to every single voicemail. They’re flagged, and they’re followed up. Of course, we have an email that you can email us. I believe that email is info@18forty.org. And we hear from so many people and we try to reach out as much as we can to everybody. Obviously, there are so many emails that we’re unable, or I, at least personally, am unable to respond to, but we really do our best. One of the issues that we don’t do these episodes often enough, we want to hear from everybody. We’re always listening, but we don’t get to do these episodes. 

Obviously, today’s episode, given the war in Israel and everything that the Jewish people have been through, that’s going to be the exclusive focus. We do have voicemails that I want to go back to and share with you from old episodes, from old topics, and they’re really fascinating, and maybe we’ll read some of them. But really, for right now, what I want to focus on is some of the feedback for the series that we’ve been doing since October 7th. 

The only thing that we have been able to talk about is what is happening in Israel, and we’ve heard from so many and really there is some bias in this, in what we share, because, very often, I like to share the things that are more critical, that have pushback, because I think that’s really important. Just as a community, to realize that we have an interview. Sometimes, I say things and I miss the mark. Sometimes, I say things that are maybe on the mark that were misunderstood. Sometimes, I say things that are off the mark but on an issue. As vital, it feels in many ways that talking about Israel, it feels to me at least, because it is so sensitive in a good way. We should be sensitive. I think very often, we talk about being sensitive as a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative. I think that we feel very raw right now, and that it feels like we’re walking around in some ways. 

As an analogy, sometimes when you have to bring something out late at night, you have to bring out the garbage, you have to take care of something outside, get something that you left in the car, there’s always a three-second debate, “Should I put on a pair of shoes?” At least, I have that three-second debate. It’s almost always in my head, and the way that the debate is resolved is either are the shoes right there, it’s in front of me, I got to get this done, I want to go to bed, and we got to figure this out. Sometimes, you run out and you’re not wearing the shoes, because you know you have to do this. There is an urgency. I got to get this done before I go to sleep, and if I start looking for my shoes, I’m going to get distracted. I’ll never get out there. 

You walk outside, and because of whatever that urgency that you just need to end this day, you walk outside without your shoes on, and there is a unique sensation of walking on the driveway when you don’t have shoes. Maybe literally, I’m the only person who’s ever done this, I don’t know, but there’s a way you walk when you’re not wearing shoes. I’m not even wearing socks in this story. Now, I’m just telling a story about myself. There’s a way you walk that almost contorts your foot to make sure that if you step in a certain way, even if it’s on a pebble, it won’t hurt as much, because you feel every rock, every stone, every bump on the ground, you’re really connected to everything. You’re not wearing your normal foot protection, so you walk a little slower, a little bit more carefully. In a way, I think speaking about the Jewish people, particularly in this moment, requires us to walk in a certain way. 

We are stronger than ever, but in a way, maybe it’s just me. I think we are in a holy way more sensitive than ever we need to be because the Jewish people, it feels to me, at least, we’ve been walking without shoes on. We feel this vulnerability of the Jewish people, of the State of Israel, and a higher order of sensitivity is necessary. Even when we talk about differences in our communities, even when we talk about distinctions in our communities, it needs to be in a way of such incredible sensitivity that I always strive for. I don’t always reach, but I always strive for, because as a people right now, as strong as we are, as resolute as we are, as focused and committed as we are, we are all recovering from horrors of October 7th each in our own ways, and it feels like we are stepping outside and we have not had enough time to even put on our shoes. 

Regular conversations about the Jewish people, when you’re standing outside and you’re on your driveway and there are no shoes on, you feel every difference, every distinction, every contortion in the driveway, you feel on your feet. In some ways when we talk about the Jewish people, we have to realize that we are in the middle of a revelation of sorts of what it means to be the Jewish people. We are in a new revelation of sorts of what it means for this generation to feel connected to Amcha YIsaroel, to the Jewish people, to the State of Israel around the world. And when you have a revelation like that, in many ways, we’re not wearing shoes in this conversation. We feel every contortion and every distinction. My Americanness, I feel in ways I have never felt before. My connection to the State of Israel, I have never felt in ways before, and I think each in our respective communities are walking around and we’re having conversations. 

But in a holy way, we’re not wearing shoes. We are feeling every single rock and every single pebble of our pain, of our sensitivities, because just like God, when He reveals himself to Moshe Rabbeinu, He first says, “Take your shoes off.” One explanation I heard for why God tells Moshe in this revelation in the third perek of Shemos, the fifth verse, He says, “Take your shoes off because the place that you are standing on is holy.” One of the explanations I heard for why He tells Moshe to take his shoes off is exactly what we’ve been saying, that when you have a new revelation about the Jewish people, when you have a revelation about your purpose, it requires you to take off those guards and expose yourself, allow a little bit more vulnerability, allow a little bit more connection to feel every pebble in that driveway, to feel every stone underneath where you’re standing, to feel the pain of every single moment in the sensitivities of every perspective. 

These are not easy conversations to have. I have done my very best, but I think, for the first time, at least for myself, for the first time, you’re really feeling the pain of every single pebbles of the different perspectives in all of our communities, as we figure out collectively the way forward. So, we’re going to be getting into the feedback in a moment, but I wanted to preface it with that imagery, because as controversial as many of the subjects that we’ve spoken about in the past are, this isn’t about controversy to me at least. It’s about that existential sensitivity to understand what it means to be in this moment, in January 2024, in a post-October 7th world. Maybe you have felt this your entire life. I think many Jews haven’t. I can only talk for myself. I’ve never walked around without shoes like this. To feel the sensitivity of each community, to feel the sensitivity of what the Jewish people are experiencing in this moment. 

It feels revelatory, it feels like a revelation, it feels holy, and the sensitivities are all incredibly holy. I want to air a lot of them today because even the pushback, it’s not regular pushback. In the past, I love getting pushback, but this is a different kind of pushback. I look at it as existential sensitivity in each community, in the holiest way of we’re all walking around barefoot in a way, experiencing this new revelation of what it means to be a part of the Jewish people. I want to start really with something much lighter, but I think it’s very important, in the way that it’s starting. It’s a voicemail that I was really so happy to receive, and it is not about the content about what we share, but it’s about the music. Let’s listen. 

Listener: 

Hi, 18Forty. Hey, is it possible that you could mention the names of the artists and their song that you’re playing at the end of an episode? I love your taste in music, and I’m always wanting to find the tune in Spotify. I love your show. Thank you so much for all you do. You guys just put together beautiful, beautiful shows, especially now. Anyway, thanks again. It’s Mitzy, living in beautiful San Clemente. Thank you. Bye-bye. 

David Bashevkin: 

I love this voicemail, and Mitzy is absolutely right. We should have been airing, on every single episode, where our music is from. Normally, our music is a song from Andy Statman called “Surfin’ Slivovitz.” I liked it. Andy was kind enough to let us use it. One of our audio engineers, our original audio engineer, Uri Westrich, approached him actually at a concert. He’s very kind. I like it because it’s a merge of traditional and rock and roll together, and that’s Andy Statman’s “Surfin’ Slivovitz.” That’s normally our intro music. It’s been a very long time since we have used that because ever since October 7th, we have been using a different song, which I assume is what this caller is referring to, and that is a song by a band called Omek Hadavar, and the song is called “Shomer Yisrael.” It’s still going to be our intro music. Just on a very personal level, I’m not ready to change it, but I do want to share a word about why this became our intro music. 

First and foremost, the words of “Shomer Yisrael,” it’s from the words of Tachanun. The Hebrew says, Shomer Yisrael, the watcher of the Jewish people, referring to God as the overall watcher, as the guardian of the Jewish people. Watch over the remnant of the Jewish people. And the Jewish people should not be lost. Who each collectively say Shema Yisrael, the words Shema Yisrael, which is the traditional Shema prayer. These are words that, on a personal level, I’ve always come back to. I don’t know why I have this relationship with prayer itself, but one of the prayers that, for a lot of people, it’s frustrating because it’s at the very end of davening, is Tachanun, is after Shemoneh Esreh after the Amidah, and that is the part where people, they’re always frustrated and they like in a lot of Hasidic shtiebels, because they have so many yahrzeits that they observe, they skip Tachanun a lot, and they’re like, “Oh, I love davening there, because they don’t have to say Tachanun. 

I’m almost the exact opposite. I think if I had to choose one prayer that I say every day, I would start with Tachanun. I actually tell my students, I’m a big proponent of Birchas HaTorah. I always tell my students try to say Birchas HaTorah every day. Those who are struggling with davening at least, and the length of davening. I’m a big fan of saying Birchas HaTorah, but I always remind my students that if other parts of davening feel too long or too difficult, you could build a relationship with Tachanun because there is something so vulnerable and so real when we say Tachanun, that it moves me to my core. My first book that I ever published was a Hebrew work, a sefer, called B’Rogez Rahem Tizkor, which is also a verse that is repeated. It’s not originally from Tachanun, but it’s a verse that is said within Tachanun. Even in my own life, these are the words that almost come to me when I feel wordless. 

In that first episode after October 7th when everyone was saying we have no words, and we, saying on an individual level, didn’t have words, but the words that we do have are said by others and that we’re able to attach ourselves to find some measure of comfort and stability in such an upside-down, chaotic, broken world. These are the words that I came back to constantly. There was a band called Omek Hadavar, and I want to make a very real promise to 18Forty. We are absolutely going to do a series on music, and I specifically want to explore the history of Omek Hadavar. Omek Hadavar was an incredible band that was led by a friend, somebody who I knew. I wasn’t super close with him. There were people who were far, far closer, but his name was Chaim Feigenbaum. He was niftar. He passed away. He was married and had young children. Was just an incredible… The way he sings and the way he really infused his music with emunah was just jaw-dropping and the music always connected to me. 

Maybe it was that late ’90s, early 2000s, that shape, you could hear a lot of the bands that you can hear in the background of Omek Hadavar’s chord progression, and just their sound is a lot like from the rock music that I was… First, initially, you can hear a little Coldplay on there, a little Incubus if you listen closely, but it’s deeply Jewish. I can’t explain it. They’re incredible. There are other members of the band, I’m going to get killed because I don’t remember. I think I remember all their names. Here we go. Dovid’l Weinberg, who we had under our prayer series and still puts out music that’s absolutely beautiful. Rav Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, aka Matt Weinberg, who’s really wonderful as his brother. Two out of the three Weinbergs. I forgot the third one’s name. He seems like a nice guy. Maybe Josh, but the other brother. But Moshe Tzvi, who’s a rebbe in Yeshiva University, played with them, and I think Yakir Schechter was on the drums. They just have an incredible sound. 

When we chose this after October 7th, it wasn’t like we didn’t have an 18Forty meeting about it. We didn’t have a formal discussion. I just said, “I can’t go back to our old song. I need this song in the beginning.” It was almost to allow me to speak. You should look them up. They’re incredible. My promise is that aside from doing it like an oral history of Omek Hadavar, which is very much a part of what I would like to do because I think they were making some of the most beautiful Jewish music that was ever produced, I would like to, when I’ve said this to members of the band, it is my dream. It is my dream that 18Forty could play a hand in bringing a reunion of sorts, get them back together. Oh, I forgot Ari Yablok, my goodness. Ari Yablok was on keyboard. Ari Yablok, incredible musician. I’m sorry, Ari. 

I know all of them, and I’m in touch with I think all of them, except not so much Yakir, but I think this song, for a lot of people, really touched people’s hearts. It has nothing to do with 18Forty, but I wanted to bring it back in a way and get it on people’s collective conscious. I’m very much interested in bringing a Omek Hadavar reunion together. I really mean that because their music is soulful. It’s of the moment. You feel the Yiddishkeit, but you also feel contemporary in a smart way. A lot of music that is contemporary but not quite as smart as thoughtful, and they’re just deeply, deeply thoughtful, and I love their music, and I was so grateful that they have not sued me into oblivion, my dear friends. Although I’m sure Dovid’l Weinberg is preparing a lawsuit right now. But truly, I am so grateful for their music and you should check them out. 

Moving along to the next voicemail that I don’t know that I’m going to play. We got it from a few different people. We got pushback for almost all the episodes in a good way, in a good way. Again, wholly existential sensitivity. Some of the pushback we got was focused on the episode we did with Yossi Klein Halevi, as well as with Professor Jonathan Gribetz. There were people who felt that they represented a viewpoint that was too, maybe, left or too liberal than what should be the dominant normative approach in our community or on 18Forty. I appreciate that people reached out with that. It wasn’t an overwhelming amount of people, but certainly enough that I wanted to at least mention it, and I appreciate that. I knew that both Yossi Klein Halevi and Professor Jonathan Gribetz were a shade maybe to the left. In different ways, I’m not grouping them together in their political outlook and how they relate to Israel. 

That’s part of why I wanted to have them on, not because anybody should be setting Israel’s formal policy based on the 18Forty Podcast, God forbid, but I do think these are perspectives within our broader camp that we should give voice to. I think a lot of what each of them said resonated with me on a personal level. There’s no individual guest who I would sign off and say, “Yes, that’s me. That’s everything that I’m trying to talk about.” But I do think that, as a community, we can ossify when we only allow certain voices in, and part of the pride that I take an 18Forty is both the boundaries that we have. We don’t allow anybody on 18Forty rightfully so. I think there are voices that can be dangerous. There are voices that can be heretical on other topics or whatever it is, but I did find both of them to be in the bounds. 

I think Yossi Klein Halevi, for me at least, I’ve changed a lot in the last three or four months. We didn’t have him on when we covered Zionism, a series that seems like a hundred years ago. I had him on for this because I had a great measure of gratitude for the way that he awakened me to the seriousness of this moment. I think that he was a voice that went on New York Times podcasts and other more global reaches, and articulated, in very real terms, to I think a more left-leaning media that he did not agree with, and made the case for Israel and made the case for why we need to respond to this attack in the way that we did. Even though maybe in the political mosaic of different voices, he might be slightly to the left, but he has done an incredible job of making the case for Israel and the broader community. 

I, on a personal level, me, David Bashevkin, have gratitude to the way that he articulated this in such an incredibly thoughtful way and awakened me, awakened me on a personal level to figuring out we need to examine our relationship, not to Eretz Yisrael, not to the Land of Israel, but to the State of Israel. We need to decide and figure out are we ready to sacrifice? Are we ready to have as part of our existential identity when everyone else is trying to pull it away, the State of Israel, as part of what it means to be a Jew in the world? And Yossi Klein Halevi was a really important voice for me to really understand the magnitude of the question being posed. And also, this is why I’m so grateful to him, to be able to answer with a resounding yes. I’m very grateful to him. 

I think Professor Jonathan Gribetz, who’s focused on a very different period of history, and I have no doubt that he is to the left of a lot of our listeners. The reason why I thought he was so important is almost a reminder of the language that we can use with one another, or almost a time where things were different. I think there are some very scary questions being posed about how, if at all, the Jewish people in the State of Israel can coexist with the Palestinian people. But what his scholarship has opened me to is really two things. Number one, I think he really opened my eyes to a lot of the roots and the talking points that we hear from Palestinian activists denying that the Jewish people have a connection to the land of Israel, denying that we’re even a people, go back to Brooklyn, all of that stuff. His scholarship is foundational in explaining how that came to be, how a lot of the talking points of anti-Zionism, where did that even come from. 

That is his phenomenal work that he’s done, the scholarship that he’s done on Elmer Berger, which you can go back and listen to that episode, I think it’s absolutely foundational. The other is painting a picture, however unrealistic it feels like at this moment, but a picture where the Palestinian people and the Jewish people were actually talking to one another. Now, that may seem absolutely impossible in this moment, and I understand all the reasons why, but I think it helps us just understand the spectrum of possibilities of what we can imagine coming out of this. To have that historical chapter within our consciousness I think is something important, something to understand, that there was a time where these two peoples were speaking to one another, even though they were disagreeing, and figuring out just what are the steps that would take, first and foremost, that the people of Israel are completely secure and their lives should not be at risk, be fully secure and defended. And then figuring out past that, is there even a possibility to have such a chapter again in our lives where these peoples are speaking to one another? 

I don’t know. I have no way, and nor did Professor Gribetz give any specific policy recommendations. That’s not what that conversation was about. That conversation, to me, at least, was about allowing that chapter of Israeli history, of Jewish history to exist in the world. There was one piece of feedback that I did actually get from an old friend. I want to say his name, because it was so thoughtful, the feedback. Mikey Mandelstam, whose feedback I appreciate a great deal. He actually gave me a very thoughtful piece of feedback that I want to explore further on an episode where he says, “I don’t think you should use the term Palestine on the podcast. It doesn’t exist. It has an implication that a Palestinian sovereign state already exists in some recognized form. It’s really a conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people governed by the PA and the PLO in the West Bank areas, and Hamas in Gaza.” 

He says there are implications both ways if there is a recognized state. What he told me, which is really fascinating and what I want to explore more, he has a family connection to this, is that the reason why Palestine, as a state, it was obviously called Palestine, pre 1948, but an existing Palestine in this moment, is because when victims of terror have tried to sue the PLO, that distinction actually is extraordinarily operative. I hope to do an episode on the efforts that have been made, some successful, some less successful, mostly on the less successful side to actually sue the- 

David Bashevkin: 

… successful mostly on the less successful side to actually sue the PLO. Is this a state that could be sued? You can sue the United States government. You can sue a country. Is the PLO liable for the terror that they have essentially condoned or allowed under their watch? And the lawsuit is Sokolow v. the PLO, which is a fascinating case and was a real attempt to sue the PLO in court. You could look this up. It is something that I very much want to do an episode on of just why the court treated it the way that it did. 

I can’t go into in-depth now because I don’t really have the facts that clear in front of me, but it is a very important implication of whether or not there is a formal state called Palestine and something that I very much hope to return to. So that feedback, specifically from Mikey Mandelstam, I cannot thank you enough for that. I think he was absolutely right and he shared it with me and I’m so grateful for that. Let’s listen to another voicemail. 

Listener: 

Hi. 

First of all, I want to thank you for the remarkable podcast that you’ve brought to the Jewish world for the past number of years. My name is Rhonda Cheval. I just listened to your interview with Yossi Klein Halevi, and I don’t know if I was just ready to have a big cry, but, boy, does your closing comments bring me to that place, to that space. 

Again, I thank you for all the interviews you’ve conducted. Clearly, the insights that Yossi Klein Halevi brought to the conversation were heightened in my heart and mind as I leave for Israel in a couple of weeks to visit family and friends, and to visit the place that I’m connected to ancestrally, and have so much concern about the future. 

So again, I thank you. May you be filled with tremendous insight and I respect and appreciate the efforts that you put forth to bring us as Jews more deeply connected to one another. Be well. 

David Bashevkin: 

I am so grateful. Positive feedback is also always appreciated. One of the things that I think she was referring to in the intro and outro in the Yossi Klein Halevi episode, which I actually got pushback from a very thoughtful person who lives in Toronto. I don’t want to say his name. I didn’t ask him for permission. But felt that I posed a question in that intro episode about how would the Jewish people react if, God forbid, chas v’shalom, we should never know, but if we lost the State of Israel? And let’s say we lost it without bloodshed, if the UN and the United States just withdrew their support and now this is a multinational state that is not uniquely Jewish, what would that mean for the Jewish people? 

Someone responded to that question a little angry at me. I think he fully misunderstood a little bit what I was trying to say, but I do want to resurface it in case anybody else misunderstood. Again, my preface is with, God forbid, lo aleinu, this should never ever happen. I invoked an earlier article from Tradition. You can go back and listen to that episode. It’s in the notes on our website. 

But the reason why I raised that question is because I think in many ways, October 7th highlighted, number one, in a terrifying haunting way, this is what the world is advocating for. This is what our enemies are advocating for. Our enemies do not want a Jewish state. The question being posed to the Jewish people is, “Are we ready to continue this?”. Yossi Klein Halevi is the one who really drew out of me that resounding yes. I’ll be very real with you, and we’re going to get to this a lot more, I don’t think I always had the depth of connection to the State of Israel where I would’ve answered a resounding yes. It would’ve always been yes. Sure, that’s important. We should have a Jewish state. 

But how integral this state is to the Jewish people is something that I did not always fully understand and appreciate, and was not a part of my religious identity in this way. I think the thing that I want to apologize for is the fact that I speak a lot of my own process out loud. I reached out to a good friend who’s been on the show, let’s call him Rav Shmuel because he is a rabbi and his first name is Shmuel. He told me that part of, I think, what makes it easy to misunderstand my own connection and relationship to the State of Israel and to Zionism is that I speak a lot of my own transformation over the last few months out loud. I don’t always do a good enough job of explaining where I have landed and where I am coming from. 

I was, God forbid, never an anti-Zionist, chas v’shalom, never in a million years. I think I was a very typical Zionist, in the sense of someone who was raised in a single-gender Modern Orthodox school system. That’s how I would describe it. It’s not quite co-ed Modern Orthodox, but single-gender Modern Orthodox that always looked at Israel fondly, but I don’t think ever drew a line in the sand and said, “Are you a Zionist? Do you believe in the State of Israel?” I was never posed that question growing up and I think my relationship to the State of Israel was muddled in a way. It was. I didn’t understand fully the magnitude of what it means for Jewish history to have a State of Israel, and the seriousness of theological questions, even, that a State of Israel poses. I think I was awakened to a lot of these questions. The answers were always right in front of me, don’t get me wrong. 

I think the person who awakened me to these questions more than anyone is Rav Hershel Schachter. Rav Hershel Schachter, who’s been writing about this for years, has an essay where he writes about this in multiple places, but specifically in Bikvei Hatzon. It’s the 32nd essay, I’ve referenced it before. Where he makes the case that this is the beginning of the Messianic Redemption in halakhic traditional language, and to understand what this is and the magnitude of what this is, couched in traditional Jewish language. It just opened my eyes and it was staring in front of me the entire time, and I have nobody to blame but myself. Again, there are other critiques that we could share on American Jewry and the American school system, and how we teach Israel in America. I think a lot of that does need to change, just from the fact that my own awakening to the State of Israel has transformed so much. 

But I am very grateful to those who the interviews with Yossi Klein Halevi and Professor Jonathan Gribetz did resonate for. I understand why, for some, it did not resonate. It was out of their purview of opinions or ideas that they want to consider. I fully understand that. I don’t think I need to apologize for giving them a platform. I’m proud of the fact that we spoke with them. I think a lot of what they said is relevant to anyone. Though I understand, in this moment, walking around without our shoes on, there are some voices and ideas that you don’t want to hear in this moment, and that’s okay. I’m not forcing anybody, God forbid, to listen. I try to choose our guests extraordinarily responsibly. I think that they were responsible guests who were sharing incredibly important ideas. 

I’m so grateful both to those who love them and I want to give another shout-out to my uncle Alan, who sent me a beautiful email. My uncle Alan lives in Bennington, Vermont. He did not go to modern orthodox schools, let alone a single-gender modern orthodox schools. My uncle Alan sent me an email just of appreciation for our Israel episodes, specifically the ones focusing on different communities. It gave him a window to understand and appreciate the struggles. He’s a long way away from the Haredi community, but really appreciated the episodes we did with Eli Paley, with the Taragins, with Yossi Klein Halevi, and gives a perspective, because not all of our listeners are either in the Tri-State Area, Israel, Boca Raton, and LA. Giving a window for people to understand, in a deeper way, the different facets of our community and how every facet of the Jewish people has been transformed and must be transformed by October 7th. 

I’m incredibly proud that we have created episodes that even my uncle Alan, and we are extraordinarily close familially, but our educational background and our connection to Yiddishkeit is very different. We grew up in very different worlds, but can still find something of meaning and constructive and purposeful on 18Forty, it does mean a great deal. I’m so grateful and I love my uncle Alan. He knows that. I don’t even have to say it on the show. You know that. If you’re listening to this episode, I love you. 

Let’s continue, another episode that specifically highlights one of our guests that I think deserves so much more attention and is a voice that we need right now. Let’s listen. 

Listener: 

Hi, this is Sarah Klibanoff calling. 

I’m in the car and randomly this last episode that I listened to of Noa Lewis came on, and I just wanted to thank you. I wanted to thank you for bringing her story to all of us. She’s so phenomenal. Your questions were poignant and insightful. I appreciate so much that you kept asking about where that resilience came from. She gave me tremendous chizuk like you did, and I just honestly really wanted to say thank you. 

In this very, very difficult time, I wanted to thank you for giving us some light, and you have a lot of continued strength and chizuk to do all the fabulous things that you do. 

David Bashevkin: 

Noa Lewis is a hero of heroes, and it meant so much to me that she was willing to come on. It is not her style. She’s not a podcast hopper. She doesn’t have a PR team or any of that stuff. She’s just a human being who does incredible work in Israel and speaks with such thoughtfulness and sensitivity and graciousness. 

Go back and re-listen to that episode if you have not heard it already, because it is a voice and perspective and a form of Jewish resilience that I find so elevating and so and inspiring, and she crosses so many boundaries in Israel communally. She’s done work in the Hasidic community. Obviously, she lives in the Dati Leumi community. She’s done work in the Haredi community, and is just a bridge builder. That’s everything that we need now, people who have that capacity to contain multitudes of the Jewish People, a Jewish People that is more vulnerable than ever that needs comfort more than ever. She’s just a hero of heroes and I hope to have her on again. 

I’m so grateful that she’s on now and I would ask our listeners to find her and her work, and reach out to her and let her know how much that was appreciated. If you’re going on trips to Israel, look her up, send her an email, send her support for her work in Israel, which is crucial and absolutely important. I am so grateful that she was on. 

I want to go to some of our email feedback. This is an email that I got from a student, his name is Yaakov. He wrote as follows: 

“I was really hoping you would address some of the questions within the religious Zionist community, specifically those that can be raised after October 7th, like is our model of settlement tenable or a good thing? How to change the community’s outlook on Palestinians, and other soul-searching questions that haven’t been fully addressed even after Rabin’s assassination. At least for me, this lack of full address is the main barrier for my alignment with the Dati community.” 

“One final thing, I was wondering if you could do a segment on baalei teshuva and their children’s experience in the next edition of Divergence. I think those of us who are the children of baalei teshuva have a very unique experience, where many times we’re pushed to diverge and join a specific community. That can leave us searching and confused because we didn’t necessarily fully fit into any specific community growing up. That has been my experience at least.” 

“I want to end with a quote my mother told me from Rebbetzin Pavlov, ‘Baalei Teshuva are like immigrants and their children are like the children of immigrants.’ If you read this entire email, thank you. I wait every week for your podcast to drop. Can’t put into words how 18Forty and you have helped my Judaism.” 

A, that’s a beautiful suggestion, children of Baalei Teshuva. We are already working now on our next Divergence series. If we have any listeners who have recommendations or want to come on for our next Intergenerational Divergence series, which we’re putting on now, I would definitely be interested in hearing from children of Baalei Teshuva, and I’m most interested because I think we have to come back to the Israel question of soldiers who are serving, or have served, who come from non-Zionist homes or even anti-Zionist homes, maybe in the Hasidic community, in the Haredi community. That is what I am looking for right now, and please, if you can reach out with suggestions, if you yourself are from one of those homes, I very, very much want to platform that kind of divergence and how it is navigated. 

In terms of the first question, which we’re going to talk more about on this episode, not the answer to the question, but to really that deeper exploration of the Religious Zionist community. Number one, and I have learned the hard way, like every community, there is a great deal of divergence within the community, and all the issues that they discussed, and you specifically raised the community’s outlook on Palestinians, and other soul-searching questions that haven’t been fully addressed even after Rabin’s assassination. 

My eyes have been opened to the cultural gulf that separates, in my opinion, a lot of American Modern Orthodox Jews and their understanding of the religious Zionist community. That is not because we are so different. It’s actually our similarities that I think highlight a lot of those differences. It’s much easier when you have much more obvious differences, like in the Haredi community in Israel, when it’s so different than any American community, almost without exception. Then okay, you look at the things that are common. I think that there are deep misunderstandings in the institutional pipelines between American Modern Orthodoxy and the Religious Zionist community. Not to say that our lives are so different, they’re absolutely not and we see so much in common, but the question that I’m trying to understand is why is that pipeline not stronger? Not to say that people are not making aliyah. They certainly are. But not enough. 

Again, I’m pointing the finger at myself, as I did in our last episode in Religious Zionism. Why is that pipeline not stronger? Why hasn’t it been Stronger? Is the time come to almost examine the pipeline itself? And ask some of those difficult, some of those soul-searching, and sometimes shallow questions, honestly. The cultural differences. Why isn’t that pipeline stronger between American modern orthodoxy and the religious Zionist communities in Israel? They should be stronger. Maybe I’m wrong, and I hope I am wrong, but that is something that I think requires an entire series and, God willing, we will get to it. 

I want to go to another email. This is from Elie, going back to two of the episodes that rankled some. This is something more positive. 

“I’ve wanted to reach out and say thank you on more than a few occasions, but life got in the way and I guess it never felt as urgent as it does now. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for keeping the discourse about Israel on a level that stays true to how great our people are. Yossi Klein Halevi and Jonathan Gribetz are the voices I believe we need to be hearing now. I sense that there are many people in our, he uses quotes, “community” who are not as comfortable hearing these voices, who may be pushing back against your choices.” Which is true. “I want to encourage you to remain strong. Thank you for your work on behalf of the Jewish people.” 

The beautiful thing is, and this is something beautiful, every guest, almost every guest has somebody pushing back. I don’t think our community exists without that pushback, without some of that episodes that take us to places, or maybe have opinions that rankle us, that we’re uncomfortable with. I think we, as a community, 18Forty, are the totality of all of these episodes. Everybody has episodes that they don’t like. That is a part of building communities. I hope that they don’t think that they are dangerous. I hope that they don’t think that they are undermining, God forbid, the security of Israel or the integrity of our faith. But there are always going to be episodes, topics, issues, guests that people either don’t listen to, don’t pay attention to, not their style, not interested in, or ones that just don’t feel like they resonate in that way. 

But I think the totality of our community requires all of those episodes, and the ones that resonate, because I think the resonance does not come from any specific episode. Certainly not for me at least. But the totality of what we’re able to examine. I am proud of the series that we’ve done. There’s still so much more to cover, as I’ve mentioned. We are not going back to business as usual, and we will absolutely be going back to do much deeper dives as they relate to Israel. 

One of the episodes that we got very strong feedback for was our episode with Eli Paley. Eli Paley is the publisher of Mishpacha. He has lived in Israel. His family has been in Israel, you look to the episode, for a very, very long time. And affiliated with, what I would call, an open-minded Haredi approach. I thought it was important to have him on, and specifically to allow each community, no one person speaks on behalf of an entire community, but to allow somebody who I think has the vision to chart a path forward for the Haredi community. Obviously, the Haredi community in Israel, who by and large do not serve in the IDF, have very serious questions to confront post-October 7th. Here is one person who gave us feedback, and they did not appreciate the vision that Eli Paley shared. 

I think that there is a great deal of pragmatism. I think the social wins, not just from October 7th, but the momentum is pointed, is bringing a resolution that I hope will come about organically, honestly. I think it’s pointed in that direction. But I understand why people reacted. I don’t think that anybody was upset at Eli Paley on a personal level, but for the community that he was representing and speaking through with us on that episode, it did evoke a great deal of response. This is one of the responses that we got from one of our listeners. His name is Moshe. This is what he writes. It’s long, so stay with me. Here we go. 

“Now I feel a bit more comfortable to address Eli Paley’s approach in saying, I will try to lay it out in a methodological way. 

Number one: The key issue is, of course, the argument around the exemption of talmidei yeshiva, people who study in yeshiva who don’t have to serve in the IDF. I will not even attempt to address this topic as it is so controversial, although it upsets me so much. I will just say that my son learns at Yeshivat Yerucham. He learns 15 hours a day, Gemara, Rishonim, Acharonim. Today, the eight talmid of the yeshiva was killed in Gaza. My other son learns at Yeshivat Hesder Akko. He learns Rav Shimon, Rav Chaim, Nesivos, Ketzos. He just came back after more than two months on the northern border as a paratrooper. I really don’t want to elaborate on this issue, but I will just say that after October 7th, it is clearer than ever that we are at an Ezras Yisroel situation to help the Jewish people from an active enemy. The arguments that support exemption of hundreds of thousands of Tami then become harder and harder to the really honest and truthful people. 

Number two: Eli Paley kept on saying that is not a matter of security and defense, and that all the military people that he had talked to told him that the army does not really need the Yeshiva Bakhram. This is also a pre-October 7th terminology. The army is stretched to the limit. The military service that was shortened to 2.8 years is going back now to three years. Hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers were recruited. Leaving everything behind, the army needs every single person that can serve. 

Number three: A very good friend of ours ended, yesterday, their Shiva on their son, who was killed in Gaza. We were there for seven days together with thousands of others that came to pay their condolences. Almost everyone that came to show their respect had in mind also his or her own loved ones that are in the war right now. We wake up every morning with immense fear of finding out the new names in black ads. Every knock on the door is a horror scene. We go to shul on Shabbos and every single one of the 300 daveners has someone in the war. Now just imagine thousands of shuls that have nothing to worry about, not a single soul is in danger of war, hundreds of thousands of houses in which life is normal. Except, of course, sirens here and there. Hundreds of thousands of bochurim, which for them the war means maybe a couple of extra Shir Hamaloses. Does that seem right and moral? 

Number four: Eli Paley says that when people are asking the yeshiva bochurim to contribute in some ways, such as helping farmers or visiting wounded soldiers, he’s offended. ‘The bochurim,’ he says, ‘are already contributing with their Torah learning.’ Now, with all due respect, in times of such extreme hardship and stress to Klal Yisrael when manpower is needed everywhere, yeshivot can spare a few hours of small percentage of the talmidim to participate in different much-needed activities. I’ll be gentle and say that thousands of talmidim could volunteer, and still not even a single hour of learning will be missed. If Klal Yisrael needs help and farming and crops are literally going to waste, how would Torah learning help? It reminds me that when I was a student in yeshiva high school, and out math teacher said that if הפוך בה והפוך בה דכולה בה then we can bring Gemaras to our math exam. 

Number five: The approach. Eli Paley is a really nice man and he speaks with compassion and respect. Sadly, this is not the case among several Haredi leaders and rabbanim. I don’t even want to repeat some of the outrageous quotes from some of the gedolim. This wasn’t the case in past generations. We have so many stories of how Gedolei Israel wiped away tears on our dead soldiers that were קדושי עליון and הרוגי מלכות. 

I just want to say this is David Bashevkin talking. Number five is very hard for me, on a personal level, because I grew up in that single-gender Modern Orthodox world, affiliated with institutions where I have heard things from leaders of those yeshivas, which I have not been able to reconcile. It’s been eyeopening. I think I heard these things before, and it didn’t bother me. That bothers me now, that it didn’t bother me. I think American Jewry is suffering from this in spades, where we should be calling our leaders and holding them accountable for what they share and how they share it about soldiers, about the State of Israel. We need to figure out a way where we insist from our leaders that they speak in a certain way. 

Let me finish. He has one more point. 

“Number six: The argument that keeps coming up when dealing with the Haredi society is the admirable organizations that were Haredi initiatives, such as Yad Ezra, Yad Sarah, Hatzalah, et cetera, et cetera. Now, no one argues that these are wonderful, and sometimes even jaw-dropping NGOs, but what has that got to do with the fact that the general population is required to forcefully go to the army for three years, and hundreds of thousands of Haredi men are exempt?” 

That is an email I got from Moshe. I like Eli Paley. The only thing in this email that- I want it to stand on its own. I want people to listen to it. It was real. It was honest. This is a real person, and these are a lot of the feelings that I am beginning to feel. I think the one thing that I think Eli does an admirable job of, and I was very proud that we had him on, I can’t think of a better spokesman who can really have a practical path forward for how we do this, is the one thing I would say is that we should not become cynical to the importance of Torah learning. 

Now again, I want to be clear, and I’m not accusing this email writer of being cynical. But I would compare it in some ways, and this is a dangerous comparison, but it’s one that exists in my own mind, of people who become cynical of prayer following these terrible school shootings that have existed- 

David Bashevkin: 

Prayer following these terrible school shootings that have existed and plagued the United States for years. And they just say, “Well, stop praying, stop saying thoughts and prayers. I don’t even want to hear it.” I understand where that is coming from, but I am worried sometimes that we can become cynical towards prayer and towards Torah itself and the importance of Torah. Now that doesn’t mean that the Haredi world should continue in the way that it does, but I would remind all of our listeners, and I really am in many ways reminding myself because this transformation that I am going through, it is live on air. And I’m trying to be as real and as honest about it as possible. But I have had to stop myself from becoming cynical towards the importance of Torah, of preserving the Jewish people. 

That is not an argument. I am not, again, making an argument to preserving the Haredi community in the way that they are currently constructed. I think that the winds of sociology are already at play and are changing before our eyes, and things will and must change following October 7th. But that should not, in any ways, we shouldn’t roll our eyes at those. No yeshiva has 100% Torah Lishma rate, but those few in our community, whether they are Haredi or whether they are Religious Zionists or whether they are Hasidic, we need people among the Jewish people who are dedicating their lives to the advancement and development of Talmud Torah and studying Torah as a part of who we are. And it is a reminder that in our frustrations that are rightfully focused on certain elements of our community, it shouldn’t metastasize into a cynicism for the importance of Torah itself. 

Again, I want to be clear, that is not an argument for the Haredi community. And that is, number two, I am not saying that’s what the email writer was saying. He was not. He was actually extraordinarily respectful and nice, but he did not feel satisfied, and I understand why, by the approaches that Eli Paley presented. And I think that that’s absolutely fine and important. 

The final thing that I want to discuss on this episode is actually feedback that I received online. I actually invited the person to come onto 18Forty. And we will do an episode with him, I have no doubt, because this exploration needs to be so much deeper and richer than what we did on our episode with the Taragins. But I need to be honest, a lot of people loved the episode and I was proud of the episode. But a lot of people felt that I did not do justice to the Religious Zionist community. And I think, when I was speaking out loud about my own grappling with my own connection to that community, some people heard that as almost a distance to the community. Which was something that could be so cruel, especially at this time where I think the Religious Zionists, the Dati Leumi community in Israel, has been carrying the Jewish people since October 7th, to understand what they’ve gone through as a community. 

And what I was trying to understand and figure out is, why is that community not more centrally connected to American educational institutions, my own education in America? And maybe I’m unique and maybe I am fully wrong. But what I was trying to surface is, why does there seem to be a dissonance in the way that we connect the pipelines bringing people to Israel from our institutions? I studied in a Hesder yeshiva in Israel. And if anything, and I think this is an indictment on American Jewry. I just want to be absolutely clear, this is an indictment on American Jewry. But for some reason, you can spend two years in a Hesder yeshiva, where all of the Israeli participants are serving in the army. And for many Americans, I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, but for many Americans, what they see is the cultural differences between themselves, and they feel deeply American, and they’re not able to connect and see themselves within that community. 

And I’m trying to figure out why, and how can we change this? This is not a good thing. I wasn’t sharing this to give a thumbs up, I was giving two very emphatic thumbs down with the job that American educational institutions. And I’m talking in the Modern Orthodox world, I think the yeshiva world is beyond the pale. It’s outrageous, honestly. But the connection that people feel towards the state of Israel, and that push. I know a lot of people from the yeshiva world who make aliyah, my sister included, who’s Haredi and lives in Israel. I know a lot of people who spend years learning Torah in Israel when they first get married. And I know a lot of people who have made aliyah into Dati Leumi communities. Don’t get me wrong, Beit Shemesh, Efrat, that is easier for Americans to translate. 

But my question is, stepping back post October 7th, are we proud of the work that we’ve done in building these pipelines and connections or is there still something clogging up these pipelines that needs to change? What I was suggesting, and personally for myself, I think there’s still something clogging up this pipeline. And maybe I was too honest, maybe I was too real, but it was coming from a place of esteem for the Dati Leumi, the Religious Zionist community in Israel. They’re just outstanding. It’s unreal the way that they have carried the commitment to Yiddishkeit. You have units in the army, like what Rabbi Taragin said, quoting Rav Rimon, that maybe for the first time in all of Jewish history, we have a deeply religious army. It is jaw-dropping. And I got feedback from a lot of people who were hurt by what I shared and how I shared in my own relationship to the Dati Leumi community. 

This is not meant to be a response, maybe in some ways a clarification. I’m also hurt, almost speaking out loud, how could it be that somebody deeply engaged in Judaism, who have been through all of mainstream institutions his entire life, both in the Modern Orthodox world, Modern Orthodox camps. I didn’t go to Moshava. Credit to Moshava for, I think, doing a much better job of this. I didn’t go to Moshava, but I went to other M-sounding camps here and there, and I went to I would call rightist center, light yeshivish institutions. And I felt a great chasm, like a distance in my own self from this community pre-October 7th. And I think I have been transformed from the events of October 7th, and I was talking out loud about those transformations. 

Now I want to read the feedback, because I think it’s very thoughtful and very important, from someone named Rabbi Johnny Solomon. He’s The Virtual Rabbi. He’s wonderful. We’re going to have him on. But he posted something on Facebook that got a great deal of feedback, and I want to read it to you now because I think it is really important for how he heard some of what I shared about the Dati Leumi community. I’m reading his Facebook post that he shared on January 21st, publicly, at 11:28. 

“The latest edition of the 18Forty Podcast explores the practical, ideological, spiritual and lifestyle differences between Israeli Dati Leumi communities and American Modern Orthodox communities. The edition begins with my interview, he tags me, with IDF soldier, Gideon Davis, which was absolutely incredible, which is then followed with a wide-ranging interview with Rabbi Reuven and Rabbi Shani Taragin, who beautifully expressed a range of heartfelt religious values and spiritual sentiments. However, while so much was covered in this episode, I’d like to respond to a number of points that were made, as well as pick up on a number of topics that were mentioned in passing, but I feel deserve further discussion.” We are in complete agreement on that. This needs further discussion and we will have that. But in the meantime, I want to read the remainder of the post. 

“Here are my thoughts in no particular order.” And he has three thoughts. Let’s do each one and then maybe I’ll say a word after each one and then go on to the next one. Number one, in all caps, is entitled THE TWO KNAPSACKS THEORY. “Rabbi Bashevkin makes an argument, both in his introduction to interviewing the Taragins and also during the interview, that members of the Dati Leumi community are weighed down,” my term I guess I used, “by the two knapsacks of how they relate to hilonim secular Zionists and how they relate to Haredim, and that these two considerations impact how they self-evaluate their religious identity. From my experience, from living in and being meaningfully engaged in various Dati Leumi communities, this depiction is false and reflects precisely what Rabbi Bashevkin assumes is an error of overlaying the mindset of Modern Orthodoxy onto Dati Leumi communities. 

True, members of Dati Leumi communities are constantly engaged with hilonim and Haredim. However, while their interests and faith cannot and do not exist independently of these other communities, their religious identity and their values not only stands firm without need for validation from other communities, but are arguably clearer to their members than those other communities. In contrast to Modern Orthodoxy, which has been defined by what it is not, and which has long suffered from a lack of spiritual confidence,” I could not agree with him more on that, “the Dati Leumi community,” in parentheses, “or to be more accurate, the very Dati Leumi communities are, for the most part, very clear and very confident in who they are and how they live and what they believe in.” 

Absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad that he corrected me on that. And I probably did not speak clearly enough, because I think a lot of what I was sharing was my own false Modern Orthodox impressions of the community. And I think what I shared imprecisely was the two knapsacks theory, which is that they carry both the connection to the secular world and are able to connect to the haredi world. I shouldn’t have used the word weighed down, but should be the most central community in Israel in the eyes of people like myself, the Modern Orthodox community, not because they are, God forbid, weighed down. They encompass multitudes. And what I was trying to understand is why, growing up, did I not have that connection? 

I’m not looking for someone to blame. I’m looking for how we can change that. And maybe my estimation is fully wrong. I hope to God that it is, but it might not be. How can we change that? It’s not by, God forbid, putting down the two knapsacks. I think holding them, though I shouldn’t have said it in a way that is like weighing them down, God forbid, is that we should marvel at the capacity of this community to contain multitudes. And this should be, I think, the starting point, the imagery, the cultural connection that we should begin with in our schools. And how do we begin with it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t think American Jewish institutions are doing a good enough job at this. I simply don’t. 

Number two, “I have very little to offer a Dati Leumi soldier. A further point which Rabbi Bashevkin raised is the sense of American Modern Orthodox Jews that they don’t understand the Dati Leumi community due to differences in dress, lifestyle, self-sacrifice.” I just want to pause briefly. People were offended and hurt that I even mentioned distinctions, the cultural distinctions in dress and lifestyle. I don’t mean, God forbid, to diminish any community to how they dress. What I’m trying to figure out is almost diagnose an issue that honestly may not exist. Maybe I’m totally wrong. But if we are going to figure this out, because I think it should change and must change. This connection should be much deeper. Anyone attending a Jewish Orthodox school in the United States of America should have this visceral sense of connection and awe, specifically beginning with the Dati Leumi community in Israel. And why is that not the case? 

But I want to continue. “And that there is a feeling that because the Dati Leumi community achieves so much and do not need ideological help or intervention, the Modern Orthodox Jews feel less needed by them. In response to this, it should be obvious that we begin helping others when we acknowledge them. And the very fact, as Rabbi Bashevkin attests, that there is such a limited understanding among some Modern Orthodox Jews about Dati Leumi teachings and ideology is a good point to begin. Of course, note should be made of the incredible work of organizations such as World Mizrachi for whom the Taragins are the educational directors, as well as the efforts of Toran Publishers and Tradition Journal to introduce American Modern Orthodoxy to Dati Leumi teachings and teachers. 

But, and this is a point that was totally overlooked in the interviews, we cannot ignore the fact that much of Dati Leumi discourse is held in Hebrew. Consequently, a lack of competence in reading and comprehending sophisticated modern Hebrew opinion pieces and articles deprives American Modern Orthodoxy from following and, where relevant, participating in crucial conversations emerging from Dati Leumi thinkers and relating to broader trends within Israel.” 

Amen. I could not agree more with this paragraph. And I appreciate the way he understood what I was saying, which is that the example I gave from the Rabbi Taragin interview was when I was in Sha’alvim, there was this painting on the wall … of Zionist leaders in Israel. And the only person I could identify at the time was Rav Kook, he, I knew. I didn’t know any of the others. That’s a problem, and it’s compounded by over seventy-five years of Israeli history where we don’t really know the thinkers, the contemporary thinkers and movers in Israeli religious society. I think a lot of credit needs to be given to Rav Rimon, who we have had on, who has made incredible inroads into kind of the consciousness of American Jewry. But there’s so much more to uncover. 

One person who reached out, and I’m so grateful that he did and I want to highlight and call out his articles, is Rav Yitzchak Blau, who reached out to me personally after this episode and said that he has a bi-weekly column for Tradition, online, precisely for the purpose of introducing Hebrew materials to intelligent American readers. I would urge our listeners to take advantage of this. Rev Yitzchak Blau is wonderful. We should have him on. We need to explore this further. And I appreciate that my exasperation was not seen, God forbid, as othering. Some people heard it this way. It’s not othering the Dati Leumi community. Chas v’shalom, it’s the exact opposite. It’s not, why are you so distant? It is like, how are you not closer? How are you not the central starting point for the mindset of American Jewry? 

And I think this is a very real problem that needs to change. We are woefully ignorant in America of the movers and shakers of Yiddishkeit in Israel. I’m not talking about the politicians. We keep up with a lot of the politicians through the articles that we send around. But the religious thinkers in Israel, they should be more central. They should be a part of our discourse in our schools. They should be on our walls. We need to understand them better. And why are they not there? It’s a question I’m asking myself and a question that I think absolutely needs to change, post October 7th and should have been changed before then, but I was awakened to this problem. 

Number three is an issue that I mentioned far too quickly and I think was, in some ways, misunderstood, but is a really important point. And this is number three. “Finally, a claim was made by Rabbi Bashevkin that when we compare the Israeli Dati Leumi and American Modern Orthodox communities, there is more religious risk in Israel than there is in America. And that in America, we’ve kind of found a formula that really works. As someone who has confidential spiritual coaching sessions with men and women, both from such communities is clear to me that each community has its own varied and significant challenges,” could not agree more. And that along with the fact that I questioned the use of the term formula here and the assumptions being made by thinking in a formulaic manner. 

I’m talking formula. The reason why I mentioned that, just to jump in, because I was talking about the institutional changes we have, our elementary schools that people can identify on the spectrum of what they are, and our high school system, and the year in Israel that we go to, and the spectrum of the yeshivas and how they cater. There is something very formulaic about it. And I say that kind of a negative way. It’s almost a little bit boring. But let me continue with what Rabbi Solomon says. “The way these two communities are being compared is far too simplistic. To paraphrase Rav Hayim David HaLevi, who addresses this point directly in Aseh Lecha Rav, while there may be real risks in Israel, there are far greater dangers elsewhere. Still, I would agree that a real problem which does genuinely exist when people make aliyah is assuming that the same anchors that are relied upon for what is being described as retention in America also exist here. 

This is brilliant. This is not the case. And our task is to reasonably educate those thinking about making aliyah that just as we use shekels in Israel and dollars in America, the currency of retention here is different to there. The shul in America plays a radically different role to the one that it plays here. While the schools, yeshivot, ulpanot, and youth movements here play a different role, very different role to what they play in America. This reminds me of when I was in America last year and I booked a cheap Airbnb for one night in a certain neighborhood of Passaic. When I returned to Israel, I told a friend who grew up in Passaic where I stayed, who was shocked that I’d chosen to stay overnight in such a dangerous neighborhood. I didn’t have local knowledge and, in so doing, I did not necessarily make a wise decision. 

Here too, if someone is considering making aliyah, they need local knowledge about the relevant religious anchors which will be useful to them, their family, and, where relevant, their children. Naturally, these remarks are solely intended for the sake of adding greater nuance to the conversation initiated by Rabbi Bashevkin. If you have further thoughts, please feel free to comment below or send me a PM.” 

First and foremost, I am so grateful to Rabbi Solomon for laying this out. I think we are nearly in agreement on everything that he said, and I just hope that he didn’t mistake my surfacing my own personal exploration of my connection to this community and how much it’s changed over the past few months with, God forbid, a distancing or othering of the community, which I know some people felt. 

And I just want to pause and apologize and say I’m sorry. Nobody in a community that is sacrificing their family and their children and is sending their children to fight in Eretz Yisrael and to defend the Jewish people, and we have soldiers who are risking their lives, we have families who are burying their children and spouses, no one should be tuning in, God forbid, to the smallness of whatever I share on 18Forty and feel any distance, feel any sense of, chas v’shalom, of being less than. I can’t even say the words out loud. The Dati Leumi community in Eretz Yisrael with all of the variety have been the heroes of the Jewish people, and it didn’t start October 7th. And I’m trying to figure out why I didn’t know this sooner, why I didn’t understand this sooner. And I am sorry, and I mean this very seriously. 

And there’s somebody who posted a comment to this post, her first name is Kira. I want to apologize and say I’m sorry. Nobody should be listening to this and feel a sense of distance. I am an American Jew who is trying to navigate and understand why my experience growing up did not point a clearer arrow and point more clearly to this community. And I am surfacing issues that I believe played a role in why more people do not grow up with pictures of Dati Leumi leaders in their sukkah, on their shelves, on their walls of our schools. Why not? And I think what scares me is I think some of the reasons are extraordinarily shallow. And the differences of just American, not even Jewish, American mentality, I think some of them are more real. And I think some of them, that third issue which we need to explore more further, is about we’ve become a little too comfortable, and I am going to use the word formulaic, in the formulaic structures of our institutions in America. 

And I just want to clarify one thing. I’m not saying, God forbid, that more people go off in Israel than in America. No, I actually fully agree with what Rabbi Solomon said, is that the markers, the metrics of how we judge retention are different in Israel than they are in America, and they can confuse some. And sadly, there are some who are scared off by it. They shouldn’t be. I just want to be absolutely clear. They should not be. There should be a sense of excitement and pride to join a moment in Jewish history, to join the Jewish people in the state of Israel. I think it’s different in Australia, in London. I think in America, we have become so attached to a certain institutional religious formula that we are unable to imagine ourselves. Though we should be, but many of us are unable to imagine ourselves using a different set of metrics and a different formula. 

And even more sadly, some of us are encouraged by our very educators, leaders and religious leaders not to make aliyah, not to go to Israel, not to join this moment of Jewish history because of the different metrics and because of the differences in retention and the way the communities kind of create that culture within the community. And that to me is heartbreaking. Of course, it’s heartbreaking. And if any of my own self-exploration was ever heard as anything less than esteem. Esteem is not even a strong enough word. Awe, religious awe, holy awe for this community, and a deep sense of regret in my own life for not paying closer attention until now. I am sorry. I’m heartbroken. It’s something I didn’t anticipate when I speak out loud, but I am grateful to everybody who called me out, especially in comments to this post and saying, “You need to do better and you need to be better for this.” 

I think the analogy of shekels versus dollars and the differences in our religious experiences in America, I just want to be clear once again, I am not putting the American religious institutional formula on a pedestal. Aderaba, the exact opposite. I think it’s almost become boring. That’s the word that I keep on using. It’s its own miracle and it’s also really important, but we’ve almost become addicted to it. We need to open our eyes to, is our reliance on this offering, of the smorgasbord of American Jewish religious institutions, is it obscuring our religious imagination to imagine ourselves elsewhere? 

And I think sadly, for myself, I think I was obscured. I think it did obscure it for me, and I am trying to figure out, and what I promise we will return to, is to do a deeper dive to explore the inner communal, religious sociological universe. Because it’s not uniform. It’s a beautiful, beautiful panoply of thinkers and leaders and communal members and families, each of whom are heroes, who in many ways are carrying the tradition of Yiddishkeit, carrying Yiddishkeit itself into the next age, which is slowly flowering before our eyes. And it’s time for, I think, a very real conversation, which we’re not having now, but it’s, I think, a series that we need to unpack. Are we doing enough to center those pipelines and ensure that the next generation of American Jews has the right relationship to the state of Israel, the people of Israel, the communities of Israel? It’s a question I am asking myself, and it’s my hope that it’s a question that each of us are asking. And that no one should hear this question, God forbid, and hear anything other than the awe. 

David Bashevkin: 

… God forbid and hear anything other than the awe which the people of Israel, the State of Israel, and specifically the religious community, the Dati-Leumi community so rightfully deserve. Not for their sake, but for ours. I got more feedback that I’d like to share on the divide between American and Israeli Judaism, if such a divide even exists at all. There are two emails that I want to read which complement each other, or some would say they disagree, but I think that they complement each other in some ways. The first email came from a very, very dear friend. Let’s call him JS, somebody who I have a great deal of gratitude towards, who I don’t get to hang out with as often as I would like, but sent me a fairly long email, and I was very thankful that he did, that took issue with my characterization of American Judaism as boring. 

I probably should have unpacked that a great deal more and there is a lot more to say about American Judaism. Why did I call it boring? Not to say that our lived experiences in America, our lives are as hectic as ever. We’re trying to balance everything. That is not boring at all. The part to me was just the religious trajectory of American Judaism of what it feels like growing up in America in 2024. Our trajectory is fairly set and paved and it doesn’t feel like we’re building new things in America. I fully appreciate somebody who wants to disagree with that. I think America was very exciting in the early years, in the years of my parents, and maybe even up until the ’80s and ’90s. There’s something about how strong we’ve become institutionally that the trajectory seems quite set right now, at least within the Orthodox community. 

So there feels to me at least sometimes like a Groundhog’s Day component that we’re just trying to repeat the lives that our parents and all of the institutions that we’ve set up, elementary school to high school, the right camps, a year in Israel, then you go to YU or Stern, and then you get the right jobs and then repeat the cycle with your own children. And that’s the part to me at least, that feels almost like repetitive. Obviously, in our individual lives there’s always things that are moving and shaking, but as a whole, that cyclical repetition, at least to me, feels a little bit boring, which is why I use the term. But somebody took issue with that and I want to read a little bit of the email that he sent me. This is what he wrote. 

“On a practical level, yes, I can feel that I’m missing the sense of Amcha, that nationhood, that one naturally feels in Israel, but that does not make Judaism in America boring. It might be made of different ingredients, but it sure can still be delicious.” A sentence that I love. “It might be made of different ingredients, but it sure can still be delicious.” Those communities close to us in America that I mentioned are very accessible to us. We can visit them, make friends in those communities, do business in those communities, et cetera, all the same. We have what I call horizontal mobility. What a fascinating term. In and out of these communities, Lakewood, Five Towns, Boca, in modern parlance, we can be fluid in how we engage with Jewish communities to the right and left of ours. 

In Israel, this largely does not exist. Again, this is the opinion of my friend, the writer. In Israel, you are this or that with basically zero cross-pollination between communities. When you are born in Israel, you get your kippah for boys and hair covering for girls issued at birth or you get nothing at all and that is what you are for the rest of your life, or so it seems. That too seems pretty boring to me In America, you can be a lawyer, wear a blue button-down shirt to work, a black hat at Minchah, send your kids to Mir High School, listen to Schachter’s shiur and it’s all good. You can also be studying at YU in the morning, visit the JTS Library in the afternoon, and drive to the kevar of the Satmar Rebbe that very night. Admittedly, I’ve done these things, but not on the very same day. Although, it’s entirely possible and does not even require much effort. 

American Judaism allows for an access unmatched around the world. I don’t think people in Efrat either know or care about what’s going on in Bnei Brak, and it could be that they even dislike them because they don’t serve in the IDF, another conversation entirely, and vice versa. This divisiveness between communities in Israel has a long, sad history as communities in Israel are rather closed off to one another no matter the spectrum. You tend to exist in your own echo chamber, but it’s amplified as the monolithic nature of communities in Israel is so pronounced. No one in Efrat wears a black hat. No one in Alon Shvut drives on Shabbos. Very few, if any, people in Tel Aviv identify as Haredi. You get the point. 

It is this horizontal mobility between Jewish communities that I cherish and hold dear in my American Jewish experience. This does not exclude or downplay the absolute amazing gift the land of Israel is. It is simply a rejection of American Judaism being boring. So whether or not you agree with everything that he said, I really like the notion and concept of horizontal mobility, being able to move between the communities. And I do agree, I think to some degree that there is more horizontal mobility in America. Now, whether or not that actually makes America less boring, at least in the way I conceived of it, I’m not sure the next time we get together, but with this letter writer, I will speak it out. But I do think that this is one of the draws of why people feel so comfortable with American Judaism and are so concerned about moving to Israel. Because that horizontal mobility, particularly when it comes to educational choices for your children, is much harder to switch back and forth between communities. There is a lot more at stake in Israel. 

I do appreciate that he reached out. I think he made an excellent point about the beauty of American Judaism, about the fact that we have this horizontal mobility, and I think that you’re seeing more and more horizontal mobility now in Israel. We’ll see if that shakes out and that continues to unfold. I think October 7th brought a lot of people together. It also made it a lot clear the very, very stark differences between communities, particularly what army service does in separating out between communities, which I think is something that is still a almost sociological trauma that has been reawakened. But undoubtedly, in America, and I think in large part because the stakes are not as high, there is a great deal more of horizontal mobility. 

Let me go to the other email that I got because I think it is also incredibly important, and it’s talking about something that I may have missed in the beauty of living in Israel. And this is a letter that I got. Always long negotiations about whether or not I can use people’s names. I can give a hint. It’s a spouse of one of our former guests. You’ll have to do a lot of research to figure out which one, but somebody wrote a fairly long email, and I want to read a part of it because I think it is very, very important, and this is what it says. “One of our first educational curves,” and this is about living in Israel, “was the importance of youth groups in the Dati Leumi world, which we only understand now is the precursor to the army in its philosophy of putting the klal, the general, the nation, in one’s priorities and consciousness. 

“The Tnuat Noar, which is the youth groups, here are of the utmost importance in the Dati Leumi communities, be it Bnei Akiva. Ezra, or Ariel as the biggest ones. Different from involvement in NCSY, the advisors in Tnuat Noar are in the 10th and 11th grade.” Yes, you read that correctly. In NCSY, the advisors are all college age and they are mentoring high school kids. They’re mentoring the advisor, so to speak, the same age as the advisors, the ones in Israel. Let me continue. “I’ll be very honest and admit that we completely made fun of this concept insisting confidently that we would not be sending our children to these groups since it’s insane and irresponsible, very American to send 20 or 30 third and fourth graders to groups being run by 15-year-olds. 

“And that’s how we felt about the benign Shabbos afternoon activities. Not to mention overnights in Lag Ba’omer with raging bonfires included. In addition to that, we did not believe in co-ed activities in high school, and while we relented and our children then chose Ezra, which is on paper separate, we knew that the high school age advisors had plenty of interaction. So you could imagine our shock when we were looking at high schools and the teacher who runs the math program told the parents that she often tells girls to opt out of the college level highest math track so that her students can be madrichot in their local youth group. 

“WHAT?” this letter writer wrote in all caps. “WHAT? But yes, welcome to Israel. Contributing to your community in 10th grade is more important than your own personal academic growth. And you can imagine our shock when our daughter entering 10th grade raised money for, planned out, and ran a summer camp for immigrant Ethiopian kids in a low income community with the rest of her age group. Again, welcome to Israel. This is what normal kids do during the summers through these youth groups. While this sounds noble, and it is, it comes with a big price tag. The cool thing in my kid’s high school is to be a madrich at Ezra or B’nei Akiva. Not to sit in the beis madrich spending hours and hours a week organizing Tuesday night and Shabbat activities every single week means you’ll not have as much brain space to focus on your own personal, spiritual, and religious growth. Not to mention schoolwork. 

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were the seeds and introduction to life in the Dati Leumi community and its challenges and differences from how we grew up in the somewhat parallel Modern Orthodox world in America. There’s a tug of war between the personal and the communal which begins at a very young age. Our cousin once pointed out that these were the polar opposite to her challenges in raising her Modern Orthodox kids in the New York, New Jersey area. From grade nine, she felt this whole world centered around him. His life was mostly compromised of scholastic excellence and sports and solely focused on his own personal growth and progress. For us, it was constantly trying to convince our children that while Ezra and communal activity is important, so is studying and learning Torah and personal growth. It’s coming from the opposite end.” 

And then she continues on one other point that I think is very important that we didn’t talk about enough. “I’ve heard so much moaning and stressing about materialism in the Frum community in America. As you pointed out, Dati Leumi kids really do stand out at American communities. The sandal, worn out tee, un-tucked shirt is truly different.” But an Israeli educator once said something about tzniut, which I think is relevant here. She said that when someone is choosing a way to dress, they’re telling a story, and the question is, what story are they trying to tell? I would say that, looking around at my kids and their friends, the story they are telling is that clothing is just not a big deal. While for Americans in the frum community, and I speak of myself as well, clothing is a VERY, all caps, big deal and speaks volumes about hashkafa, social circle, wealth, attention to trends, brands, et cetera, and perhaps so much emphasis on these externals are the roots of similar levels of material attention given a couple of years later to homes and cars and vacations. 

Let me just conclude with the very end of this email. Again, it’s a long email, but I found it so beautiful and I wanted to share it with all of you. “Like many Dati Leumi parents, I stress about Shmiras HaMitzvos, but I also understand that just as Rav Amital said about his students that he didn’t want to produce a yeshiva of 100 mini-Amitals. We shouldn’t strive to only produce minis of ourselves. It is normal for kids to strive to find their own flavor and nuance as Israelis, but as parents, we would like it to be a version of the values they grew up with. Someone once pointed out that it feels like in Israel every YU family has at least one child that’s become yeshivish. While in Israel, it feels like every Dati Leumi family has a child who is not frum. To me, this is not shocking. 

“In America, kids who need to be a little bit different from their parents put on a black hat and a white shirt since at the end of the day that’s not all that different from the home they grew up in. A boy in Ner Yisroel still learns secular studies, works in a job, and learns Torah and might even listen to secular music. It’s a variation of the theme of their home, not so different at all from his YU counterpart. Just different external trappings. Most of the time the move is not to the extreme yeshivish edge, but sometimes it is. In Israel, when kids need to find a different version of their homes, the Haredi Hebron Yeshiva is not an option for him since Olim have inculcated their children with a love of Israel, the country, and its future, and the Haredi community as a group and philosophy has opted out of the story of Medinat Yisrael and its national experience. 

“When one grows up in the Dati-Leumi community it is unfathomable not to contribute and feel a responsibility to his country through the army, through the economy, through the fabric of the nation, which means the only option for kids who need to differentiate themselves from their family is to move left. That move is often a variation of the theme of their home with Israeli external trappings, but can sometimes go to the extreme secular end of the spectrum, and that is a challenge.” The final thing I’d like to read from this letter, it’s so beautiful, it’s so long, I wish I could share the entire thing with you, and I hope one day that we can actually publish it. We’ll have to get permission. However, this is the final thing that I’d like to share. 

“The challenge of aliyah should be counterbalanced by the long view in aliyah, the understanding that temporary difficulties will be there, but that you are changing the trajectory of your family and the Jewish people forever.” Amen. I cannot agree enough with that. I think sometimes Americans, we have a certain trajectory that we know of and are familiar with and how we know how to raise our families. A lot changes when you move to Israel, and I do hope to do a deeper dive on these differences. Whether it’s talking about the beauty of horizontal mobility in America and maybe a little bit of why I or some others may find it boring or not boring, and also the challenges of what it’s like raising, particularly for the American community, the American Religious Zionists, the Dati Leumi community in Israel that knows this world of America through their relatives, through everybody else, but chose and made a decision saying, “No. I am joining in building, taking my family and building the land of our forefathers and continuing the promise that God made to Abraham in the land of our people.” 

And there’s no question that both of these trajectories and either of these decisions, whether remaining outside of Israel and the diaspora, particularly in America, or going to Israel, they both have challenges and they both have opportunities. And I think it’s important that when we have these discussions, even when we highlight the challenges and the opportunities, we’re thinking out loud together. And God forbid, I don’t think there’s any community that definitively has all of the answers for all of Kahal Yisrael, for all of the Jewish people. But I do know that we have the strength, the capacity, and resilience not only to have these conversations, but more importantly to thrive in that long-term trajectory, continue the ultimate promise of Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker, the Jewish people are not going anywhere. 

So I’m going to close this episode of 18Forty. I hope the feedback was illuminating in some ways. I do want to encourage people to send in emails, to send in voicemails. Just make it clear in your voicemail whether or not you actually want it to be played. We assume if you leave a voice note, you are comfortable with it being played. If you are not comfortable with it being played, please let us know in the voicemail itself. And, of course, you can email us info@18forty.org. A lot of you have my personal email address, which is fine. I’m just unable unfortunately to respond to everyone that comes on here. And if I don’t read it, nobody else has access to my personal email so very often it gets lost. So the safest way to make sure that it comes to my attention, honestly is to email info@18forty.org. 

And I’m just so excited for continuing these conversations. The stakes are higher than ever, which means our exploration of these issues are more important than ever. And I am so grateful for our community, for being on this journey together with us that we should see and build together a future of the Jewish people that when we walk out and feel all of those pebbles and all of those stones on our feet when we … hear all of the pain when we’re walking without our shoes on, that what we should ultimately not be distracted from is the incredible revelation of divinity, a revelation of a new state, a new mindset of what the Jewish people are capable of, and that we should be able to carry it, cultivate it, and foster it for the next generation. 

So thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes, was edited by our dearest friend, Denah Emerson. If you enjoyed this episode or any of our episodes, please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18forty.org/donate. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content to continue these conversations. You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play on a future episode, and I promise you it will not be another year until we do that. That number is 516-519-3308. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s the number 18 followed by the word forty, F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you could also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. Thank you so much for listening, and stay curious my friends.