Year Round Programs Our National Mazkir on Israel
By Jonny Jentis, National Mazkir 2023-2024 Spoken at the YJ Community-Wide Havdalah on October 14, 2023
My name is Jonathan Jentis and I am the national Mazkir this year. I am a senior in high school living in New Jersey. Having been in Young Judaea, Zionism and Israel have been major parts of my life. Even this summer I was able to journey to Israel on Gesher where I saw a perfectly peaceful Gazan border and experienced the joys and wonders of Israel. With that in mind, I would like to speak, not about the shocking and disturbing events that we have all heard and seen over the past few days, but about my experience and the whirlwind of contradictions I have faced.
Saturday morning started like any other; I woke up about 2 hours after my alarm, rolled out of bed, and meandered downstairs to my kitchen. There I was greeted by a snapchat message from one of my friends in Israel from the Gesher trip; The message read “I am in a bomb shelter right now. My parents are in the south where Hamas attacked. I haven’t heard from them in 3 hours.” This is how I found out about the attack; not a news article, not an Instagram post, not some random Tiktok. A desperate cry of fear and anxiety from someone I had lived with for almost an entire month over the summer. A cry for help from someone I had no way of helping. I sent thoughts and prayers and tried to help them stay positive, but from what I knew, I was almost certain their parents were dead. That’s how I spent Saturday with contradiction #1; trying to convince her that her parents might still be alive while being almost certain they weren’t.
By some miracle, the IDF did manage to save her parents. This gave me time to process my other emotions and see other reactions. Expecting unilateral Israel support, I found a friend from school posting a Palestinian flag with the caption “Takeover is near”. This led me to another contradiction: What’s the difference between Pro-palestine and Pro-hamas? At the end of the day I advocate for peace, and as I tried to explain how problematic the post was, my classmate seemed to indirectly justify the actions Hamas took. “War is war” and “Israel does it too” were her responses to me. The line between wanting peace in the Middle East and terrorism should not be close; the ideas should not even be considered as alternatives to each other yet Hamas’s heinous actions have pushed the limits so that supporting one has become synonymous with the other. We as Young Judaeans have to be able to call people out when they cross the line; for the safety of ourselves, the Jewish people, and the state of Israel.
It seems that everyday, a new email comes in marking the passing of yet another alum from our Young Judaea community. Friends, counselors, family; everybody knows somebody. It is more important than ever that we stay connected even while separated across the country. We have lived together, we have laughed together, and now we mourn together as a YJ community. But there will come a day when we will celebrate together again.
That brings me to one of my final contradictions: supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from this horrendous act but also a cry for peace in the Middle East. Israel needs to defend itself from this attack but more death will not bring back what we all lost. In support of peace, my Maz (teen board) and I are looking for ways to contribute. Keep on the lookout for more Israel initiatives by following the @yjteens Instagram. Hopefully any teens on this call will join us tomorrow for a community Israel event to learn and digest what is going on right now. Please look out for a link to donate to help fund many of the actions YJ is taking in Israel. Our Year Course teens are already working to do what they can in Israel, and we hope to raise money so YJ can support refugees, package supplies, and give relief and aid to all who need it.
Lastly, we must address Israel. I know in the past I have been critical of Israel’s government and its decisions; just like America, or the UK, or any other country in the world, Israel makes good and bad decisions. But being critical does not mean we have to denounce Israel. Everyone here I’m sure has a variety of opinions on how Israel should handle the coming days and weeks; but the important thing is that the people of Israel need our support. Something one of my Rabbis said to me this past Thursday at a vigil has stuck with me: “In the first 12 hours of Hamas’s attack, we saw what it would be like if Israel didn’t exist”. Israel is a safe haven for us and needs the support so as to not be destroyed by the many enemies it has. I know for certain, I and many others may still criticize the decisions of the Israeli government, but, no matter what you or I believe, my support (and hopefully yours) will never waver. Israel doesn’t just deserve to exist; its existence is a necessity for the Jewish people and the generations to come.
Shavua tov and good night.