Photo: Ayal Margolin/Flash90

Have we Israelis changed, and if so, how, in light of all that has happened? Are we different than we were six months and one week ago?

This is a segment from The “Here and There” Edition.


Now for our first discussion. So Miriam, this week a book came out saying that we ain’t what we used to be six months ago and we never will be again. Could that be true?

Well, this week we marked six months since the massacres in southern Israel on October 7th and six months since the first of the reservists were called up to fight the war in Gaza that has continued ever since.

Half a year is a long time and as such milestones tend to do, this one led all the papers, many TV news and talk shows and lots of people sitting in cafes with their friends or writing on social media to take a step back.

Instead of giving our full attention over to the minutiae of each day’s news, how many soldiers died, whether people in Gaza have got what to eat today, what President Biden did or did not say, we tried to ask bigger questions.

What have we been through? What have we done? How have we changed because of it?

This week, Micha Goodman, one of the country’s leading public intellectuals, published a book to coincide with the six month milestone, asking and answering such bigger questions.

It’s called The Eighth Day Israel after October 7th.

And its starting assumption is that, as he puts it, Israeliness is inventing itself anew in the epoch after the 7th of October.

Goodman’s thesis is that among the things Hamas laid to waste on that day was the ability of Israelis to believe that we could ever be a “normal” Western country.

Instead, Goodman writes, we’re moving toward a new hybrid of West and East, liberal and post-liberal, democratic and Jewish, individualist and collectivist.

We can’t do justice to a whole book, even a quickly written short one, in just a few words.

But it’s fair to say that Goodman tries to describe big tectonic shifts, what he calls “civilizational changes.”

Alongside such big changes, if indeed changes like that really are underway as Goodman thinks, there are also all sorts of smaller ways we may or may not have changed.

Maybe changes in what our day-to-day lives are like.

Maybe changes in how we regard the army and the government.

Maybe changes in how religious or secular we are.

Maybe changes in what we imagine the country will be like and what we want the country to be like in a year and ten years and a hundred and countless things like that.

So Noah, six months have passed, and though the initial shock of October 7th hasn’t faded, it does seem like maybe enough time has passed to have a little perspective.

Do you think that Israeliness is inventing itself anew?

And maybe less grandly, do you register any changes that you think are going to endure?

Did our self-image change on October 7th in a way that matters and might last?

I don’t think that I feel like those big changes that Micha Goodman is talking about are happening as a result of October 7th.

And I think that a lot, some of them were underway before and maybe were sped up by October 7th.

And most of the things he’s talking about, I don’t really recognize at all.

But I do think that something really meaningful did happen on October 7th.

And I think that it was that we saw once again in ourselves something that we had grown to doubt was there.

If, you know, I just said that kind of snide thing about Micha Goodman, and I do think he thinks too big to be useful.

But I think too big to be useful sometimes, too.

And when I do, I think that there was this long period in the country when it was completely unacceptable to be anything except part of this grand us or aspiring to be this part of this grand us.

And I think that people who felt as though they had complaints or people who felt as though they were alienated or people who felt as though they could not fit in, I think that they suffered terribly and they worried about seeming somehow weak or wrong in the eyes of their own children.

And then somewhere along the way that, you know, the best signpost for it, but it didn’t happen on that day, is on the day in 1977 when Menachem Begin was elected, then things started to change.

And there was more of more room for people to express anger and express how they were different and to say, I’ve been forgotten and to say, I don’t fit in and to say that I was treated unfairly.

And a lot of what happened after that was this rolling development of that and an increase in tensions that were maybe always there, but found expression all over.

And that lasted for years and it reached its full flowering in the nine months before October 7th during the fight about the judicial reform when people all over, and including on this podcast, wondered whether we might be seeing the beginning of a real civil war that would actually tear the country apart.

And then I think what we saw in October 7th is that is something like a synthesis of those two things.

I think we saw that that feeling, that fellow feeling, that feeling like we really are all part of some big whole is deeply, deeply there and shared by almost everyone here.

People who never expected to feel it themselves felt it.

And we all surprised ourselves by how strongly we felt it.

And we all surprised ourselves by looking around and seeing how actively, how powerfully everyone around us was moving, moving, moving, mostly to express their love for the place, for each other, for what had been built here, their concern for all those things.

And I think that we saw that it was there.

And I think that now it’s going to be harder to see soon already.

Are you saying that October 7th wasn’t a turning point so much as somehow illuminating things that are all there that doesn’t really change people but sort of reemphasize?

Well, I mean, nothing changes people and everything changes people.

And so this realization that this fellow feeling is really deeply, deeply there and deeply shared and that it is not something that has disappeared, that it’s really there was a shocking realization that we are different than we in 2023 imagined ourselves to be.

And we are more like a little bit more like what we imagined ourselves to be in 1973.

But we’re not, we’re some combination of both of those things.

And I think that I think that that deep realization has been has been puzzling. I think it’s been beautiful. I think it’s been moving to people. And I think it’s been puzzling to people as well, who now no longer exactly know how they regard themselves and how they regard the other people around them and how they regard the people who they disagree with dramatically politically and who whom they still think maybe are dragging this country over the edge of an abyss.

But still they feel as though they feel a certain oneness with them that they didn’t know that they felt a year ago.

But I think deep down that deep down what we learned is that we always we always did that.

You know, Plato has this theory of remembrance, how you never learn anything new, but you know everything before you’re born.

But then you remember things that you know.

And I think something like that is…

You had the ruby slippers all along.

You had the ruby slippers all along. And I think that we are we look down at our feet and we suddenly saw the power in those in those slippers.

What do you think?

Yeah, I always shy away from grandiose statements, but I’ll tell you what comes to mind for me.

And obviously, you know, so six months is an artificial moment because we’re so much in the middle of pretty much every process.

We don’t have the hostages back.

We haven’t, you know, brought Hamas to its knees.

We haven’t defeated Hamas, whatever that means.

We don’t know how big the northern border is going to get.

We are worried that we’re about to be attacked by by Iran directly or by a proxy of Iran.

And we have we are in some kind of perhaps slide into the abyss when it comes to our relations with with the United States, which is huge.

So all of these are really in the process and are we’re very much inside, I think, a dark tunnel.

I don’t know if we can use a tunnel metaphor anymore when it comes to all of those.

We just don’t know. So we can only look at what we’ve seen.

Really, the here and now, very Israeli, don’t look right now exactly what’s happening.

I mean, I think it’s really important to highlight the vulnerability that that is, I think, a huge change.

We, I think, didn’t think we were vulnerable.

And there are still people, smart people who we should be listening to who say we’re not, you know, at the precipice, that this is not an existential thing.

But we certainly had our our our imaginations and our, you know, our limbic systems occupied by that sense that it could all go really wrong.

We saw a part of our country occupied.

We saw people murdered and we saw that the aspirations of our enemies is to continue to do that.

And we imagined all the ways that that could actually happen based on our geopolitical position.

And I think that’s very much still with us.

And I don’t think that it was present in that way at all.

We were very focused on on the implosion, internal implosion of of our society triggered by this, you know, right wing fundamentalist government and extremely occupied with that.

And the people screaming from the South saying, hey, we’re under attack here.

They weren’t being heard. And all of the other warnings weren’t listened to.

So that I think is the biggest thing, this shaking vulnerability.

And do you imagine that the effect of that is going to endure?

Absolutely. I mean, I think between that and the heroism of the army, I think we will be a far more militarized, culturally militarized society in ways that I don’t think are all bad.

You know, we people will lean progressive, tend to associate negative associations with that.

I think the army both as, you know, as as a reliable and clear, clear sort of vehicle for protecting us as opposed to the muddiness of the of of our government, which didn’t govern and hasn’t governed.

And and their version of politics is the worst version of politics rather than the best version of politics, which is aimed at trying to be think strategically and with vision and with a sense that humans can be persuaded rather than only killed if, you know, through that.

So we don’t have that. And that’s gone way down. And so what we have are even though there will be, you know, commissioned inquiries, commissions of inquiry that will talk about the ways in which the army got it really wrong, you know, to see our guys and girls go out and do what they’ve been doing and be committed to it.

And so that’s that’s important as a sense of safety. But also, I think, you know, the army has this other role in the society, which is as a I don’t know, what do we call it, the salad bowl or this, you know, the soup out of blending of bringing people into contact with each other over real things rather than our our, you know, imagined or projected differences.

And when that pedal hits the metal and people are saving each other who come from the most diametrically opposed world views and finding that they like each other or love each other, maybe dislike each other, but still love each other.

That, I think, is going to be going to be the message similar to what you were saying, but very much through framed by by the by the army.

That, by the way, is one of the things that Micha Goldman says most strongly in this new book that basically he says, as I read it, when I read it as though he’s talking to me, you have no idea how profound and altering an experience this experience for those people in the army is and everyone they know, all of their families, because it’s only 5 percent of us who were in that experience.

Michael Goldman says that that Michael Goodman says that we will all feel the results of that forever after in all kinds of knock on ways.

So, for example, before this, to some extent, the argument over ultra orthodox charity service in the in the army was an argument of principle.

But now we see it’s actually real because, you know, in the new Haradi, people said, look, you know, I get this.

But even you know that you don’t need such a big army.

Well, turns out we do need such a big army, at least that’s what the army is telling us.

And so all of a sudden that battle becomes a you know, that’s a big change right there.

It’s a really transformative change.

And I I don’t see it going very well.

I’m very pessimistic about how that is going to go when people start trying to send police in to arrest yeshiva buhurs who are not serving.

I’m very, very worried about it.

And just still in that line of of defense and vulnerability, we we very much learned that the cavalry is us.

We’re nobody’s coming.

And I think that is going to extend it already extend.

It’s very much extended, I think, into the political sphere as well.

The notion that things are operating behind, you know, that there’s a quiet buzz or hum of an engine that is there to make sure that we’re safe, that our roads work, that our that our construction industry is going to provide housing, that the money that’s promised is going to arrive to the people that were promised the money.

None of that. All of that has become very starkly, you know, I think exploded.

And I just a couple of other things with a whole new view on the on Arab, Palestinian Israelis and where they fit in.

It’s been the quiet, miraculous story of this last six months.

And I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to it.

I think that they must, you know, be going through a fascinating crisis of identity to have faced up to the worst scenario for them as Palestinians.

And just to say that, you know, these fears that weren’t entirely unfounded, we saw violence happen in that community became we’re totally we’ve we’re finishing now.

We’ve just finished Ramadan.

Just a very peaceful. And and then finally, our relationship with the diaspora Jews that I think is being transformed, which we’ll talk about in the next segment.

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