Pastor Walter Mitty woke up at 7 a.m. last Saturday and immediately turned up the heat in his study in the Poplar Park Community Church parsonage. He checked the weather and the temperature was only 40 degrees, another sign that big changes were just around the corner.
While the coffee was brewing, he turned on the radio and heard that Israel was expanding its ground operations and continuing to bomb targets in Gaza. Everyone felt, it seemed, like something big was unfolding in that troubled part of the world.
As he carried his coffee to his desk, he noticed a feeling of dread coming over him, and his thoughts went back to Oct. 8 when he was sitting a table at the coffee hour after the service in Poplar Park Community Church and was listening to Dorothy Aschenbrenner.
“When I heard the news this morning, my heart broke,” she was saying. “Hamas is evil. I hope they burn in hell.”
“I understand how you feel, Dorothy,” Sharissa began, struggling to keep her tone civil, “but if anyone is to blame for starting this terror, it’s the state of Israel.
“The Palestinians are the real victims here. Israel has created an apartheid situation in the Holy Land and turned Gaza into an open-air prison. The state of Israel is the result of a Zionist plot to occupy all of Palestine. While the Arabs were willing to share the land, the Jewish immigrants wanted it all for themselves. Israel’s response is worse than the Palestinian terrorism. My God, 7,000 Palestinians, including almost 3,000 children killed in retaliation!”
Sharissa went on for another 10 minutes detailing Israeli crimes against humanity, and the church members sitting around the table remained speechless because they didn’t know enough about the troubles in the Middle East to respond intelligently.
When Mitty called his neighbor Michael Rosenthal the next morning, Oct. 9, for their regular check-in, he shared with his good friend everything that had happened at church the day before.
Michael listened and replied, “See the problem with me is that I hear criticism of Israel like this all the time, and I don’t know how to respond to people who have an unbalanced prejudice against Israel, don’t know all the facts, and have no accurate knowledge of the history of the issue.”
Pastor Mitty got a second cup of coffee and turned down the heat in his study. He couldn’t shake that feeling of dread, so as usual, he called his neighbor and friend.
“You hear the latest news, Michael?”
“You mean about the IDF getting ready to start the ground assault?”
“Yeah. So it’s been two weeks since the massacre on Oct. 7. What do you think?”
Michael replied, “Well, one of the things that keeps coming up with our members at the temple is that they sense an anti-Israel feeling growing in the country. I don’t know if it’s antisemitism exactly or a sympathy for the underdog or what.”
Michael then suggested the two of them walk over to Bernie Rolvaag’s History/Herstory bookstore and coffeeshop, grab a latte and ask a well-read “goy” about his take on the situation.
Bernie grimaced when he heard what two of his best customers wanted to talk about.
“OK,” he began, “the way I see it is that Russian Jews began immigrating to Palestine in the late 1800s to escape pogroms in that country. As a minority, they bent over backwards to be good neighbors, but almost from the beginning some Arabs were against that religious/ethnic minority. In fact, an Arab leader named Haj Amin al-Hasseini spent time with Hitler during World War II because he agreed with the dictator on his ‘final solution.’
“Another wave of Jews immigrated before and after World War II, so that by 1948 they comprised a majority in the area now known as the state of Israel. A U.N. resolution divided Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Numerous wars were fought, with Israel winning all of them, but military victories could not eliminate Arab hostility, which manifested itself on Oct. 7.”
When Bernie finished his mini-lecture, Michael said, “That’s pretty much the narrative that Rabbi Levine and some of the university professors in the congregation have been telling us.”
The three friends sat silent for a long time.
Mitty broke the silence by saying, “If you want to know who started it, you have to go back to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.”
Michael added, “You know, in this country when talking about mass shootings, conservatives tend to argue that criminals are bad people and that the only way to deal with bad people with guns is to arm good people with guns.“
Bernie caught the drift of Michael’s argument and said, “And liberals say that criminals are basically good people, so you have to address the root causes.”
Mitty said, “And Netanyahu is a conservative, and a hard line one at that.”