My father, Dr. Donald Feldstein of blessed memory, was a news junkie who read the daily paper and watched the television news religiously. During our visits, we would often discuss the latest news – and he was incredibly wise and thoughtful in his analysis.
Since he passed away almost four years ago, I have often wondered what my dad would have said about various events that have happened during this momentous period – COVID, the 2020 election, several historic Supreme Court decisions and other significant news stories.
Never have I felt this more than the past month, when our world was shattered by the brutal and unexpected attack on Israel by Hamas. I think a lot about what my father’s reactions would have been to all that has happened.
Before I speculate on those reactions, let me share a few important characteristics about my father.
First, my dad was always able to hold in place seemingly contradictory positions. He was an extremely nuanced thinker and tended not to look at issues only in black and white terms. For example, he was a deeply committed Zionist but refused to support President Richard Nixon simply because he was supposedly “better for Israel.” He believed that the Jews deserved better than Nixon, which was a very unpopular opinion in Orthodox circles in the early 1970s.
Second, my father was always willing to engage, and he truly wanted to hear what other people had to say so he could respond to their perspectives. He knew how to listen and how to disagree with people, and could do so with respect and wisdom … and without picking a fight.
Third, my dad recognized there are not always right and wrong answers. He certainly would identify certain matters as absolute and non-negotiable. And he had the courage to draw “lines in the sand” on certain issues that he perceived to be right or wrong. But he also knew how and when to take a balanced approach in assessing complicated matters that might have conflicting moral issues.
Fourth, my father was strongly liberal in his thinking, and deeply committed to social justice. And he was also deeply proud of being a Jew; indeed, he felt the two could not only coexist but should play off each other.
My dad spent a month in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1964, working on voter registration drives in the place of African Americans, for whom it was very risky to consider doing so in that place at that time in history. He also attended the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights. The George Floyd murder occurred shortly after his death, but I am pretty sure that he would have sympathized with many aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement and supported some of the aspects of the cause. However, I think he also would have been terribly disappointed and disgusted by the response of some Black Lives Matter members to the October 7th massacre, which extolled the virtues of the Hamas terrorists who slaughtered Jews at a music festival. BLM chapters later apologized for the social media post that has since been deleted, but my father would likely have seen through that apology.
I think my dad would not have trusted the Gaza casualty figures, which come from a health ministry run by Hamas. I think he would have challenged the initial false reports of Israel bombing a hospital (when it was actually a misguided rocket from a Palestinian militant group that caused the damage) and questioned their legitimacy. I believe he would not have been happy about some of the liberal commentators who described the Israeli civilians who were murdered as “settlers”or who speak of Hamas terrorists who murder and kidnap babies as “freedom fighters” or “protestors.”
I think he would have been shocked by the administration at Stanford University, which defends the right of students to chant “from the river to the sea” – a call for the annihilation of Israel. And I believe he would have been terribly upset that Jewish students at various campuses across the country are emotionally and physically scared.
I think he also wouldn’t have been happy with the neo-isolationists, such as Tucker Carlson and some of the guests on his show, who claim this war against Hamas is not our war and that Israel is annihilating Gaza. People like Carlson may disagree with the left on many issues, but their antisemitism is just as bad. My dad was a peace-loving person, but he also knew when it was appropriate to fight a war.
My dad deeply believed in affirmative action and diversity. But I think he would have been shocked and upset by the diversity trainers who think that Jews should not count as a minority. Inclusion that specifically excludes Jews is not inclusive.
I don’t know for certain, but I think he would have been very upset with some of the liberal folks he had called friends, particularly in terms of their reaction to the Gaza War.
My dad was never defensive about Zionism, and I think he would have called out the anti-Zionism we have witnessed this past month for what it really is—just a different name for antisemitism, repackaged to make it more appealing to liberal Jews.
That’s not to say that my father would have agreed with everything the Israeli government is doing right now. My guess is that he would be very pained by the number of deaths that have occurred to the Palestinians living in Gaza. And that he would be pushing for more negotiations to free the hostages, which would be his main concern right now as opposed to eliminating Hamas.
I think he also would have continued to be furious at Prime Minister Netanyahu, not only for his past power grabbing but also for his massive mistake in not anticipating the attack by Hamas and allowing for so many Israeli casualties.
At the same time, I think he would have supported the peaceful rallies on behalf of Israel and applauded the call for Jews to stop donating to universities and other institutions that have chosen to side with the Palestinians in this conflict.
I wish I could speak to him directly about these matters. For now, I can only speculate as to what my dad would have said. And maybe that’s the point. Personally, I have very strong feelings about the October 7th massacre and its aftermath. I hope they would align with my father’s views if he were alive, but I don’t know for sure.
What my father’s values do suggest, though, is that regardless of what conclusions he may have come to, he certainly could have offered me—and all of us—various ways to consider these complicated issues and navigate through these painful times in a meaningful manner.
Finally, even in the darkest of days, for himself personally and for the world, he always remained optimistic.
Let’s hope and pray that a better future is in store for Israel. On that point I know my father and I would certainly agree.
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, is the author of “Meet Me in the Middle” (meet-me-in-the-middle-book.com), a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. He can be reached at [email protected].