Jewish scholars talk about the ‘psychic familiarity’ of Hamas attack on Oct. 7 by Tanner Stening November 17, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Mai’a Cross, director of the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures and Dean’s Professor of Political Science, International Affairs and Diplomacy; Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies and director of Jewish Studies Program; and Simon Rabinovitch, Stotsky Associate Professor in Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University This report is part of ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas war. Visit our dedicated page for more on this topic. When Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, “the psychic familiarity to Jews was instant,” said Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies Program. “‘Pogrom’ was all over the Jewish press. It looked like a pogrom,” she said during a talk that featured Jewish perspectives on a range of topics — from the establishment of the state of Israel, to the ongoing war. “So immediately there was this association with a history of persecution, and a familiarity with the innocent having been murdered,” Lefkovitz said. The talk was part of the ongoing Crisis Conversation Series on the Israel-Hamas war, held by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures. Mai’a Cross, director of the center, and Dean’s Professor of Political Science, International Affairs and Diplomacy, moderated the discussion, which drew scores of students and community members. The talk was part of the ongoing Crisis Conversation Series on the Israel-Hamas war, held by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Asked about how Jewish communities worldwide have responded to the Oct. 7 attack, Lefkovitz noted that there is “forceful disagreement” among Jews about the proper response. “The Jews are mourning the losses on all sides,” Lefkovitz said. “Jews all along have opposed the occupation, see failures in Israel’s policies, the injustice of the occupation — not all Jews, of course; that’s where there’s division,” she continued. “But I think it’s important to say that there is room for compassion for everybody in a moment that is as really as awful as this moment is.” While the talk touched on the Israel-Hamas war, it focused primarily on the history of the state of Israel, and the various meanings and interpretations of “Zionism” — a nationalist movement that emerged in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century that sought to establish a Jewish homeland in the historical region of Palestine. Lefkovitz said the Jewish people had a connection to the region going back centuries. “So the sense that they had some kind of connection to this other place was already there,” she said. “Israel is a location on the planet, it’s geographic in the Bible, that place was gifted to Abraham by God. And that’s part of the central myth of the Jewish people.” Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University The talk was part of the ongoing Crisis Conversation Series on the Israel-Hamas war, held by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University “After the Exodus, which is the central myth of the Jewish people leaving slavery, where they went was the Promised Land, the same geographic location,” Lefkovitz said. “That’s all in the Jewish mythic imagination. Once history comes along, as we enter the kingdoms of David and Solomon associated with Zion in Jerusalem, the temples in Jerusalem, which were, you know, where the Israelites lived, were considered the nexus between God and the people,” she said. Simon Rabinovitch, Stotsky Associate Professor in Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, made the case that, while Zionism attaches to several different ideological and political definitions and contexts, the existence of the state of Israel is best understood in non-ideological terms. “It’s actually one that I see as primarily non-ideological,” he said. “The best framework for understanding the state of Israel, I believe, is as a refugee state.” He further clarified: “That is a state composed primarily of refugees, people who have fled different forms of persecution for safety. This is something that began in the 19th century … you had Jews flocking from Yemen as the situation [there] was very difficult, especially in terms of poverty. There were Jews who were walking from Yemen to Palestine.” “There were Jews who were walking from Kurdistan in today’s Iraq to Palestine. And there were Jews, especially beginning in the 1860s, significant numbers of poor Jews moving from the Russian Empire and from Romania to Palestine, completely unconnected to the ideology. This is actually my own family’s story — my own family moved in the 1860s from the Russian Empire, from Arabia to Palestine, and settled in France,” he said. “Jews moved for a variety of reasons, and ideology might have played a factor … but the reason why they left the places they left overwhelmingly had to do with an end to the life that they were living,” he said. Both Rabinovitch and Lefkovitz noted that they do not know how the present war will end. “How this will be resolved is anyone’s guess,” Rabinovitch said. Lefkovitz offered: “I don’t know what a happy outcome will be.” Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. 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