Israel: Life in the Time of War

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Israel: Life in the Time of War

DATE: 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm, 26th February 2024

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Jessica Steinberg, Dr Michael Tobin

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Theo Zenou



[0:04] Dr Theo Zenou 

So welcome to the Henry Jackson Society’s latest, Israeli briefing. My name is Theo Zenou and I’ve just started as a research fellow here. And so, since October 7, the HJS has decided to do Israel briefing, online events, basically to take stock of what’s happening in the Israel-Hamas war and to explore various aspects. Now one aspect that hasn’t really been explored here, or in the wider media is the toll that these wars taken on Israeli society, what it is like, on the home front, so to say, how his daily life affected by war, these are important issues, and I think it will give us a different perspective on Israeli society and Israeli’s themselves. So, joining us to discuss this very important issue, are two people who are right in the heart of it well, in Israel in Jerusalem, in fact, right now, we have Jessica Steinberg, who’s the culture and lifestyle editors of the time of Israel. And if you read the Times of Israel, you’ve seen that since October 7, through a wide range of articles, she’s really explored how the art scene and how Israeli culture more broadly, has been impacted by the war. And we have Dr. Michael Tobin, who’s a clinical psychologist, as well as an author and journalist. And he wrote a really beautiful article in UnHerd about life on the home front. So, I’ll start by asking them a question, we’ll have a conversation, but we’ll finish by a Q&A. So, if at any moment, you have questions, just drop them in the chat. And hopefully, we’ll get to them towards the end of the conversation. So, Dr. Tobin, let’s start with you. What has been the impact of the October 7 massacre and the ensuing war on Israel’s mental health and daily life?

[2:04] Dr Michael Tobin

Okay, well, that’s a rather broad question. You said, you’re going to ask a broad question. So that’s a broad question. You know, I think we need to look at it in certain stages. I mean, who were we before October 7, is the country because who we were before October 7, and who we were on October 7, and the day after was radically different. Okay, then we have to ask the question, who were we will once the war began. And again, when we’re talking about large numbers of people, but what was the general mood feeling in the country? And then we have to fast forward as the war progressed, and it became longer and there were more and more casualties. What was the impact on the country and then now as many people like my son, and others who had been released from service who were right in the middle of combat, what is the re-entry like, as well, because we have a number of different kinds of psychological challenges. And I think one of the things that’s probably very hard for most people to get their head around, unless they’re in Israel, is that war is in our neighbourhood. You can commute to war, and you can commute back to war. And that is not a phenomenon that most people are familiar with, I grew up in the United States, I was in the US Army during the Vietnam War, you didn’t commute from Vietnam back to the States didn’t work like that. You were there in a place, experiencing all of the tension, the fear, the death. Here, people can be in the middle of the front, fighting, seeing their friends, experiencing losses and trauma, and then come home. So, we have a very unique psychological phenomenon here that I didn’t even know it exists anywhere else in the world, I really don’t. So, it takes an extraordinary amount of flexibility to be able to make these kinds of transitions. So anyway, to go back to my opening statement, which was who we were, on October 6, with an incredibly fractured nation, who we were on October 7, was a much more unified country, which says a great deal about sort of the psychological nature of us Jewish people, I guess, when we have a common enemy, we build together. When we don’t have a common enemy, we find enemies within. So, we always have some enemy. And I think that the feeling in the country post-October 7 or on October 7, was one of an extraordinary feeling like, of togetherness, this was a brutal attack. In addition to which the horror of it was such that as I wrote in my article, we never anticipated a pogrom within the boundaries of Israel. That was not something we would never use language. I mean, Jessica and I have both gone through the time of 2001-2002 that horrible Intifada in which there was bus bombings. And I mean, I knew seven or eight people who were murdered during that period of time and cafes were blowing up. That was horrible. But it was nothing compared to this. There was something about the assault on that day that just opened up deep, deep, deep historical wounds, I think in us Jewish people. And our response was, obviously very unified and very clear. So, I would say the beginning was obviously the psychological shock of it all, okay. And then the, feeling as I said, as guys who were in reserves, who had on October 6, saying they weren’t going to serve. On October 7, they were over subscribing their units. I mean, everyone came back, even the ones who said they would never, all the pilots who said they weren’t going to serve. So, there was a feeling of like, we’re in this together, this is our fight, we have to stand and support one another religious, non-religious for the judicial reform against judicial reform. It was an incredible experience okay. And I was saying to you beforehand, the Israeli people are incredible. We’re extraordinary. I have nothing but the most positive things to say about us about the volunteerism, as Jessica was talking about before about whether it’s, you know, peeking in dives, or whatever it is or mushrooms or what have you, the volunteerism is extraordinary. The feeling of support, there’s so many amazing stories, okay. Anyway, I’m talking a lot. And you know, I could probably talk for hours about all of this. But, you know, I’ll be quiet. I’ll leave it to Jessica to say some more. I have a lot more to say, though, about all this.

[7:02] Dr Theo Zenou 

I’m sure. So, what you did mention is the shock of October 7, for the Israeli people. And my question, Jessica, is how have artists processed this shock, processed this trauma, try to make sense of it. I think, obviously, if you want to understand society, the art is a very good place to understand the soul of a society. So, what’s it been like for Israeli artists, in response?

[7:28] Jessica Steinberg 

Right, so I’ll actually take it from my own perspective first, and that was that on October 7, the massacres took place, and the war broke out. And my boss asked me to pivot from arts and culture to covering the hostages, the 240 hostages that we knew of then, and I would say that for about a month, that was all I did, it’s what I continued to do. But within about three or four weeks of October 7, suddenly, I started hearing from the artists that I knew, that I knew of, or seeing what they were doing. I would say the first two examples that I’m thinking of – one is an artist named Shoshke Engelmayer, who is a very well-known satirist, here in Israel. He has an alter ego, his name is actually Zeev, and he has an alter ego named Shoshke, blonde lousy wig costumes, he shows up at every rally and protest. And the story that he told that I interviewed him about six weeks in was that on October 7, he was just stunned as everyone else. And he took black markers and white paper, you know, computer paper, and started drawing the images that we were all seeing. And he would post them on Instagram, and he called them his daily postcards. Within about two weeks, he did have his first colour one, one of kibbutz Be’eri sort of describing it, illustrating it, as it looked before the attacks. And what he has done since then, every single day since October 7, is post his daily postcard. It’s often hopeful, it’s always in colour. It’s often of released hostages, or messages that he’ll get from a family, and he’ll call them or meet with them and hear their story. It could be about a reservist family, it could be about a bereaved family, who has lost someone, it could be about just a regular person who’s trying to get through this period. But has a story to tell. And he illustrates that moment or that story post it on Instagram. And then it’s basically turned into at least a dozen exhibits all over the world, in schools, in museums, on streets. Telling the story of what’s happening right now. So that’s one artist that I really watched what he was doing, and it’s still unfolding, essentially. And then you have someone like Zoya Cherkassky, who’s a Ukrainian painter, very well known. She came to Israel from Kyiv when she was a teen. For instance, when the war broke out in Ukraine, she began painting images from her childhood, of Kyiv, of Ukraine of what she was hearing about and seeing in the news. And she did the same thing, essentially, with October 7, just the images that she was seeing, that we were all seeing, she painted those images. She now has an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York. And she also posts them on Instagram, mostly on social media, but really on Instagram, which has that instantaneous effect of your viewers, see your creations right away. They react to it and the artist is describing what we’re all feeling. And the third thing that I would say that really began happening, again, a good four to six weeks after October 7, that was, artists and curators started putting together shows, exhibits. Sometimes they were to raise money for the kibbutzim that had been attacked the Gaza border communities that were attacked. And the works were from before October 7, right. They were works that artists had done that resonated and talked about moments that were very familiar to us from what happened on October 7, they might have been of previous attacks that had happened, they might have been of the fields, the kibbutz farms that, you know, are in great need right now of volunteers, because all the Thai workers have left. There were also works that were done by people who live in the south, but were evacuated after October 7, but who are artists who live in those communities. And exhibit after exhibit now has been put up in art schools and museums, in the major museums and Tel Aviv Museum of Art in the Israel Museum. In the Haifa Museum of Art, of images and ideas, sometimes it’s the concept of home. What does home mean? Now that there are 200,000 evacuees all over Israel from the north and the south. So, in many ways, art has been the first way that people have been able to turn and look at what happened and emote and show the rest of us what they’re thinking about. And we can think about what we have in our mind as a result of what they’re thinking about, I think TV and movies and books, that’s going to take a lot longer to see what happens. Of course, there is just as one more example, there’s a documentary about the Nova party, using footage from the terrorists and from the victims. And the director, the filmmaker put it together as sort of a timeline of what happened that morning. But I don’t think of that as art, that is a documentary that is basically documenting what happened, I think it will take a long time for artists to really react to the events. And some people are able to do it much more quickly.

[13:32] Dr Theo Zenou 

So, art has provided both a way to process emotion and perhaps also some uplift. Dr Tobin, why is that important when an entire society is undergoing trauma at the same time to have these outlets to be able to process, understand put things into perspective? How is that influencing the psychology of the audience in this case?

[13:56] Dr Michael Tobin

Well, I can certainly speak as a writer, my immediate go to place, you know, I’m not an artist, I’m a writer, and on Saturday night as the news began to come in, I started writing and I wrote for hours and I start sending it out to everybody, you know, it was trying to process. So, you can process things visually, I process things through language. And I know that that is probably, you know, been one of the most important ways of staying healthy as well mentally so. I mean, there can be the experience of such helplessness in light of such harm. And one of the worst psychological spaces to be is to go into despair and helplessness. So, we each have to do what we have to do so for those who are artists and those who are writers, we cannot not do what we do. It’s something that we must, you know, we’re speaking from our soul, and we have to communicate. And I’m not a political writer, I’m a novelist, and I’m a writer of essays and it’s a different language. But it’s a language that we have to communicate as well, which is the language of the human experience here. And it’s been such a powerful human experience. And, I mean, I think that I have so many stories, I have sat with young men who have been in Gaza who have been in the most horrific situations, you know, cried with them, and heard their stories and experiences. And these are things that have to be recorded. And there’ll be a lot of that there’ll be so much processing, not just over the months over the years, this is such a seminal event. It’s impacting us. It’s such a profound level that we don’t even begin to understand.

[16:03] Jessica Steinberg 

Can I ask a question? Michael, we do a daily podcast at the Times of Israel, and I’m the host. And I was interviewing our health writer, and she was reporting on PTSD, that there are going to be an approximate, and that’s really a rough estimate of 30,000 PTSD cases, and while Israel is, you know, sort of at the forefront of PTSD care, at the same time, there aren’t even enough therapists and psychologists who are trained in PTSD care, and I was just wondering your thoughts about that?

[16:45] Dr Michael Tobin

I mean, I don’t know how they come up with those kinds of numbers. It’s very interesting. As a psychologist dealing with trauma, you can’t talk about PTSD now, because there’s no post trauma. And we’re, we’re right in the trauma stage. I don’t know how to answer a question like whether that’s accurate or not. I do know this, and I think that having dealt with a lot of Vietnam veterans as well, as a psychologist, one of the things that we have, that they didn’t have in the United States, is we have a sense of community, we have a sense of meaning, and that the losses that we incurred and the sacrifices that we made, were done with a sense of necessity and purpose. And I mean, our home that’s being under attack. I think that that’s probably the biggest antidote to PTSD is that sense of communal support, and that feeling of what I went through, it will serve a purpose. What scares the hell out of me, quite frankly, is when the politicians and all the infighting start happening, then it can weaken the fabric of the country. And then I think that PTSD what I’m saying it’s not scientific, it’s anecdotal, really. But I would say that PTSD has a greater chance of occurring. So, my concerns, how do we hold together as a nation? Do we start blaming one another? And then, the soldier who is on the ground has just been through hell, it impacts that individual greatly.


[18:37] Jessica Steinberg 

And his recovery, yeah.


[18:39] Dr Michael Tobin

But by the way, if I’m going to throw this in, because I think it’s so important also is that, I mean, one of the other concerns of trauma is the families as well. There’s been a significant amount of stress on marriages and families because of this work, and when you have something as dramatic as this happening, and as I said we have this commuting phenomenon that has occurred. You have the fault lines, whatever fault lines there were in relationships can get exposed. So, the families themselves also need a lot of support, it’s been really rough on the women, it really has been. I mean, I have three daughters and a daughter in law, and they were amazing, amazing. While their husbands were all in Milu’im, in reserves, and it’s hard on them. In fact, next week, my daughter in law and daughter and some other women are all going to Thailand for a week of R&R


[19:43] Jessica Steinberg 

Yeah, that’s great.

[19:47] Dr Michael Tobin

Yeah, definitely necessary.

[19:50] Dr Theo Zenou 

And so how about children, children who are 7,8,9,10, 11, who are at school while still trying to form an emotional life, how has the war, probably are too young to fully process all the stakes and the scope like adult, have they been faring through this? And as there have been specific programs or teachings to help children, especially young children deal with this?

[20:17] Dr Michael Tobin

Do you want to answer that Jessica or shall I?


[20:21] Jessica Steinberg 

I have some thoughts. But go first, just as the expert and the professional.


[20:27] Dr Michael Tobin

On a personal basis, so I share this house with my youngest daughter and her four children. And my oldest granddaughter in this house is a nine-year-old. And during the first days, when there were a lot of sirens, and she was in terror, she was sleeping in the bed with her parents, this was I think fairly ubiquitous. I mean, many of the children were going through very, very, very scary, difficult times. And the uncertainty of it all was very challenging. But I would say now, life is pretty much back to normal. Would you say the same thing, Jessica?

[21:08] Jessica Steinberg 

Absolutely, I have 15-year-old twin sons. I always say the fact that we have 15-year-olds in this house really saves us, because they’re able to sort of go in and out of war and back to life. There wasn’t regular school for the first few weeks, one son, his history teacher was killed, in reserve duty in the north, another son, his former principal was killed. And those were very upsetting, disturbing events that we still talk about now. But at the same time, they’re able to weather the storm in a sense and they’re not thinking about their own army service at 15. You know, nephews of mine are in reserve duty, but they’re able to also go back and play their video games and be with their friends, and I think that really saves them.

[22:07] Dr Michael Tobin

You know, I would agree with it. I think that we have achieved a certain level of normalcy as much as that may sound strange. In the beginning, there was no one sitting in the cafes, and Israel is a cafe country. And now, people sitting in cafes, I think it’s a human need to feel a sense of normalcy. And I think that we’re doing that it’s how we cope with life.

[22:39] Jessica Steinberg 

I would add one more thought. I think we’ve all referred to this volunteerism, which is, the agricultural volunteerism. Just a funny anecdote. So not so funny. The reason there’s the need for so many volunteers is that the 1000s of Thai workers, the field hands who come from Thailand, to work here to earn money to bring back to their families all fled, because there are still about half a dozen Thai hostages in Gaza. And there were Thai workers who were killed on the seventh. But in the meantime, there are many fewer field hands and Israeli farmers needed help. So, Israelis basically have become volunteers in the farms in the fields. So much so that I know that in one of my son’s schools, he’s in ninth grade. They didn’t have permission for under 16-year-olds to volunteer. And they’ve been working on this, the school has been working on this for months, because the kids wanted to volunteer and pick oranges or lemons, or whatever it would be. And just last week, his school got permission for the whole school to go and volunteer for one farm. And it was a highlight of the month, of the week, which is, you know, sort of on one hand, it offered them a sense of resilience, like we’re talking about. And it was seen as a highlight in a sense of, I imagine it’s going to be a highlight of the school year to have regular volunteering at farms. Yes, it’s a day out of the classroom. But it’s a day to be able to take part in this thing that they’ve seen so many other people do. And I think that plays back and forth to what we’ve been speaking about.

[24:22] Dr Michael Tobin

I mean, I want to add to what you’re saying, Jessica, I think, again, those are the antidotes to severe trauma, able to participate, we’re able to make a difference when you’re not passive. It makes a huge, huge, huge difference. It really does.


[24:38] Dr Theo Zenou 

The role of humour and joking in order to process trauma. There is an Israeli show. You’re going to have to forgive my accent here called Eretz Nehederet, a wonderful country in English.

[24:59] Jessica Steinberg 

Eretz Nehederet, you did very well.

[25:07] Dr Theo Zenou 

Which has been trying to defuse tension by creating numerous skits around the war or the reaction to the war abroad. What role does humour play to bind people together in a we’re all in the same boat here, basically, and to be able to joke about something can help you create some perspective on how horrible things aren’t right? Have comedians played a part on social media in creating humour around the war.

[25:47] Dr Michael Tobin

Jessica, I’ll defer to you on this one okay.

[25:50] Jessica Steinberg 

So Eretz Nehederet is a wildly popular show that they have, they dip back into their satire quickly. The first skit I’m thinking about is one where there was a cab driver. He’s a recurring character. And he’s driving reservists as Michael was speaking about, he’s basically driving them back and forth from the front, back to their homes, and making fun in a sense of exactly what Michael was speaking about. This tension between, in this commuting war, the tension of being at the warfront at the battlefront, and then coming back home to your Shabbat table on Friday night. And your whole family is sitting around having chicken soup and challah and whatever else. And your head is filled with the sounds of gunfire or artillery or what have you. So, it’s a real phenomenon. And when that plays out, sort of in this comic skit, I would say there are comics and satirists even like the one that I was mentioning before the artist who’s drawing who are attempting very carefully, to poke fun at the parts that can be poked fun at. No one’s going to make fun of hostages and hostage families. That situation is too complex and too painful. And we don’t know what’s going to be. But there are things within the Army. Politicians are always fodder for laughter among Israeli comics. And, they’re also I’d say there’s more than a strain of seriousness that might not have been there in quite the same way beforehand. Before October 7, Israelis like to make poke fun at everything. But right now, you’re not going to laugh at everything. Which is why going back to what I was saying earlier, it’s funny, I’m about to interview a screenwriter on Wednesday, he happens to be the husband and father of two released hostages. He’s very well known; his name is Ken Victoria. He’s a very well-known comic writer for a lot of Israeli TV shows. And I know that he’s been working on things. But those TV shows those. I doubt there’s a film yet. You can’t really put it out there yet because we don’t know what we can laugh at yet. Right? There’s sort of a limit. And maybe, Michael, you want to speak to this? On one hand, it’s good to laugh. On the other hand, you can’t really laugh at everything yet. It doesn’t feel right.

[28:44] Dr Michael Tobin

I mean, I think that there’s another piece to this. I mean, this has been true of, you know, of soldiers for as long as there have been soldiers. Having been a soldier for a few years myself, you develop a certain language and a way of looking at life from a perspective of certainty, you have your language and that’s true for any army. It’s certainly true of the Israeli army, the soldiers, so even in the difficulties, there’s always humour to be found. And you have to find that humour. Because you were talking earlier about whining and complaining, so much of the humour is a form of whining and complaining, whether it’s the horrific food that they’re getting there, or whatever it might be. It’s just, I got a lot of images and comments back from guys in Gaza and some of the stuff was just hilarious. I mean, it was really funny, but it’s all black humour. It really is, but it keeps you going. And you know, I want to add something to that because the soldiers have their own kind of culture and it’s a culture that gets created instantly. Okay, because they’re sharing so much stress together. They have their own way of being together, it’s extremely intense. And that also goes to the question we were raising before about the commuting challenge to go back to this very tight knit group of, you know, soldiers, brothers, and arms. And then to go home, you can’t say what’s going on over that, you know, people in the home front don’t understand what they’re going through, in fact, mostly guys don’t even want to talk about it. They really don’t. And a number of guys didn’t even want to come home. They’d rather stay with the unit. It was too hard to go make the transition. You know, young kids there, they need their father, they’re all over them and it’s very difficult. Some of the some of the guys have had big, big challenges making this transition.

[30:52] Jessica Steinberg

But I will add one comment, one of those moments of comic relief among soldiers. That was at the beginning of the war, they all grew moustaches because the October 7 was most reminiscent of the last tragic surprise, which was the Yom Kippur War in 1973. And soldiers were just reminded as they were called up on October 7, 360,000, reservists were called up. And they were reminded of that last time of 1973, 50 years earlier, Israel was marking the 50-year anniversary exactly at that moment. And all the photos of soldiers and 1973 everyone had moustaches because that was the style. So, reservists can have any hair or facial hair that they want, whereas conscripted soldiers cannot. So, all the reservists entire units grew bushy moustaches, in those first days of the war, and they would post videos on TikTok and Instagram, growing the moustaches, shaving, shaping the moustaches. And it was one of these ways, it is funny, moustaches are funny in 2023-2024. So, it was one of these ways of poking fun at the intense scary reality that they were in.

[32:14] Dr Michael Tobin 

You know, it touches me, I think if my son had grown a moustache in his unit, his wife, my daughter in law would have killed him.

[32:21] Jessica Steinberg

There are a lot of women, a lot of women had that reaction.

[32:27] Dr Theo Zenou

In this case is both a way to release tension and create a sense of belonging, right, create a sense of we’re all in this together. We’re all doing it together. And that seems very important. Now, I know it’s probably very difficult right now for any of us to imagine the day after what happens when one way or another fighting will cease at some point in the future.

[32:54] Dr Michael Tobin 

They say in Arabic inshallah.

[32:57] Dr Theo Zenou

Exactly. So once that has happened, you mentioned that the unity of the nation, which has been very helpful psychologically for people could collapse, right, the old political rivalries and the old score settlings. And all of that, at that point, what will need to be done to foster resilience and to avoid the PTSD you mentioned? What are some concrete measures that people families, schools, universities could take?

[33:31] Dr Michael Tobin 

Look the optimist in me where, you know, a crisis is an opportunity for growth. So, the optimist in me and more than an optimist because I’ve been, you know, speaking to various people, hopes that this country will go through a substantive change. From the political front, whether it’s the limitations on turmoil on how much a prime minister can serve to the possibility of a constitution to the multiple, multiple areas of change that need to happen in this country. Now, if this crisis were to lead to substantive change, I think it would have a significant positive impact on the country. But if it’s just business as usual, it goes back to the same you know, tribalism that we’ve had in this country before. Then and at the same political BS that we’ve had to endure for so long, then it will be very discouraging, to say the least, Jessica I’m sure you know more about it than I do. But I know that there are grassroots movements even among guys from reserves now, who are working and their gaining a lot of traction to change things in this country. Now, I believe that the change is not going to come from the top down, change will come from the bottom up. I think that the country and the people in this country demand and need change and we won’t go into all the areas that that’s necessary, but it’s substantial. Okay. And that’s one piece and the obvious is, you know, again, we’re not going to have a whole long discussion on the political front, what is the structure that will lead to peace, if such a thing is possible. But there has to be a movement in areas, there really does, and without that, it will be, just my opinion, very, very frustrating and psychologically very painful.

[35:51] Dr Theo Zenou

Jessica, do you have a sense that filmmakers, writers, artists, are already thinking about 1,2,3,4 years down the line, you’re talking about the screenwriter working on some projects, they feel like they will have a responsibility in shaping public discourse in society in the years to come, perhaps because of how critical these wars been?

[36:15] Jessica Steinberg 

I mean, I wouldn’t say they’re already involved in, you know, in what Michael is describing, basically, in other words, there are these movements. In many ways. There’s the movement that began last year with the anti-overhaul protests. And those were sort of large groups that kind of sprang up out of nowhere in different cities, and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and in Haifa, smaller ones, bigger ones, but really around the same issue. And those people like I know, I live in Jerusalem like Michael does, and the group of people it’s called safeguarding our home. That’s the name of their group and they’re the ones who organised the anti-judicial overhaul rallies. Right after October 7, what did they do? They dove into volunteerism, and they’re made up of a lot of different people. That’s the point that I took to answer your question, in a sense, I can think of the people in that group, there’s a couple of lawyers and some law students. There’s a chef, there’s a poet, there are a few academics. I’m thinking of a few small business owners, I mean, really, they just, they run the gamut of people and types and characters. And they dove into volunteering. What did that mean in Jerusalem, as it meant to many other places, helping all these 1000s evacuees who came to Jerusalem as well as to other cities. That meant packing food for soldiers, it meant cooking food for soldiers, finding clothing and basic goods. And then as those needs were taken care of, and helping kids, creating schools for kids, creating kindergartens, really every single kind of need that you can think of, as those needs were taken care of. They then have gone back to some protesting. A lot of them are involved in protests calling for new elections, something that Michael was alluding to, but a lot of them are also involved in this huge volunteer effort to help the hostage families. A non-profit sprung up 72 hours after October 7. And again, made up of every kind of person, you can think of, former diplomats and lawyers and public relations and high-tech people and artists, a lot of artists, because people weren’t necessarily looking to create something for themselves, or even for the world. They were looking to help, to help those who had been so badly hurt. And that is another organisation. It’s called the hostages and missing families forum. And there are 1000s of people in it, who are literally volunteers, and have been so for over four months, helping the families of the hostages. So, I think we’re going to see artistic efforts coming out. I think we will see the films and the TV series, and all of it, but I think for the moment, we’re seeing people putting their efforts where they can be most felt right now. And that is doing this that is doing like someone like me, you know, there are podcasters who are podcasting about those who were injured and affected and continued to be affected by the events. It’s just like Michael says, it’s going to be a very long process it’s going to take it’s going to be years as we see the fallout and the creative fallout, the creations that will come out of this. I hope that answered your question. I know I went in a few different directions.

[40:07] Dr Michael Tobin 

I wanted to sort of piggyback on what you just said, Jessica, you know, I’m thinking about you’re from Paris. Okay, so you know, in like, in the 20s, in Paris after World War One was an extraordinary creative period. Ming Wei and James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso, I would assume that the same is going to happen here. There’s just a tremendous outpouring of creative energies, you know, in following whenever this will be over. Right? I mean, this is rather complex, you do understand that Theo.

[40:50] Jessica Steinberg 

We all would like to know when it’s over, but we don’t quite know when that will be. So, like, you know, like we’re saying, so we have the cup of coffee out at the cafe. But some people don’t feel comfortable doing that because we’re not in the after yet. We’re not at that point yet. You know what I mean?

[41:13] Dr Theo Zenou

So, there is a very interesting question that came in the Q&A, which I think follows through on our discussion. Right now, we’ve been talking about Israelis in Israeli society. But obviously, Israel is a country in a wider world. And Israel has very much turned toward the world in a way of war, public opinion, and coverage in the news of Israel in other countries. How have people perceived, let’s call it the West, coverage in the media? Do people feel like they’re being supported or not supported by people in the West? And how is that impacting the mentality, is there a sense of a siege mentality? Well, in this, nobody understands us. Or is there a sense that, they are allies out there who understand the situation, who understand how complicated this is, and who are able to treat it with nuance?

[42:05] Dr Michael Tobin 

About two weeks ago, I’m sitting at a Shabbat table in my daughter’s house in Mazkeret Batya. Okay, it’s in the centre of the country. So, there must have been about 10 or 15 of her friends. They’re all in their late 30s, early 40s, many of them have been in Milu’im and in the reserves. And so, I said to them, thinking that the answer would be what I anticipated, which I was totally wrong. And I said, tell me, how do you feel about the press from abroad? So now I was expecting them to say, I don’t really care, you know, but that wasn’t the response. The response from almost every single person, these are very intelligent, well-educated individuals, they said, you know, you just said it before, we always felt we were part of the world, we travel all over the place, United States, Europe, many of us speak multiple languages, big European languages as well. We have our, the left wing in Israel has been connected to the left wing abroad and the youth, we have a youth culture that’s very, very Western. It was like, they were in shock, they could not believe they felt very hurt. This is my only small survey that I’ve done. But I suspect that since they’re a pretty good cross section of educated Israelis, that they probably speak for many people. But I think that the feeling was we really are alone and it’s very painful. And it’s not fair, there was a genuine feeling it’s just not fair. How could they not see it? That we’re held to a different standard than everyone else? And I think that was very painful. And maybe because I was the old guy in the room. My response was, guys, do you know anything about Jewish history? You know, you think this is a new phenomenon. You’ve just been living through relatively good times. So, I think there is that sort of kind of almost myopic view on things that is very hard. Very, very hard and listen, well, who was it, was it Hertzl who said, we want to have Jewish policemen and Jewish prostitutes and we just want to be a normal country.

[42:06] Dr Michael Tobin 

That might have been Jabotinsky, not sure.

[44:48] Dr Michael Tobin 

I thought it.

[44:50] Jessica Steinberg 

It was Ben-Gurion. That’s Ben-Gurion.

[44:52] Dr Michael Tobin 

I don’t know, I’m not sure it might have been Ben Gurion. But guess what, it’s not happening. I mean, we do have all those things, but it’s not, we’re just not a normal country, what can we say?


[45:01] Jessica Steinberg Dr 

I would also add to that I hear Michael saying, and it’s a question I get a lot. I would say that I think Israelis do feel a lot of support from the Jewish community around the globe. A great sense of support as much as there are the younger generation of Jews are very conflicted about how to view Israel and Gaza and that is a whole separate issue. But I would say at the same time, there is a great sense of support, especially because of the US government, for instance, where we happen to both be from, great sense of support from President Biden from his administration. And that has really, yes, that really rings through I would say, but it’s complicated, do Israelis read other media, though. I think, for a lot of Israelis, it’s more about social media. I don’t think a lot of Israelis are reading the London Times or The New York Times or The Washington Post, you know, American Israeli like us. Yes, do. You know, as we call ourselves Anglos, we might read the media that we came from, but Israelis, for the most part, are not as in touch with it.

[46:25] Dr Theo Zenou

And the sense of, isolation from the wider world, not necessarily from the Jewish Diaspora, but from the younger generation, especially here in the West. Do you think it’s creating despair by the long-term prospect for Israel? Or do you think at this stage people are not even thinking about this, you’re just trying to get through the next few weeks?

[46:54] Jessica Steinberg 

You’re saying the despair of the young Israelis?

[46:57] Dr Theo Zenou

Is it creating despair in Israel over the fact that in the coming years or decades, Israel might not have such strong allies, as Biden right now, or other countries?

[47:10] Jessica Steinberg 

I mean, I think that there, I do think that the current issues are so intensive here that people are much more focused on what is happening here. And getting through this period. A lot remains, obviously, as you pointed out, you know, what will happen in the 2024 elections in the US? As we know, in England, of course, there’s it swayed now to the to the other end, France has been more supportive, I think, than people expected it to be, for instance. Macron has been very involved. Germany certainly has been supportive. Listen, the younger generation, it’s a big question. Things are not seeing the way that they once were, as we all know. And if young America, if young Jews around the world are conflicted about how to look at Israel, then how are young people around the world who don’t have any prior connection to Israel? Going to look at it? But I personally would still in all would say, I don’t think that’s where the major focus for people is that I don’t think that’s what they’re worrying about right now because there’s too many other things to worry about.

[48:25] Dr Theo Zenou

Of course. So, we have another question that asked how the traumatic events have shaped the political orientation of Israelis? This is a very broad question. But at this stage, as it even shaped the political orientation, we will find out once the dust has settled again, has it had any sort of impact?

[48:56] Jessica Steinberg 

Michael wants to take a stab.

[48:57] Dr Michael Tobin 

I think that initially, I don’t know that there was a right or left or centre, there was just one country that was fighting a very, very destructive enemy. You know, human beings and Israelis are, you know, who they are. And we will go back to being highly political. And I think there will be obviously a hell to be paid. Again, when that mythical day arrives when the war is over, and we can begin to understand and take a good hard look as to why this happened. How did it happen, and who’s responsible, whose head should be chopped? But we’re already seeing something we didn’t see in the early days of this war, which is the politicisation of the hostage situation which has become highly political. So, I have no doubt, sadly enough that things will get hotly contested at, you know, in the near future, okay. But as I said before, though, I’m also hoping that there will be significant political change, not just business as usual, which is just when, you know, the left blaming the right and the right, blaming the left and the centre blaming both sides or whatever, it’s, you know, I think that maybe the optimist in me believes that we will have a more intelligent outcome. I don’t know if you share that, Jessica.

[50:34] Jessica Steinberg 

I’m also an optimist. I do hope for that. I do think you know, there’s a lot of polls, obviously, and the polls show that there has been a shift away from the current government. But the current government is the one that is in the house and in power and running the show right now. And it doesn’t look right now, like there’s going to be you know, there certainly isn’t any date for elections, that would be moving it up any sooner. And it is hard to say, it is really hard to say until you have to sort of get all or most of the soldiers out, get the hostages home, have some kind of calm, and then see what happens politically. It is a government that I would have thought would not have been as stable as it is right now. Over four months in and it is, it is still running the show. And that has a big effect on things, you know, the longer this current government is, is running the show and the war continues. That makes the current government look like they know what they’re doing. And that creates a dynamic and you know, a sort of a present that makes it harder to argue with it or makes people have a harder time arguing with it.

[52:12] Dr Theo Zenou

Thank you, I think we actually have reached the end of our session, but we were able to have quite a nice arc and to understand the stakes, to understand the wide-ranging impact that the war is having right now in Israeli society but also how people have pulled together have unified, have volunteered and I’ve created a real strong sense of community. So, I hope the mythical day arrives sooner rather than later. And I hope that when it does your prescription and recommendations will somewhat sprinkle into life. But thank you very much for your time. You should obviously all check out Jessica Steinberg’s articles and upcoming articles and podcasts and read Dr Michael Tobin’s piece. He has a book coming out soon. And I guess if anybody needs a psychologist, you can also write to him.

[53:12] Dr Michael Tobin 

Fortunately, it’s what we call an evergreen business. It doesn’t matter whether those are good times or bad times, it doesn’t change much okay.

[53:20] Dr Theo Zenou

That’s true of journalism as well. So, both of you are.

[53:24] Jessica Steinberg 

We always have it we always have jobs.

[53:26] Dr Michael Tobin 

Exactly, very steady jobs. Okay.

[53:32] Jessica Steinberg

Thanks. Thanks to both of you. Thank you, this was really interesting.


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