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Day 145: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

One-hundred-forty-five years ago today, one of the greatest minds of all time was born: Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity and a central figure in the revolutionary reshaping of modern physics in the 20th century.

Exactly 202 years separate the birth of one Jewish genius and the death of another. Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century scholar who significantly influenced modern biblical criticism and established himself as one of the most important and radical philosophers of the early modern period, died on the same Hebrew date on which Einstein was born. Also, on this date 48 years ago, René Samuel Cassin, a French Jewish jurist and Nobel Prize laureate died. Cassin co-authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A Dutch Jew, a German Jew, and a French Jew each granted the world the treasures of thought and knowledge in their own fields, promoting them as groundbreaking, enlightened, and just, and enriching humanity. Or at least giving humanity the tools to become the best possible version of itself.

For generations in our history lessons, we learned about the persecution of Jews—from the days of Haman in Persia who sought to destroy all the Jews to the Nazis in Germany during the Holocaust, who sought to do the same. Across continents, throughout centuries, under different leaders, “justified” by various excuses, Jews have long been a persecuted people.

As much as we learned and read about this oppression, torment, and discrimination, and despite all the testimonies we heard, the concept of being persecuted and hated remained theoretical for many of us. We had not ever really experienced what it feels like to be afraid, to think twice before wearing Jewish jewelry, putting on a kippah, speaking Hebrew in public, or even introducing ourselves with a name that clearly sounds Jewish.

We do now.

The October 7 massacre changed Israel, the Jewish people, and, in many respects, the world. It awakened dormant demons and, once again, brought Jew hatred to the surface—neither hidden nor disguised but out into the open, in broad daylight, without any fear of repercussions for being antisemitic.

Of course, it is unacceptable to discriminate against any people and politically incorrect to condemn other cultures. Racism isn’t tolerated under any circumstances. Freedom of expression and speech are basic, supreme values. Yes, it’s all true—until it concerns the Jews.

When such acts are directed against Israel and Jews, it’s okay to condemn, express hatred, racism, and violence, and still be considered liberal, enlightened, educated, and open-minded.

See the contradiction?

Apparently, many don’t. Or perhaps I should say: “Unfortunately, many don’t.”

Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 45 times, won four times, and hosted three times. Israelis are big Eurovision fans, and being part of the competition means a lot to many of us. Unfortunately, none of that will happen this year. Eurovision officials have disqualified Israel’s song for being too political.

In every artistic competition or exhibit, ensuring artistic freedom is paramount, sometimes even sacrosanct—until it involves Israel and the Jews. Since October 7, double standards, contradictory standards, and hypocrisy have characterized every discourse associated with Israel, and it has already been said sarcastically: “Me too, unless you are a Jew.”

The Eurovision Song Contest is all about celebrating culture, music, ethnicity, and diversity. It’s a stage that leaves behind prejudices and encourages each country, to be itself, share the beauty of its culture, and bring the many sounds of music together on one shared platform, uniting and uplifting through the beauty of art, which knows no bounds.

In past years, the competition included songs with blatantly strong messages, ridiculous costumes, and weird productions, but they all were accepted and welcomed as part of artistic freedom.

Not this year—at least not as far as Israel is concerned.

The Israeli song, “October Rain,” has been disqualified because it allegedly contains a political message.

Read these lyrics and judge for yourself:

Writers of history stand by me
Look into my eyes and you will see
People leave without saying goodbye
Someone stole the moon tonight
took my light
Now everything is black and white

Who is the fool who told you boys don’t cry?
Hours and hours and flowers
Life is not a game for cowards
Why does time go crazy?
I lose my mind every day
Clinging to this mysterious journey

Dancing up a storm
We have nothing to hide
take me home
Leave the world behind
And I promise you never again

I’m still soaked from the October rain
Live in fantasy
in ecstasy
Everything is meant to be
We will die, but love wont

I’m still soaked from the October rain
There is no air left to breathe
I’m not here, I have no space
They were all fine children, each, and everyone.”

October rain by Keren Peles, Avi Ohayon and Stav Begger.

What are the political messages expressed in these lyrics?

Do you see anything besides deep pain?

Does the song’s disqualification express anything other than a familiar hypocrisy with a grain of uneasiness to look the pain in the eye and allow it space? Or is it simply because Israelis are persona non grata and the lyrics are yet another miserable excuse?

How sad, how familiar, and how terrible that we are no longer surprised.

What is it about us that attracts so much fire? What is it that arouses emotions that make everyone the world over feel that when it comes to Israel, they can express a firm opinion?

Our Palestinian neighbors in Gaza received medical treatment in Israel for years. Likewise, leaders of Arab countries were flown secretly to receive treatment in Israel. Israeli doctors shuttled to every corner of the world to provide medical treatment to people of all nationalities and religions.

From Abraham, who gave the world monotheism, the belief in one God, to Moses who led the Israelites from Egypt after 400 years of slavery and granted the world the concept of freedom, all the way through Spinoza, Einstein, and Cassin, three giants, who granted the world three fundamentals of an enlightened society: knowledge and science; thought and spirit; and law and justice—the Jewish people have always contributed to the development of humanity.

Although we were taught that a good name is awarded to those who do good, many can’t make the connection between a positive deed and a worthy reputation.

So, we will not sing in the Eurovision competition this year.

Who can even sing anyway, except sad songs about the October rain? The rain of tears that has not stopped since that black day, 145 gloomy nights ago.

When the time comes to wipe the tears and look forward to a better tomorrow, we will raise our heads with pride, return to singing, and remember that it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of us. We know who we are, and we will never forget it.

We, the people who gave the world Avraham, Moshe, Rambam, Janusz Korczak, Marc Chagall, Leonard Cohen, and so many others, do not need the Eurovision stage. With or without the world’s sympathy or approval, we will sing at the top of our voice: “Am Yisrael Chai!

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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