October 7th. The change of narrative.

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD
7 min readDec 23, 2023

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Some weeks ago, a lady artist from Hastings gave me a bunch of stickers she produced. They have the slogan “Free Gaza from Hamas” printed. You are welcome to pick some and use them as you wish.

Who disagrees with the message? Who disputes that Hamas is the root cause of the war?

Apparently, someone disagrees. A few meters from here, an anonymous hand has erased the last two words “from Hamas” from one of the stickers, so now it reads “Free Gaza”.

This person sends a message to those passing those edited stickers walking towards the synagogue. S/he believes that people under the rule of Hamas can live in freedom. Technically speaking, this person (who I am sure is reading this sermon) has rewritten history.

The act of rewriting history is not at all unusual. We find a famous example in the story of Joseph.

Let me recap. Joseph has been sold into slavery by his brothers. He ended up in Egypt, where he has made an extraordinary career: he is now an influential minister at the court of Pharao. After many years, because of a famine, Joseph’s brothers are forced to go to Egypt to purchase food. They show up at Pharao’s palace. Joseph recognises them; they do not recognise him.

Joseph takes revenge. First, he throws his brothers into prison -to scare them. Then he liberates them and sends them back home with the order to bring back Binyamin, the youngest brother, if they want to purchase other food. The brothers go home and then return together with Binyamin. Now, Joseph can enact his plan. He gives a lot of provisions to the brothers, but he also frames them, hiding a precious goblet in Binyamin’s sack. When they are about to leave Egypt, the soldiers arrest them and bring them in front of Joseph.

Now they are in trouble. Joseph pretends that little Beniamin, his father’s beloved, remains a slave in Egypt to compensate for the offences.

Yehuda, the brother of Joseph who years ago had the idea to sell him into slavery vayggash, -mind the word, it means: he approaches Joseph. Yehuda gives a peroration. He tells the story from the brothers’ point of view: we came here looking for food, you asked about our family, we told you of our little brother, then we came here with him, and now you charge us with theft. We did not steal anything; I know you will never believe us, but anyway… no, we will not leave our little brother with you. Take me instead.

That is the moment when Joseph’s plan crumbles. He burst into tears. He reveals himself to his brothers. He says vayygashu, again that word, come closer to me, look who I am; I am the one whom you have sold into slavery, but don’t be upset, I am not taking revenge; now I realise that God has sent you to me. God created the famine so we could meet again, and I could see how much you have changed. I see that now you are willing to risk your life to defend your brother. God has put things in motion so that we can reconcile. God knows more than us. We are part of something bigger.

This is the moment when history is being rewritten. Joseph had his plan, based on his narrative. His brothers have done horrible things to him; it’s time for them to experience what he has experienced: prison and slavery… The brothers, when they talk among themselves in prison, mention the horrible things they have done. They wonder whether what is happening to them is a consequence of their past misdeed. They begin to see another narrative.

The peroration of Yehuda is desperate and completely genuine. The brothers don’t know what is happening; they are terrified: they are strangers at the mercy of a powerful and unpredictable man. But all of a sudden, a new narrative enters their mind. Joseph reveals this new narrative. God has decided this for us. Joseph says: God sent me here to save your lives and give you food for sustenance. Joseph also sees his brothers’ regret. His narrative changes, too.

They all understand that to be part of something bigger, God has designed all the events.

The act of rewriting history and the realisation of being part of something bigger is part of the human experience. It is one of the most useful resources of the human mind. It allows us to rewrite painful experiences and gives us the resources to move on.

It is not always good. The person who edited the sticker outside of our synagogue rewrote history. For him/her, the rule of Hamas means freedom. (By the way, is this person right now asking for a ceasefire? What do you think?).

The pogrom of October 7 is having an impact on us Jews. It is one of those events that forces us to change our narrative and rewrite our history. It has shattered so many certainties. And I am not talking only about the defence strategy of the Israelis, which was shown to be a failure.

The massacre of October 7 affects us in the Diaspora as well.

In this city, people shout that the massacre was beautiful. The commemorations of the victims have been disrupted by vandals carrying the Palestinian flag (what a surprise). Our voices of mourning are overcome every day by the slogans of Hamas supporters. All over England, all over the Western world, things are worse. In Sydney, Left-wing militants and Islamist fundamentalists shout in the street that the time has come to gas the Jews. In American Universities, Jewish students are forced to go into hiding — and the principals call this horror “freedom of speech”. They babble nonsense about “the context”. It’s funny how antisemites always invoke “the context” to justify their actions, but “the context”, this mythological sanitiser, is never invoked in favour of the Jews.

Following the massacre, we are confronted with the horror and the enormity of Left-wing Islamist antisemitism. We see how Palestine is used as a pretext to attack Jews in the Diaspora. Even I am shocked and have been preaching about this danger for ages. It leaves me speechless to see how many people actually demand that the State of Israel disappear and call this tragedy peace.

The horrible events of October 7 forced many Jews to rewrite the narrative. There is a larger picture we must look at. But which one?

Did October 7 wake us up to the dangers of -generically- racism? This seems to be the persuasion of those who cannot stand against antisemitism alone but feel the need to add something else. And so we have vigils against “antisemitism and other form of racism” and demonstrations “against antisemitism and Islamophobia”, organised by people who, even now, cannot resist blaming Israel and babble nonsense about “Israeli apartheid” (the same language as Hamas).

Is that ideology of generic anti-racism the “something bigger” we belong to? I dare to disagree. I don’t think that the danger we are facing now has the quite generic name of “racism” or “intolerance”. We are facing a spike in antisemitism.

Islamophobia is a problem; no one denies that. But demonstrations are not called in front of mosques. In contrast, here in Hove, anti-Israel demonstrations meet in Palmeira Square, down the road from here, at a stone’s throw not from one, not from two, but from three synagogues. Muslim students do not have to hide the signs of their faith. While Jewish students are required for safety reasons to cover the Magen David in their school’s uniform. No Muslim celebration has been cancelled. The number of Chanukah public candle lighting cancelled for security reasons in England in the past weeks is chilling.

These days, it is pointless to lump together Islamophobia and antisemitism. Those who do so do not help us Jews. Islamophobia is a constant problem (and by the way, British Jews are one of the less Islamophobic minorities in the UK, as every poll shows); antisemitism, on the other hand, is, these days, an ongoing emergency, and it does not show any sign of decreasing.

This is the reality we face since October 8. This is the narrative we have to rewrite. Contrary to what we used to believe, the ideology of generic anti-racism does not shelter us from antisemitism. And that bigger thing we have painfully discovered to be part of is not the assorted collection of British minorities, all equally threatened and who all must stand together.

We have seen that the threatened minorities do not stand together with us Jews. Rather, we have discovered that we belong to the Jewish people. That the pain and the anguish of Israeli Jews are our pain and suffering. We feel their same pain. We are threatened by the same enemy: Islamic fundamentalism.

Think, again, about the story of Joseph. He has made a promising career in a totally non-Jewish environment. He rules over one of the most prominent nations in the world. And all of a sudden, these Israelites, those who have mistreated him, against whom he nurtures a deep and legitimate desire for revenge, show up at his place, literally in front of him. Starving and in despair.

There are many Jews like Joseph out there. They may have good reasons for anger and resentment. They have moved away from the community. But the events of October 7 -and the sight of Jewish teenagers slaughtered by Islamic fundamentalists- are making them rewrite their history. They understand that there is something bigger they belong to: the Jewish destiny, to which we all Jews belong.

October 7, 2023, will be remembered as one of the saddest days of Jewish history. On October 8, the following day, many Jews woke up to their heritage. We must welcome them. To join voices and to proclaim together that our enemies celebrate death, but we celebrate life.

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.