Well, Let’s Talk Israel...

In the wake of the October 7th terrorist attack on Israel and the ensuing war with Hamas, The Well responded by creating space for learning — to help anchor ourselves in this moment of great tumult, anxiety and pain. The Well exists to help foster an accessible, inclusive, relationship-driven community for young adults and young families that uses Jewish wisdom and ritual to help community members flourish as human beings. Last week, The Well ran two programs called “Well, Let’s Talk Israel.” In total, The Well has run four of these programs. The first in May 2021 after the Hamas-Israel confrontation, the second after the Israeli Parliament judiciary decision earlier this year, then two this past week.

The conversations are designed to help participants articulate and develop better questions as they grapple with practical fears, ethical tensions, knowledge-gaps around the history of Israel and Palestine, and the madness of propaganda on social media. The conversations are organized into three parts.

Part 1: Questions and Introductions

After laying out ground rules and gaining consensus for creating a safe and respectful space for speaking and listening, participants take time (usually 10-15 minutes) to reflect and articulate their questions. Then we introduce ourselves by way of sharing and contextualizing the questions. For example one might say: “This is my question and here’s how I got to this question.”

Part 2: Organize and Identify 

Led by the facilitator, the group organizes all of the questions into three categories: 

Nuts and Bolts: Questions that require more information or research to answer, but they are answerable. 

Ethical, Moral, and Existential Tensions: Questions that we are wrestling with and sorting out, and no matter how much more information you gather, the tension of the question will endure.

Call to Action or to Another Person: These are questions with answers that can be best actualized in conversation with another person.

Part 3: Sharpen and Next Steps 

After this process, the group uses one or two of the example questions and breaks it down into actionable steps and a sharper question.

In the end, participants consistently feel like they’ve moved the needle forward and gained more clarity — if not comfort — around an impossibly complicated and deeply painful subject.

One participant shared: "This event was the first time since October 7th that I didn’t feel so completely alone in the tensions and confusion I have around the deeply unsettling events of the war… I’m grateful to have had space to funnel my anxieties into specific questions and then to consider the correct pathways for addressing those questions — that is much more actionable than getting paralyzed with fear and doom scrolling.”

Below you will find a list of the questions, separated by category but not listed in any particular order within that, to get a real sense of what young Jewish adults are asking right now about the Israel-Hamas war, as well as a reflection about how it is affecting them. Please note, that some of these questions fit into multiple categories. 

Nuts and Bolts: Questions that require more information or research to answer - but they are answerable. 

I’d like to know more about the history of Jews living in Israel versus when Palestinians first lived there to be able to understand more about how the idea of “colonizations” exists in the creation of Israel versus the creation of the United States.

How did Israel become the “Elphaba” of countries? 

Why is the American Jewish Community still having to beg our allies to like us and Israel?

How do we elevate and advocate for both Israelis and Palestinian civilians? 

Why don’t residents of Gaza help Israel or other allies locate Hamas in order expedite the process to peace? Or are they? 

How much good has Hamas done for the people of Gaza in recent years?

Why is aid going to Hamas? 

What do Palestinian elections look like? 

Who governs Gaza?

How could Gaza have no access to water if they’re on a body of water? 

When was the urbanization of Gaza? 

When did the physical border go up between Gaza and Israel?

What did the original offer look like to Arabs and Jews in 1947?

How did Bibi get to become Prime Minister again? 

What is the connection between colonization and Palestinians? 

Why don’t people understand that Hamas is a terrorist organization? 

Why don’t people separate Hamas from Palestine? 

What does IDF policy say about proportional response? What does sparing civilian casualties in Gaza look like? 

When Arab countries refuse to take in Palestinian refugees, is this a strategic attempt to worsen Israel's global image by deepening Palestinian plight, or is it for other security and geopolitical reasons? 

How do I find unbiased information?

Ethical, Moral, and Existential Tensions: Questions that we are wrestling with and sorting out, and no matter how much more information you gather, the tension of the question will endure.

Is anti-Zionism antisemitism? 

What is the deal with propaganda and how can I filter through it?

Can you be a Zionist and support Palestinians? 

Why are my progressive friends betraying me over Israel?

How can friends be checking in on us to make sure we’re okay, and in the same breath/post be shouting ‘Free Palestine”? 

How is “Free Palestine” the same as the fight against white supremacy here in America?

How do I compartmentalize my life between the fear and mourning within the Jewish community and the lack of acknowledgement that this war affects me greatly outside the Jewish community? i.e. at work? 

How do I cope with grief and fear on my own or in the workplace?

How do I express my needs to the people around me?

How much do I need to learn about Israeli history before I can feel confident in supporting Israel? Are friends who are posting actually knowledgeable? 

How much does my support/opposition matter? Can I leave the decisions up to politicians? Why do I spend so much time on this?

Why does it seem like the American Jewish community is begging people to support Israel? 

Why isn’t everyone asking for a ceasefire? 

What does a two-state solution really look like? 

What is the responsibility of other Arab and Muslim countries to take in Palestinian refugees, and why doesn't the world hold them more accountable to that? 

What is the difference between contextualizing and humanizing? 

How do we as American Jews act to hold Israel accountable for limiting civilian harm without: a) impeding the mission of eradicating Hamas, b) turning the media narrative further against Israel and allowing ourselves to be used as puppets for anti-Zionist propagandists, or c) making it seem like all Jews are responsible for Israel's actions in a dangerous dual loyalty trope?

How can Israelis and Palestinians overcome the intensely prejudiced social conditioning they've received in order to achieve coexistence? Many in Gaza have a lifetime of experience being brainwashed by Hamas to hate all Jews, but that is compounded by genuine trauma caused by Israeli militaristic practices. At the same time, there are many Israelis voicing astoundingly dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians and for whom nationalism has created a blinding prejudice. How can these civilians be convinced it is safe and possible to peacefully live alongside one another?

Why don’t people understand Israelis and Jews want Peace for everyone?

How can Gaza and whatever governance emerges there be rebuilt in a way that doesn't enable the same descent back to extremism that followed US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

How will this war impede movements toward social progressivism in Israeli society? How will the people who were turning out in droves to this year's protests be able to resume their momentum toward a more democratic government post-war? To what degree will this war enable a far-right power grab?

Why don’t people understand we want peace? 

What is an appropriate way to use 9/11 and Afghanistan to better understand this moment?

What will this conflict do - what is it doing - to the Israeli psyche?

Does Israel believe that Hamas will give in if enough Palestinians die due to bombs and lack of basic food, water, shelter, etc? 

At what point does the strategy change? 

What is the purpose of kidnapping citizens and holding them hostage? Negotiation leverage? 

What’s wrong with the world and their response? 

Why does the left oppose Israel so much? Why do my views diverge from the left on this issue alone? Why am I suddenly aligned with Fox News? 

What does Israel plan to do with Gaza in the near future and longer term? 

Will we have a second Holocaust? 

What can we do to prevent WWIII? 

How do we bring home hostages and get rid of Hamas? 

How much longer will I be obsessing over this? 

What can I do? This doesn’t make sense.

Call to Action or to Another Person: These are questions with answers that can be best actualized in conversation with another person.

What would it take for Jews and Palestinians to model peace and collaboration here in the diaspora because it is not existential for us? 

How do we confront the rise of global and local anti-Semitism without centering and amplifying it to a degree that drowns out the narratives of those losing so much in this war, both among the Israelis attacked and taken hostage and the mass suffering of Palestinian civilians?

How can we really step up for Israel in the diaspora? 

How do we educate and advocate for Israeli and Palestinian civilians? 

How do I define and articulate my Zionism?

Where do I belong now?