The War With No Name: Sacrifice and Empathy

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As someone who has spent decades learning the ideas of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm z’l, we dedicate this Weekly to him and his family. Rabbi Lamm was a once in a generation person – a remarkable writer, orator and thinker. May his memory be a blessing and may his teachings continue to guide us, provoke us, and ultimately inspire us to live our best lives. 


Matti Friedman has done it again. Like Yossi Klein Halevi and Micah Goodman, in the world of Israeli media and content, Friedman’s voice is one that equally discomfits people on both the right and the left. And this, I think, is a good thing. To paraphrase an idea I have heard many times and try to live by, “the goal of good education is to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.” For the skeptics among us, Friedman’s Zionist bona fides are obvious: he served in the Israeli military and has written elucidating pieces in the New York Times, like this one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has authored powerful books like Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016), The Aleppo Codex (2012), and Spies of No Country (2019)

Friedman’s recent docuseries on the “war with no name” has piqued my curiosity. 

I’ll explain: If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve heard of the War of Independence in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973. 

But, if I paused now and asked you for the reasoning behind the war from 1983 to 2000 (no Googling allowed), my guess is that most of us would have very little to say about it. That is why Friedman produced a three-part documentary series called “The War with No Name.” You can read more about this series in the linked articles, but I’ll give you the brief here: Initially, Israel entered Lebanon to stop the PLO from committing terror attacks against northern communities (which was considered successful when the PLO was forced to relocate its base of operations to Tunisia). Eventually, Israel partnered with Lebanon’s Maronite Christian population to form the South Lebanon Army, and “got muddled in the Lebanese Civil War.”

Friedman explains that Israel went into Lebanon in 1982 with “very big ideas…trying to change the Middle East” (check out this clip poking fun at this moment in history from an Israeli satire show). Israel left Lebanon in 2000 a much “smaller and smarter country.” 

For 18 years, Israeli soldiers were in South Lebanon, but who were these soldiers? What is their story? What are their names? 

As an educator who lives in North America, I find that one of the obvious but major differences between world Jewry and Israeli Jewry is that Israeli Jewry knows that when they graduate high school, they are (typically) going to spend their next few years serving their country by enlisting into the IDF, whereas world Jewry knows that when they graduate high school, they are (typically) going to college or university. This radical difference in experience can lead to a radical lack of empathy. This is not a new idea and many worthy organizations, too many to name, are working to develop a healthy approach to connect Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews. 

As a media company, we believe that a short film is the most effective tool to shape worldviews, to pique curiosity, and to cause the viewer to pause, consider, reflect, and empathize. 

When I read Friedman’s articles about the nameless war, I started to think about many of these Israeli soldiers who might feel like a nameless war might make their service less meaningful than Israel’s other wars, that they themselves will feel nameless. 

Three years ago, we produced a film called When The Smoke Clears, which tackles these issues. For the vast majority of world Jewry who has not been through war (including myself), we can mythologize and lionize war in a way that is far removed from the pain, the day-to-day, the real experience of serving in the IDF. 

This film explores themes like sacrifice, unity, leadership, heroism, destiny, and empathy.

Following the spirit of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, we believe that:

“Education means teaching a child to be curious, to wonder, to reflect, to enquire. The child who asksbecomes a partner in the learning process, an active recipient. To ask is to grow. “

In that spirit, we ask the tough questions: 

  1. Does sacrifice lose meaning when military service is compulsory? 
  2. Do you believe that compulsory military service is appropriate? 
  3. The soldiers in the film have been traumatized by their experiences in war, including by their own injuries and by the deaths of their friends. Is the price paid for keeping Israel safe ever too high? 

Our goal as a Jewish education media company is to connect Jews from around the world to one another, and to ask the tough questions.

And if we “comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable,” then like Matti Friedman, we’ve done something special. 

As PTSD awareness month is upon us, mark down one hour to watch this powerful film with your friends, your parents, or your students.

Best,

Noam

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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