OPINION: I’ll admit, I have been glued to my cell phone.


    I’ll admit, I have been glued to my cell phone for the past week. I needed to know what’s going on, who’s firing at whom, who’s responsible for these attacks or those – the Rockets, the Chesed, the Soldiers, the Calls for Tzedakah, the WhatsApp groups, and the political conversations. Ben Shapiro said this, that professor said that. Guess what this politician said? News websites, Instagram, Whatsapp.

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    Media thrives on these moments; they live for them. Advertising is at an all-time high. As for me, the past week felt like an all-time low.


    I think today was the first day I managed to clear my head, just enough to disperse the smoke and fog and start having a vision of tomorrow.


    Let’s face it; we are all struck to the core. For those of us who have seen the images – and many of us, including myself, could not resist seeing them – we witnessed things that are certainly not easy to unsee. I am most certainly scared, there’s no doubt about it. 


    But, more than anything, it just gave me a feeling of hopelessness. Not that I lack emunah, it’s just that, in English, we call it PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 


    I think Klal Yisrael as a nation is facing PTSD in one way or another. I constantly hear people asking, “How do I go back to work knowing what’s happening in Israel? How do I keep living with the world going crazy?”

    Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90 ***

    Suddenly, the problems of two weeks ago seem so small compared to the world’s much greater issues. 


    Suddenly, we’re faced with worries about our personal safety and the safety of our loved ones. Is our shul or Yeshiva going to face a terrorist attack? We’re plagued with questions that are becoming very real concerns. This is a major challenge for us as this war is only escalating, and antisemitism is on the rise. How do I pick up the pieces, sip my coffee, and go about life as if everything is normal? I think we’re all facing a little bit of that one way or another.


    For those of us blessed to have family in Israel, the struggles only mount higher as we wonder if their safety today is good enough for tomorrow. We watch college campuses, which were once open for their rights of equality and liberalism, suddenly turn a blind eye to the Jewish world in the past ten days. One would be forgiven for feeling like it’s 1939 all over again.


    So, for the past week, I have been struggling with all of this. I’ve been glued to my phone, my TV subscription that comes with the internet sitting in my office, suddenly plugged in so I can catch FOX News and hear the updates. 


    It seems like a comforting or empowering feeling to know what’s going on. Perhaps if I listen to Ben Shapiro and watch just a little more, then I’ll feel better.


    But the sad truth is, I don’t. It didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it did a lot of harm.


    Last week, after the war and everything broke out, the world called for positive resolutions.

    A woman watches posters pasted by the UEJF (Union of Jewish French Students) Monday, Oct. 16, 2023 in Paris. The images across Paris show of Jewish missing persons held by Hamas in Gaza. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)


    I challenged myself to find something real and meaningful that could make a difference in my life. I gave it some deep thought. Davening for me has always included a cell phone by my side. I run a nonprofit, I’ve been involved in several book projects, chesed projects, and a business. I used to justify that God would understand if in the middle of Az Yashir, I need to send a quick WhatsApp message. Right?


    But, I decided that enough is enough. I’m getting rid of the phone. I made a commitment to have no phone during davening. It’s off, and I’m giving my full 120% to Hashem during that time. I did it the very week when I was most in need to see my phone. 


    When I posted it on my WhatsApp, I successfully got an additional five friends, all of whom messaged me that they too were inspired and they too were going to follow through. One of the shuls I davned in made a solid point to announce my commitment to the crowd.


    I’ll admit, I have a much easier time on Shabbos, but it’s gotten a lot better. Each day I am improving. 


    Shabbos is easier simply because I know I have no chance or ability to touch the phone, but now I am doing it out of my own will, which I think creates a more tempting yetzer hora.


    I believe this idea lies at the root of many of the feelings we’re experiencing.


    I’ve heard this a lot over the past few days – people saying it’s time to disconnect. It’s not that we want to exclude ourselves from Klal Yisrael; on the contrary, we want to be more present and in tune with our lives and our purpose of being.


    During the COVID pandemic, I would obsess over Tucker Carlson’s episodes. He always had great youtube titles like “You’ll Never Believe What This Governor Did,” “Why You Should Be Mad at the Mask Mandates,” or “This Info On China Will Leave You Fuming.” The people at the Fox News YouTube channel knew how to draw me in with their clever clickbait. Episode by episode, I grew angrier and angrier, just as the people at Fox News said I would. But in the end, I felt empty and powerless. 

    FILE – Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio on March 2, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

    You know that Midrash about why Yaakov Avinu was saying Shema when he saw Yosef for the first time after 22 years? We’re told it was not just a casual act. It’s because he knew it would be one of the most emotional moments in his life, and he wanted to harness that energy and direct it towards Hashem. 

    So, at the height of his emotions, he started to say Shema. To cry out to Hashem.


    At the height of COVID, it hit me: I am powerless.


    To strengthen my belief, I had a good talk with a friend of mine, Jake Turx. Hashem saw it fit that we daven in the same shul. As a guy who is regularly in DC and sitting with the media, I shared my feelings with him. 


    Yosef, he said, ‘Guess what media people are paid to do? We are paid to make you angry. The more rage, the more we have succeeded in our task. The more you buy into us, the more you want and need more.’


    Boy, were his words true.


    I decided to go cold turkey. I was turning off the news. But as we say, ‘Depart from evil, do good’ (Tehillim 34:15). I then launched a nonprofit tzedakah organisation that, Boruch Hashem, has grown to amazing heights in over two years. If you ask me why, it’s because I realised that as far as the world goes, I AM POWERLESS. I am not changing the course of elections. I am not changing the course of politics. But I can change the course of the world around me for good.


    I think today, for the first time, I came back to that. I came out of that shell – again. 


    It’s a scary place to think there could be a world after the mass murder of 1300 of our people. It’s an even scarier place the way the world is turning post-it.

    A shell from Israeli artillery explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. Hamas Palestinian militants in southern Lebanon fired 20 rockets into the northern Israeli towns of Schlomi and Nahariyya, the group said in a statement. They said it was “in response to the (Israeli) occupation’s crimes against our people in Gaza”. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


    I had to ask myself a very real question: What makes life worth living for? What are you able to give to the world that Hashem still decided that you should wake up today and say Modeh Ani?


    This is not a denial that the world is going crazy. It’s not a denial that each day we seem one step closer to World War 3. It’s a question of what is my value system? What guides me?


    Of course, semantically we always brush off that question. We have Torah and Yiddishkeit and all that. But for real, what guides us? What in particular makes us tick?


    So many of us spent the past week in reaction mode, doing more, another tzedakah link, another mitzvah for Israel, another this or that. 


    Many of us have not had the time to process the magnitude of what just happened and how it may affect us and the future.


    But a real question: If it is going places, if we are all slated to see something big,, do I want to go into that arguing with the next guy on Instagram about freeing Palestine? Is this what my life is worth?


    I got so many people sending me links, saying, ‘Share this on your status’ or ‘share that.’ The news is deafening with grim stories.


    I am not saying I have the answers; that’s well above my pay grade. But the question is, in the days ahead, where should my focus lie?”


    I’ve been observing many people online trying to engage in battles on social media. 


    There’s no doubt that having a voice is important. If Jews remain silent, we cannot stand by. However, do we truly believe we can outnumber the millions of #freepalestine supporters and the dozens of Hamas flags trying to counter us? 


    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share our voices. It doesn’t mean people who post should stop posting. 

    FILE – The Facebook logo is seen on a cell phone, on Oct. 14, 2022, in Boston.  (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

    What’s important, I think, is not engaging in this battle.

    The Jewish nation has always been small. At the outset of the Yom Kippur war, our enlistment was accurately predicted. Rabbi Shlomo Goren assigned people to scout out which parks would be best utilised for cemeteries, as predictions had at least 10,000 casualties. No one foresaw a way out, not then, and not during the Six-Day War. 


    As a Lubavitcher, I know that the Rebbe was adamant, calling Israel the safest place to be, and repeatedly quoting that the guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers—a land that Hashem watches from the beginning of the year to the end. These verses were continually repeated, and predictions for Israel’s safety and security were reiterated.


    The end of the story: Miracles. Out of this world miracles. No doubt it came with a price. But as a nation: miracles.


    Many people shared their stories. Older planes that were known to have problems worked flawlessly. 


    Pilots flying the old bombers said they didn’t encounter any issues.


    There was a time when an enemy bomb hit our weapons but didn’t explode.


    During a patrol, an Israeli soldier and his friend encountered a truck with 18 armed Egyptian soldiers. They were scared because they didn’t have good weapons, but the Egyptians didn’t shoot and surrendered. Later, the Israeli asked an Egyptian soldier why they didn’t attack, and the Egyptian said his body froze, and he couldn’t move.


    This happened more than once.


    One time, an Arab tank commander surrendered to a few Jewish tanks because he thought he saw many Israeli tanks that were not real. 


    A reporter from Haaretz, a newspaper, said, ‘Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to admit that this war had some help from heaven.’


    These stories were not isolated incidents; they happened countless times.


    And yet, here we are again, with the world in opposition to us.


    Shwekey has a great song: ‘We Are a Miracle.’ Some powerful lyrics come to mind:


    “Every day we fight a battle, On the news, we are the stars, As history repeats itself, And makes us who we are, Hate is all around us, But we’ll be here to sing this song…”

    Israeli soldiers near the Israeli border with Lebanon, northern Israel, October 16, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90 ***


    We have no clue where things are going, but one thing is for sure: We won’t win this through natural means. Our world is too vast, and our nation is too small. 

    While last week we saw Biden’s support, it only took days for him to do an about-face. American politics are in disarray, and Israel’s politics are perhaps worse. Nations around us are lining up with threats. Iran is friends with Russia, Lebanon is backed by Iran. The doomsday scenarios are piling up and looking increasingly likely. But what do we do? How do we win?”

    My reality stops at buying into the news. 

    No, that does not mean a Jew cannot be informed. It does not mean we should not have a clue about what’s going on. But where is the limit? Is that extra talk show or an additional article really going to change our situation? Will it truly make us happier and better individuals? Will it help me sleep better tonight?

    The news and media now want us to keep clicking. They want us to keep buying into them. They purposely report on the most outrageous news. The Fox YouTube master says it again, ‘You’ll never believe… you should be outraged… Can you believe he said this….’ They are back with a vengeance, and they know Jews and Muslims will be drawn in. We are the victims.

    Whether I respond to Jihadist Joe, sitting in his undergarments in his mother’s basement posting Palestine flags, or if I comment on Instagram, or if I post a bit more on my status, it’s not changing the facts. 

    Yes, a good laugh, some funny jokes, and humor to lighten the mood are great. But this madness – ‘please comment on this guy’s Google review; he applauds murder’ – we’re not winning this battle. 

    We need to lose this battle to win the bigger war.

    Our war is with Hashem. Our war is with the heavens. Our job is to be Klal Yisrael, the best we can possibly be.


    Last week, we saw our nation shine. The utmost chessed, probably the most ever seen in my life. Tzedakah through the roof, mitzvahs through the heavens, Chabad Rabbis with a line around the block to put on tefillin, the Rebitzins handing out candles. We had unity on Shabbos. We were united as a nation. Chassidim and Yeshivish and secular, the barriers dropped. We are all one. I would argue that, due to social media and technology, it was one of the most united weeks ever in our 2000-year exile.

    I can only speculate, but it’s definitely up there. 


    We were Klal Yisrael, the way we were meant to be. In the week that ended in Tishrei, we shined brighter than we did during Aseres Yemei Teshuva. We shined brighter than we have in many years.

    I have no doubt in my mind that had we done this ages ago and for the long term, we would have long been in Jerusalem with Moshiach.


    All this good has not ended; it’s only continuing, and it needs to. But surrounding it all is a force that is ever so present – an evil of sorts that is here to drown us spiritually and emotionally. That force is the media. It sucks us in like an amazing vacuum cleaner;  because we just want to know more.


    So, as I sat and davened over the past few days and had Shabbos, a tranquillity settled over me. Yes, there is the anxiety of knowing what’s going on, but at the same time, tranquillity. It doesn’t matter what’s going on.


    When I daven without my phone, If a bomb is going to fall; let it. If war is going to happen; let it. I am talking to the King of Kings, and not much else matters. 


    On shabbos, I am having a day with Hashem. What’s happening with Biden? Who cares? The professor at Cornell said this – it doesn’t bother me. I am having a day or a moment with Hashem.

    Guys, this is it.

    I am not a smartphone fanatic. I have my smartphone, and I am not advocating to drop it. I am not here to advocate to drop your internet or your Instagram. 

    But we need to drop the news.

    It’s toxic. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m not looking at it anymore. I won’t say I’m not looking. But today I realized that I was so much happier not looking at what’s going on every hour.

    Those red alerts – I can do without them. It’s not that I don’t want to be unified; it’s not that I don’t want to know. It’s that, for me to shine, I need to stop feeding myself the rage, anger, and hate. The media wants me to eat it.

    We are at a major crossroads in history, no doubt about it. Is it possible that this escalates into something much bigger? Yes, very much so. But imagine, and excuse me for saying it, imagine for a second that you were one of those Hamas victims. What are you ready to go down, remembered as?

    In a moving moment in a recent podcast with Meaningful Minute, Rabbi Weinberger of Aish Kosdesh was asked how we move on with our everyday lives. He responded beautifully, based on Chassidus, that if our lives, jobs, and tasks are to bring money to support our family, that is holy. You don’t need to be holding a gun on the Gaza border to be doing something important. If you’re making money that supports our land, that’s meaningful. If you’re learning Torah seriously, that’s meaningful. That is spiritual, and that protects us.

    Friends, it’s that simple. Where things go from here, we just don’t know. What we do know is that Israel has never really lost a war. 

    Hashem has done countless miracles on the record to keep us afloat. Yes, we have taken hits. Yes, as a nation, we have taken very hard hits. But none that destroyed us.

    Antisemitism is likely to continue to rise, but with it, we must rise as well.

    The Rebbe Reshab, in the last two weeks of his life, held a farbrengen at a time when communism was not allowing any gatherings. The short version of the story is that on Purim in 1920, dozens of Chassidim gathered in his apartment. His own son (later to be the next Rebbe), mesmerised by the situation, reminded his father that they were in great danger. 

    He told his son, ‘In the place I’m at now, they can’t touch us.’ Dozens of Russians came in and out – miraculously watching and observing, but not one – not one said a thing – they stayed silent. A full farbrengen for hours. 

    The Rebbe Reshab explained that it’s possible to get to a level where the world around you simply can’t connect or deal with you because it’s not compatible on that level.


    I saw a beautiful clip from a Chabad Rabbi in Pennsylvania at UPenn – he put on tefillin with a Jew as a pro-Hamas rally marched by. The student and the shliach stood by, and the marchers kept going. Not a word to the two. 


    To me, that was a miracle. When they passed, not one person made a face or looked – it was as if they were not even present.


    This is our ability as Jews – to rise above it all, to live on a different plane. 


    Yes, all this stuff is happening. Yes, the world is out of control, crazy. Yes, yes, and yes. 


    But what are we going to do about it? From a fighting level, we are outnumbered. 


    We’re seeing people marching with Al-Qaeda flags. We are still a nation recovering from 9/11, and yet on this very soil, we watch students openly support terrorism. We are living in a 1939 of sorts; no doubt the world has again lost its mind. But we don’t need to lose ours.


    Let’s turn off the forces that try to suck us in. 


    The news that is here to drown us – instead, use that extra few minutes to learn a small shiur, to do an extra mitzvah, whatever it is, but not get sucked in.


    Of course, important things are happening, but most of it will not change us, and most of it won’t make us better or happier people to know it.


    We have never won against these people with media campaigns.


    A famous midrash states that in the end of days, Hashem saved hail from Egypt, and He keeps it in the heavens, ready to rain down on our enemies at the end of times. It’s clear that Hashem is going to fight these battles, not with natural means. We should not try to win in that way either.


    Trust me, if Instagram existed 3000 years ago, Amalek would not have hated us any less with a good Instagram campaign or great speakers trying to justify why we have the right to live or exist. That hate is embedded in their hearts, and nothing we say or do is going to change that. It’s only now that we are really seeing all these people whom we thought were our friends showing their colors.


    We have only one friend: Avinu Shebashmayim.


    Let’s keep turning off the news and keep turning on the mitzvos. 


    To end with another Shwekey song: 


    “Enemies of freedom hatred without reason, Please no more. Weapons of destruction, terror and corruption. Please no more. Now the time has come. Return and stay – This time forever. Let His glory shine again.”

    Yosef Shidler is the Executive Director of DollarDaily.org, a philanthropic leader, and the author of the “Amazing Miracle Stories” book series. Residing in Toms River, NJ, he is dedicated to making a positive impact through his work and his inspiring literary creations. He can be reached at [email protected]


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