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From Joy to Terror: A Postcard from Jerusalem Daniel Gordis

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Israeli police officers evacuate a family from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, in southern Israel. (Tsafrir Abayov via AP)

We gathered outside the local community center at 7:00 this morning to celebrate the last day of the High Holiday season. It’s a little known holiday called Shemini Atzeret, when we pray for rain, thank God for our bounty, and dance with Torah scrolls. 

The air had a touch of Jerusalem’s fall chill, so we were, perhaps, singing with a bit more gusto than you might expect. That was when we heard the faint booms in the distance. One and then two. 

People begin to look at each other, wondering, “What is that?” 

We told ourselves it was nothing. Maybe Iron Dome shot down a rocket or two—that happens here not infrequently. 

But then a series of explosions, still very far away. “Must be construction,” someone whispered to me. 

But it was Shabbat, and there’s no construction in Israel on Shabbat. And he knew that. 

Then: the air raid alarm. 

People began to sprint to the bomb shelter. Fathers and mothers gathered up their toddlers and young children. Two people grabbed the Torah scrolls.

It was tight for the hundred of us crammed into the shelter—they’re all used as storerooms, even if they’re not supposed to be. But we squished in. The yawning sound of the siren continued, then stopped, then awakened again. 

When it was clear that we weren’t getting out of there anytime soon, someone found a folding table. The Torah was laid on it, and the person who’d been reading continued, the sounds of the ancient Hebrew and the air raid siren blending together. 

Ours is a mixed neighborhood of religious and secular people, so even if you’re personally off the grid on Shabbat, you hear what’s going on. It sounded bad. 

A couple of terrorists had apparently gotten through the border fence and penetrated a kibbutz. That sounded horrible—terrorist penetrations of security fences are every Israeli’s nightmare. But then there was another rumor that they’d taken a hostage. 

That was hard to imagine. There’s an army there. It’s the border. There’s security everywhere. 

When Shabbat ended, at sundown, and we finally got to watch the news, the idea that just two terrorists crossed into Israel seemed like wishful thinking. All of our usual layers of security were nowhere to be seen.

We heard stories of people calling TV stations to tell them that they were hiding in their safe-room, but the terrorists just outside were shooting into the door. “Please send soldiers!” cried one woman. She was in an area that’s supposed to be heavily guarded. 

Another kibbutz put out a call for the parents of a baby found by itself. It’s a kibbutz, so everyone knows everyone, so the question wasn’t whose baby it is. The question was: Where were the parents? The parents were nowhere to be found. Somehow, though, everyone knew where they were. 

Where the army was, was much less clear. 

This was a massive failure of the Israel Defense Force, especially its intelligence operations. It reminded everyone of the failures that led up to the Yom Kippur war—which started fifty years and one day ago, and, for a few weeks, seemed like it might be the end of the Jewish state. 

This war may be worse—at least, from an intelligence standpoint.

But today was also a massive failure of Israel’s much-vaunted ground-fighting force. At this moment, some fourteen hours after several hundred terrorists tore through the chain link fence that is the border with Gaza, the IDF is still battling in a dozen locations to recapture land inside Israel that the terrorists now control. 

News sources reported that, for hours, 50 members of the Kibbutz Be’eri were held hostage in the dining room of the kibbutz, with the army unable to rescue them. We’re told that IDF soldiers have since arrived at the kibbutz, but the hostages are still being held captive. 

Israeli soldiers head south on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Ohad Zwigenberg via AP)

Elsewhere, Hamas militants—who look like civilians, in their jeans and t-shirts, brandishing automatic rifles—dragged Israeli soldiers out of a tank. That shocked the country, and it will continue to shock everyone for a long time. It’s hard to overstate the shock. And the fury. Israelis want, in this order, to reclaim their territory, save their people, and then punish Hamas like they’ve never been punished before.

Doing all of that will require a massive force, so earlier today the government announced that it was initiating a call-up of reserves that could number in the “hundreds of thousands.” 

“I am initiating an extensive mobilization of the reserves to fight back on a scale and intensity that the enemy has, so far, not experienced,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.”

It is tragic that it took a disaster of this magnitude to bring the nation of Israel together today. But Hamas has managed to do that. The staggering reports, at the moment, of 250 dead and 1,450 wounded, the images of family members looking through body bags at the entrance to the town of Netivot—that will bind Israelis together in a shared grief and rage they haven’t known in at least two generations. 

They will be bound, too, by the knowledge that death may not be the worst thing that happened today. The army also posted on social media pleas with Israeli citizens not to repost videos that Hamas is uploading to Telegram, showing Israeli civilians being taken into captivity in Gaza. The army does not want families to learn that their loved ones have been captured from Hamas TV. 

“We saw her on the Hamas video, so we know she’s been kidnapped, but the army isn’t telling us,” one mother told a reporter, explaining why social media was more reliable than the army. There will be rage at Hamas, but at the army, and the government. That, too, will bind Israelis together as they haven’t been in many years.  

For eight years, our son was a commando in the army. When he got out, and ceased being called up for reserve duty, we heaved a sigh of relief. Since then, he’s gotten married. He’s in his thirties now, and in good shape, but nothing like he was back then. And he has two kids. His youngest, his daughter, was born less than two months ago.

An hour ago, he called us to say he’d been called up. Like thousands of other Israeli parents, we’re now watching what’s unfolding with even greater horror, more worry. 

No one can know how many soldiers will pay the ultimate price to keep this country alive, or how many more mothers and grandmothers and ordinary people not in uniform will be murdered. In fact, it feels like no one here knows anything that matters. We are feeling something Israelis have not felt in a long time. This is a feeling that has been obscured, perhaps, by many years of building and success and relative security. It is that feeling that has always been part of this haunting, sad, beautiful, holy place—the terror of not knowing what tomorrow will bring.

Daniel Gordis is the Shalem Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. You can allow his writing on his Substack: Israel from the Inside.

And if you missed Gordis on Honestly, listen here to “Israel at 75: Miracles and Madness”:

 

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

If you’re Zynterested in more fun takes on the culture, become a Free Press subscriber today:

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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