Grateful or Not Good Enough? The Grammys Tribute to the Victims of the Nova Music Festival

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The Grammy Awards, presented by the Recording Academy of the United States, are regarded as the most prestigious and significant awards in the music industry worldwide. As far as awards shows are concerned, the Grammys couldn’t be a more appropriate and prominent event to pay tribute to the barbaric and horrific murder of hundreds of people and the kidnapping of 40 more at the Nova Music Festival in Israel on October 7th.  For that reason, our friend, former Congressman Ted Deutch, now CEO of the AJC, published an op-ed calling on them to honor the victims and advocate for the hostages. 


The 66th annual Grammys took place this week and indeed, it drew an enormous audience of 16.9 million viewers, up 34% from last year.  To his credit, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. did use the enormous platform to acknowledge the historic atrocity at the Supernova Festival, saying:


Every one of us, no matter where we’re from, is united by the shared experience of music. It brings us together like nothing else can, and that’s why music must always be our safe space. When that’s violated, it strikes at the very core of who we are.  We felt that at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. We felt that at the Manchester Arena in England. We felt that at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. And, on October 7, we felt that again, when we heard the tragic news from the Supernova Music Festival for Love, that over 360 music fans lost their lives and another 40 were kidnapped.


That day and all the tragic days that have followed have been awful for the world to bear as we mourn the loss of all innocent lives.  We live in a world divided by so much, and maybe music can’t solve everything, but let us all agree that music must remain the common ground upon which we all stand, together in peace and harmony. Every song that we’re honoring or hearing tonight moved someone, no matter where they were from, what they believed, it connected us to others who were moved in the same way. Take this string quartet: As individuals they sound really good, but together they achieve something beautiful they could never do apart. These musicians of Israeli, Palestinian and Arab descent are here, playing together.  Now is the time for us, for humanity, to play together, to come together.


On the one hand, in a world of growing antisemitism, anti-Israel sentiment, moral equivalency and political considerations, we should feel gratitude to Mason for the moral clarity to use the awards show to address the darkest day the Jewish people have had since the Holocaust.  While obvious to us, addressing the Supernova atrocity was likely complicated for him. 


But while Mason showed courage in some ways by addressing the atrocity, he fell way short of truly honoring those murdered, advocating for the victims, and hostages or standing for the truth when he omitted who they were, where they lived, and why they were killed.


Look at his words more carefully.  Notice that the Bataclan concert hall is in Paris. Manchester Arena is in England.  Route 91 Harvest Music Festival is in Las Vegas. What about the Supernova Music Festival, where did it take place, where did that tragedy occur?  No mention, as if Israel, the one and only Jewish state, is a dirty word, a political football, a divisive or taboo term.    


Mason goes on to describe, “over 360 music fans lost their lives,” as if they died in an accident or natural disaster.  They didn’t lose their lives, they were murdered. Brutally, barbarically, viciously.  They were raped, tortured, and massacred and it was not because they were “music fans,” it was because they were Israelis, because most of them were Jews.


The "tragic days" that have followed and the loss of "all innocent lives" are not because of a conflict that has two legitimate sides, but entirely and only because a barbaric terrorist organization, Hamas, attacked the innocent civilians of Israel.


While the symbolism evoked by the string quartet is meaningful, it is empty if not accompanied by substance. Peace won't come from Israelis and Palestinians simply playing music together. It will come when we can call evil by its name, when we can say out loud the difference between perpetrators and victims and when we don't have to wordsmith statements to make them politically correct.


Maybe you will say I am being unfair, hypercritical, or expecting too much.  Maybe by so closely analyzing his words I am being ungrateful for the courage it took to share them at all.  Perhaps.  But I ask you to consider this.  Forty participants at that Festival for Love were kidnapped, many still being held hostage against all international law, human rights, and basic morality.  Could Mason not have used that moment, that stage, to say before nearly 20 million people, “Let them go,” or “Bring them home”?  Is calling for the release of innocent women and children controversial?  Is it politically incorrect or divisive?  Is it too much to ask or expect?


Yes, we should be appreciative and yes, we should express our gratitude, but we also must simultaneously not sell ourselves short, settle for less than we deserve or are entitled to.  Are we so insecure, do we lack confidence in who we are, our story, our right to exist and live in peace and harmony?


After October 7th, Boca Raton Synagogue distributed 1,000 car flags.  We didn’t only encourage Israeli flags but we also provided and encouraged people to display American flags (and IDF flags).  While pro-Palestinians rallies have only included American flags as objects to burn, we wanted to communicate the shared values and close connection of Israel and America. 


I proudly display the flags on my car.  A few weeks ago, I was driving down Palmetto Park Road, a busy street in our area, when someone tried to cut me off, almost pushing me off the road.  I slowed down to avoid a collision or an escalation when he lowered his window, pointed to my flags, starting yelling and gesturing obscenely in my direction.  He was cursing Israel and me wildly.  I slowed significantly and avoided further interaction but those moments truly shook me.  I couldn’t believe that right here in Boca Raton, a community that is more than fifty percent Jewish, such hatred and public antisemitism could be displayed so brazenly. 


When I shared the story with someone I am close with, their response as to encourage me to take off the flags.  Why identify so publicly with Israel, they asked?  Why put it in people’s face?  Why drive around with a target on your car?


To be honest, I was shocked.  The answer is to hide my pro-Israel feelings?  The response is to take down my American and Israeli flags?!  When I was in Yeshiva in Washington Heights, I vividly remember seeing Puerto Rican flags around the neighborhood and feeling admiration for the patriotism, pride, and connection my neighbors felt for where they are from.  


My children were recently in Los Angeles.  My son-in-law was walking to Mincha with his 4-year-old son when a car slowed down, the window lowered, and the driver gestured obscenely and screamed out at them, “wrong way to the tunnels.”  Are they not entitled to walk down the street safely?  Must a Jew in Los Angeles, New York, or Boca Raton take off their yarmulka, remove any display of their Jewishness when in public? 


In this moment, more than ever in our lifetimes, we need to stand tall and firm, with pride, unapologetically, without defensiveness or insecurity about who we are, what we deserve, what we stand for, and who we stand with.  We must not be satisfied with universalized messages against “all hate” instead of specifically calling out antisemitism.  We must not be content with a minimal acknowledgement when it fails to say Jew or Israeli.  We must not tolerate moral equivalence, a lack of clarity of who is the aggressor and who is the victim.  We must demand those who display hate against us be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  We must urge decent people everywhere to advocate for the release of our hostages immediately.


When we were liberated from Egypt, we were first instructed to go to our neighbors and respectfully, but firmly, ask for gold and silver, the compensation for our years of slavery.  Hashem wanted us to walk out with resources and wealth but He wanted us to leave with something even more important.  A slave feels like a passive spectator to their own lives.  They must meekly accept whatever they get and whatever happens to them.  The only way for a slave to gain true wealth is to be liberated from that mentality and to proclaim, I know what I am worth, I know what I deserve, I know what I am entitled to, and I demand it now.  When asked boldly and confidently, the Egyptians complied with the Jews request. 


We left Egypt with more than gold and silver, we left with pride and confidence, the knowledge of who we are and what we deserve.  The time has come to free ourselves from an apologetic, fearful mentality and posture and to stand up for who we are.  When we respect ourselves we will find others have greater respect for us as well.