8 min read
Responding To Terror And Tragedy: A Conversation With Shalom Menora

For this edition, we interviewed Shalom Menora! Hamas’s October 7th rampage through Israel that left over 1200 people died in its wake and over 200 persons captive in Gaza. Israel is now at war. Israeli society is still dealing with the aftermath of October 7th. Mr. Menora is one person who responded and helped coordinate the societal response to the massacre and war.   

Platform Mag: Hi Shalom- I’d like to start off with Oct 7th, 2023. How did you hear the news?  How has this affected you and your community?

Mr. Shalom Menora: I was actually in Israel at the Dan Caesarea hotel the day before. I actually played golf and then on Shabbat morning I finished praying and I kind of saw one guy leave and then my wife said,” hey, someone just left. There is talk about a war going on.” Yeah yeah yeah I (dismissively) thought and then another hour later we started hearing more and more. We did not hear any missiles or anything and then by the time Shabbat was over everyone kind of knew what was going on and we all sprung into action in total disbelief. You have two you can do. You can be completely glued to the news or you can say what am I going to do tomorrow. That is what people do in Israel- I can’t tell you how many people that I know just got in that morning and went down south. I am an old geezer so I can’t get in a uniform and down south or anything like that but the next morning we all started doing what we needed to do to get things going.

Platform Mag: Since then, I’ve heard that you helped bring over a substantial number of bullet proof vests to IDF troops since the attacks began more than a month ago. Can you describe the efforts for you and others to supply the IDF?

Mr. Shalom Menora: What happens is that I am one of probably about a thousand people doing the same thing. Everything I never wanted to learn about in life I learned in a week. I have held a gun,  I know how to shoot, I know how to do tactics, I know how to drive a jeep, but I did not know how you buy bullet proof vests. There is this type and that type and there is this goggle and that thing and you are not allowed to buy this. If you buy this you go to jail because it is a tactical but you can buy this because it is humanitarian. For the first three days everyone is doing the same thing but after the first week everyone got together in a room and said “hey, let’s not all trip on each other’s feet. How do we work together? You are good at this. I am good at this.” 

But what we did on the first day is that my employees and people I know started sending me emails asking what could they do and how could they help. So I made a website called Shalom and Judah’s War Relief Effort which was really designed to talk to all of my friends- Jewish and non-Jewish- who asked me how we are doing. 

My son got called up [to the Israeli military], he left his five kids and got on a plane and said, “Dad, I got here and my commander is paying for a hundred walkie-talkies on his credit card.” Okay, we will take care of that. “We don’t have this or that and we are missing this and that.” Okay, no problem we will get that. My friend Yaakov Ben Yaakov who created pictures on the internet- he goes to me, “I have three sons going down to Gaza they don’t have this, they don’t have that, what are we going to do?” I immediately hooked up with Hatzalah [a volunteer ambulance service] who gave me my own website and I said, “you guys buy. We will raise the money and so everyone is doing the same thing.” As much as we have done, I keep laughing and saying, “if I raise 6 or $700,000 there are guys who have raised $3 million, $5 million, and $10 million and everyone is doing something.” I wish we could only do more.

Was the army ill-prepared? Of course, they were ill-prepared! Who calls up 300,000 people in one shot. I have someone who works for me whose son is in the Navy and he is on a nuclear submarine so she does not know exactly where he is. In America when you get called up, they tell you are being deployed in a month and to go out to dinner with your family, go pack your duffle bag, go to the base, pick up this, pick up that- it’s great! Then you got two weeks to get there and you train. In Israel it was how quickly could you be at the base. My son when he calls up Israel and he goes, “well I haven’t touched my uniform in two years. Could someone find my uniform?” He didn’t know where his uniform was and he has got to get on a plane.
So Israel kind of woke up and no one was prepared for this. 

I got to say that I am amazed how quickly Israel got prepared. The other thing is that I got in touch with the IDF Spokesperson Unit. I told them since I am not in the war, give me something to do so I can do PR and stuff like that. They started talking to me and in the first days they had no clue what they were doing. Now, they know what they are doing. The first three days, he goes “how do we get to universities?” I said, “Okay, I’ll help you there.” He asks, “How do we counteract all the negative people with likes on Instagram and everything?” I said, “Well, I’ll get people to write in- just tell me which things to write in.” He goes, “Oh I thought you were going to do that.” I told them that I wasn't in the IDF Spokesperson Unit. So they had no clue where they were going. So I told him just tell me who you need to get to and I’ll get to them. He told me we need to get to the universities and I said, “Great! Call Rabbi So and So from Chabad.” 

He called him up and it was done. Great, I did my mitzvah and connected you guys-done. I said,”You need to get to the universities in London, call up this one ahead of this. All I will do is connect you.” After a week, I finished my job and now all I do is I am on their list and during the first week they had a group of maybe 30-50 people or hundred- I don’t know how many- but everyday they would have a private update. The first day they told us that they couldn’t really broadcast all the [October 7th] atrocities. The second day they told us whoever wants to see them they would show us but they couldn’t show it to the world. By the fourth day the attitude had changed to “I guess we will have to show it to the world.”

It was unbelievable how Israel went from “we can’t do this out of respect to the families [afflicted by the massacre]” to “man, we are gonna to actually have to show this.” So, I was watching the IDF Spokesperson Unit how they were internally talking and struggling with this. So they got their act together and in the meantime we are all trying to buy this equipment for everybody and like I said everyone is doing something. 

It was unreal how everyone is doing everything and this was while everyone was trying to run their own business, deal with their kids, and deal with everything. Nobody had time to think because you are busy just trying to do [something].

So I set up a website and one of my senior employees told me, “Don’t worry Shalom, I know what is going on.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, I don’t watch CNN and I don’t watch Fox News. I get it from the reliable source.” I said, “Really? Who is that?” “The BBC,” he told me. “The BBC? That is awful!” I told him. “Awful?” he asks. “Awful,” I said. He told me that I never used the word awful. I go, “I’ll send you some stuff and you’ll see how awful they are.” Then I start sending him all the stuff and he goes “this is not real” and I told him “this is me, why would I ever joke around.” He goes, “nah- it is real.” 

So I started setting up daily updates. I had my son write something. I wrote something. It is hard to keep up with all the stuff but I am just sending all these people these updates. I got one Christian guy who is from South Carolina who writes me a text- I haven’t talk to the guy in five years- and he goes “I don’t know if I am bothering you but I just got to tell you my seven year old grandson asked if he could stop his piano lesson to say a prayer for the soldiers of Israel and I wanted to tell you that.”

What I try to do is say I gotta make it personal because people don’t know Israel. They know me. They know my son. I said, “you all know me, I know I don’t teach my son to hate or to kill but if my son has to go and kill and do this stuff something has got to be wrong with the other people because I and my kids’ would not be doing this [otherwise].” So you know me. I am Israel. I am what the Jewish people are about. That is my message to people is that I can touch them as a person and that what Israel is because they don’t know anything.

The joke going around Chicago is that everyone thinks they are an expert on the Middle East. Just ask them if they know where Jordan is and they will all tell you he is retired. Ask people if they know where the river to the sea [in the protest chant] is- which is the river and which is the sea. 90 percent could not tell you either one of them. So that is what we are trying to do. The people at my businesses- they have zero clue about events in Israel and tell me you are not serious.

 I literally got off the phone with a friend of mine now whose son came back after three weeks in Gaza and he told me- he said literally- “My son just got home and I am telling you in the children’s knapsack of one of the kids [in Gaza] was a book of how to kill Jews. The clothes were super neatly folded in the closets and behind it were guns, magazine racks, and RPGs, and things like that.” I am telling people this and they go “really?” I said, “you want the pictures, I’ll send you the pictures too.” So that is what we are up against.

I am just trying to keep my head focused and asking where I could get the equipment and that is before the next group which is to all the people who fled from northern and southern Israel. I was in the hotel and all of a sudden I noticed people from Shlomi in the north to Sderot in the south came to the hotel. I see people who were kicked out of their house and they go “what are we going to do? They [the IDF] told us to take a week’s worth of clothes.” So we are not even up to funding this group! This is going to be a five year project to clean up- that is looking ahead. Right now I don’t think a lot of people have a chance to stop and think about it-the trauma and everything.
Compared to my own trauma, I lost two daughters and my father in a plane crash 13 years ago and someone asked me how I dealt with that. I go, “you don’t deal with it. You deal with the reality of what you have to deal with and you only let it hit you when you stop and then you have a choice of whether to let it bring you down or keep going.” 

 The way I deal with it is that I always say I am going to come to G-d and ask him why he gave me a tragedy because I would have done good anyway. So I am going to go on and I have the right to ask that question. I think that is what you are going to have a lot of [in Israel]. You are going to have a lot of people who undergo this and build from it and people who are going to struggle for a long time and people who are going to struggle for a longer time. No two people are the same and you have to hold a hand out to each person but in the meantime everyone is in the stage of well we are going to argue and do everything afterwards but first of all today let’s right the ship, plug the hole in the boat, save ourselves, and go from there.                              

Platform Mag: What has been the biggest area of improvement from things you have seen?

Mr. Shalom Menora: So the army stopped being defensive about it- first the army said, “what do you mean you are going to bring bullet proof vests? If you bring them in, we are taking them and will decide where they will go. What do you mean you are going to buy? We have everything.”

If you have everything, how come our kids’ are telling us they have nothing? So I think quietly after three or four weeks, everyone stopped arguing about everything and everyone is letting everyone - at least from what I see- coordinate.

My job is to raise money and tell people to write a check. In the beginning I was helping buy stuff and then I said I am not good at this stuff. I don’t need to be calling suppliers and arguing things like that. Today it sounds to me like as long as everyone knows the rules and everyone stays in their lane and everyone does everything. 

So anytime we hear that a unit needs something that we can buy or from one of our friends, I say what shul did they come from and what school did they come from. If it is in your neighborhood, write a check. That is what I am good at. I just look at somebody and say, “write a check.” I called up one non-Jew and I said, “We do a lot of business. I am not asking- you are writing a check for $10,000.” He goes “okay.” I said, “after you do that you are going to call so-and-so who is Jewish and tell him to write a check for $25,000.” He goes, “okay, I will call.” He did not blink. I asked him after why did he write the check and he goes, “I know you for a long time. I could have said no to you. It has nothing to do with that I wanted to do more business with you. It has to do with the fact that you asked and you looked me in the eye and I knew right away that you are the type of guy that if I was in a problem you would be on my side and I just wrote the check right then and there.” I felt really good about that.

I had one employee who has written to me like three times. Every paycheck, he goes to the website and donates again. I said, “I don’t understand. Why do you keep doing that?” He goes, “Every time I see an update, I think that everybody is putting their life on the line and I just have to step up and write another check.” I asked, “doesn’t your wife stop you?” He goes, “I don’t tell her when she sees it enough times she is probably going to tell me to stop.” And he is not Jewish! So at least I feel that I am touching somebody doing something and everyone asks me for the war updates, what is going on, and can you explain it. It is hard on people. So that is what has gotten better, people have figured out how to work together and what they can do and it's getting a pathway. At least that is from my personal angle. It took a month for everyone to figure it out.

Platform Mag: In terms of the public diplomacy angle that is why you founded the updates and website? You wanted people to have updates from verified news sources?

Mr. Shalom Menora: I’ll tell you what it is. 20 years ago there used to be a guy on Fox News named Glenn Beck. I once asked him- years ago I met him- and I said to him, “I don’t understand something. You used to go on Fox News and you used to write the same column with the same thing three weeks in a row every single day for a half hour drawing on a blackboard and talking to people. To me it was like you were talking to third graders with amnesia. I don’t understand.” He said, “Shalom, let me explain to you. People have a preconceived notion of everything and just to get them to not have that preconceived notion I need to drill into their mind the same thing for three weeks in a row and then maybe they will start to listen.”

So I told the IDF people, “You have forgotten about public diplomacy for years and years and years, I need to have the same people listening to the same things everyday so if the IDF is the source I need it to be the same structure everyday so people start to see a pattern. I can’t take it to CNN, to Fox News, to the New York Times, to the Wall Street Journal, and this one says this and this guy is a right winger and that guy is a left winger. I need to start building people’s minds to start understanding a pathway.

 Only if we continue to do it time and time [again], slowly but surely people will say, “oh, this really makes sense.” If I can get the same information and every day the IDF sends out an update in the same format it will start to sink in. If I can get one, two, or five thousand people from my network to just get in a path slowly but surely they will say, “I got it. I understand.” But if I don’t do it or I just bombard them with stuff with or it just one day here or one day there it will never change the mindset of what they are used to of “I can’t believe”, “that’s unreal”, and “it cannot really be that bad.”  

The problem with the IDF’s public diplomacy is that it is going to take 5 years [to change the nature of the narrative]. You are not going to change the whole world in three weeks. People’s memory usually lasts two-three days. No matter how much people say Israel is the good guys, the people who do not really get it are not going to think that way tomorrow. It is going to take some time to do it.

I am not going to argue with any experts. I am just going to do it among my own people- I have hundreds of employees. They listen to me. I have their emails. I have a newsletter. Every email at the bottom says update my updates on the war efforts. When I walk in, they all talk to me and ask me what is doing. I got an advantage. I can go and talk to people. That is what I do. I go, I walk, I talk, I give.

Everyone has their own way to do it. I have a friend who was raising for people who were from Kerem Shalom [a kibbutz near Gaza that was attacked by Hamas on October 7th] and he raised $1.5 million in three days for the people. I am proud that I have friends like that.  

Platform Mag: What lesson would you be expecting Jews in America and around the world to be taking out from the events of October 7th?

Mr. Shalom Menora: That is easy! So the Ramban [a famous Jewish rabbi] does not write that the first thing you need to do is believe in G-d. He does not say that the first thing to do is run and put on phylacteries. The first thing he says is that a person should not get angry. The second thing he says is that a person should have humility. The third thing is that a person should have fear of G-d and then he says a person should respect others. What is the lesson? G-d gives you strength. What is that strength? One strength is to learn to fight and  be a soldier, great! But when we are not fighting, the strength that we have to have is not always to say I am right and I know better. You might be right. You might be wrong. I go into synagogue and everyone is right-wingers or  left-wingers and I go “guys, you might be right. You might be wrong but if you always think you are right you are going to fight with the other guy and not get anywhere.” 

So, if we want to have the strength and we see that when you are in the foxhole- there are no atheists in the foxholes and there is no left-and-right in a foxhole. A bullet is a bullet. It is going to pierce you one way or the other. Therefore if we do not learn to say it is not just about me. If you are a religious Jew it is really simple that we believe when we do not act right, G-d sends the enemies to bother us too. So who acted wrong? We are expected to judge ourselves. Everyone has to say maybe I was not right and maybe I could do something differently.

I used to be a city councilor in Beit Shemesh [a city in Israel] 20 years ago. I learned when the camera was not there that the non-religious and the religious settled things in three minutes. Three minutes! It is easy to settle something. The minute you have to talk to your voters and scream on the cameras, it is a big fight. There is no big deal to settle this whole settlement and all the arguments of all the different issues expect that everyone has to look good on camera. Therefore if we cannot learn to figure out solutions and not always say it is about me, we are going to have the same thing over and over again. That is the lesson. It is really simple. Who is right? Nobody. The left is wrong and the right is wrong because we have to do it differently. There is a middle that will work and it is not giving up on your values. It is called working something out that works for everybody. That is what G-d wants. 

A compromise is not bad. It is good. You might think it is bad but if we learn from G-d then if G-d thought it was so good why did he let there be a war. So He did not think it was good. If someone says it is their fault or their fault, I am saying, “really? So count up- this is going to be gruesome how I say this- the dead bodies. Are there more religious dead bodies or non-religious dead bodies at the end of the war? The answer is that there is both.” Therefore G-d did not send us a message saying he is wrong and he is right. He basically said that both of you are in trouble so better figure out how to make sure that I want to be on your side. As a religious Jew that is only the message you get. Unless G-d lined us up right and left or up and down, we are in it together and you wanted to be protected so you should protect the other. That is how I look at it.

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