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Slapping us into seeing clearly

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I’m old enough to remember when men’s handshakes were silent. Originating sometime way back when people killed each other just because they could, the handshake was a way to prove that the greeters weren’t holding anything sharp or lethal in their right hands. And so, they would press palms, and everyone would breathe. Literally.

Body language experts can spend chapters on the meaning of handshake styles. Whether the shaker’s palm is parallel or perpendicular to the floor, the position of the body and feet, among other things, all give us insight into the personality and confidence of the shakers.

Recently, I have noticed the frequency of the loud handshake. Young men are now prone to loudly slap their palms when they shake hands, creating a distinct popping sound. The action results in a mixture of a clap and the firing of a 9mm. The “slap-shake” – my term – is normally followed by a shoulder hug.

The slap-shake is more noticeable in a quiet synagogue. Although once identified, it cannot be unheard. Last week on Shabbat, in fact, the service was punctuated by a series of “pops” and my commenting on it.

My seat neighbour, who had never noticed it before, now couldn’t unhear it. And where a moment before, he wouldn’t have been aware of the 9mm shots being fired as young people greeted then hugged each other, and not winced every time palms were slapped.

I’m slightly apologetic to make you aware of this. But I need to do so to illustrate my point.

Because we live in a world where those that see, do. And those who don’t, can’t. Even if it’s because they choose not to.

Nothing seems to illustrate this more than the massive divide on social media between the supporters and haters of Israel. So disparate are the narratives, it’s almost like they are living in alternative realities.

Where one group stumbles around in the dark and the other walks confidently in full daylight.

Like in the plague of darkness. The strange thing about the biblical plague was that it was said to have had an impact on the Egyptians but not the children of Israel. So, while the Egyptians were unable to see anything at all, for the Israelites, it was as clear as day.

January 2024 is much like living through the plague of darkness. Though the truth of the case for Israel, the integrity of the information, and the pursuit of peace might be so clear to some of us, it seems impossible for those in the dark to see the situation as we do. And no matter how hard we might try to explain what we’re seeing, the images seem to remain stubbornly hidden to those who cannot or will not see.

Much like The Sound of Silence, in which Simon & Garfunkel prophetically welcomed “darkness, my old friend” and maybe even contemplated a time where on social media, we would talk without speaking and hear without listening.

A plague of our time.

The slap-shake isn’t a plague. It’s a cute, age appropriate, and notable ritual that once noticed, is always present. The inability to see current events from the Jewish or the Israeli perspective, however, is one. And as much as it might be a choice that’s made, the result is a high risk of stumbling unseeing, and living in a world plagued with darkness – where light is an alternative.

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