The international deal to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program announced earlier in the day by President Barack Obama was "the elephant" crowding Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill on Sunday night, which hosted Israeli journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi.
The six-month deal, which attempts to ensure that the country's nuclear program can be used only for peaceful purposes by setting restrictions on uranium enrichment in exchange for relief from sanctions, "appalled" many Israelis, said Mr. Halevi, who was in Pittsburgh to discuss his book "Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation."
The accord deals a major blow to the two major checks on a nuclear-capable Iran: sanctions and the threat of strike by Israel, Mr. Halevi told a crowd of more than 200 at the temple.
"What Iran is gaining is really an historic victory," he said, adding that the deal presents "the most difficult decision that any Israeli government has ever had to make since [David] Ben-Gurion declared the state back in '48 knowing that the next day seven Arab armies would invade."
He predicted that the agreement would at best win a few months' "breathing space" and would force Israel to consider seriously strikes similar to attacks against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
"My strong sense is that this deal today risks enhancing the power of evil," Mr. Halevi said. "My fear is that Israel will once again be called upon by the circumstance of events to save the world from itself."
Rabbi James Gibson, who leads Temple Sinai's congregation, met Mr. Halevi about two years ago at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, where Mr. Halevi is a research fellow. Rabbi Gibson wrote an early review of Mr. Halevi's then-unpublished book and the two became friends, sparking the Sunday night visit to Pittsburgh.
"He made an extra effort to come here," Rabbi Gibson said.
A native of New York, Mr. Halevi first visited Israel when he was 14, shortly after the victory in the 1967 Six Day War, a time of euphoria that seemed to deliver the "happy ending" to the Jewish story, he said.
His book, which he began in 2002 during the Second Intifada, focuses on Israeli paratroopers who fought in the Six Day War but went on to embrace totally opposite stances on expanding Israeli settlements, the peace process and engagement with Palestinians and the Arab world, diametrically opposed ideologies that continue to define Israeli politics and foreign relations.
"This was the way I needed to tell the story of what happened to us as a people as a result of the Six Day War," Mr. Halevi said, adding that war marked the beginning of the divergence of the Israeli "narrative."
"Instead of a unified narrative, we then have two parallel narratives: a left-wing narrative and a right-wing narrative," he said.
His work endeavors to unify those.
"The Jews are a story that we tell ourselves about who we are," Mr. Halevi said. "Without a clear understanding of our story, the Jewish people is, I believe, in spiritual existential threat."
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909. The New York Times contributed.