Dear Neutral Friend,
I just received your weekly, generic text, “How are you? I wanted to check in.” I have been getting these sporadically, from some non-Jewish friends and acquaintances during the last 46 days since a true nightmare unfolded in Israel on October 7, 2023.
How am I? Well, do you really want to know, or are you just asking because it feels like the right thing to do so you can continue to seem like a nice person? Sometimes it feels like you “checking in” is just a numbered item on your daily to-do list, and my actual reply doesn’t really matter much anyway. You’ll just continue to offer empty condolences, and stick with your safe, nonaligned status.
The truth is, that how I really am, would be impossible to type into a single text. It would be difficult to verbalize in a conversation. It is hard to put into words at all, but here goes.
We are struggling to get through each week, each day even, as a Jewish family in America. We are mourning with Jews around the world after the worst, most barbaric attack on Jews since the Holocaust. I have flesh and blood living in harm’s way as we speak. Add to that, that things in this country have gotten progressively worse and more worrisome for Jews with each passing day, it doesn’t make for the happiest of times. The blatant anti-Semitism on display is real life for us. We attend a synagogue with armed guards and bullet-proof glass, and we don’t know if it will be the next target – think about that for a second. Every time we drop our kids off at school, we’re concerned that they could be the recipients of anti-Semitic hate speech or confrontation – imagine if this was happening to you. How would you feel? We know someone whose daughter just had to transfer out of her sophomore year at a local state university because of an anti-Semitic incident. We are now worrying where it will be safe to send our own kids to college. We have Jewish friends whose high school aged children are being bullied unmercifully to the point of mental breakdown and social reclusion. We have a long-time Israeli friend whose young family member lost their life as one of the hostage victims. We have family who have attended funerals in Israel during these emotionally grueling weeks. I think twice about wearing a Star of David to the grocery store because someone might attack me. I worry that my home is marked by our mezuzah, and that maybe we should be careful about where we place our menorah this Chanukah. We fear all of this because we have loved ones who have lived it. It is already happening. Again, this is our reality.
We are grieving and we are fighting a war. As a result, Jewish people in every community are only surrounding themselves with other Jews or people who have shown unequivocal support, not just for us as Jews, but also for Israel. This is not the time for a history lesson on 3,000 years of Jewish persecution, the roots of anti-Semitism, or Middle East conflict. This is not the time for toxic positivity or neutrality. For most of my Jewish family and friends, this is where we are and we’re unapologetic about that. I frankly don’t have the energy for anyone who is unwilling to do anything less. We’re in a constant battle with our enemies to defend our right as a people to exist, and Israel’s right to exist as our homeland – it is exhausting and at times, feels futile. The media propaganda and the silence of most people is dangerous and disappointing. The last thing we need is to feel that we have to defend ourselves among those we thought were friends.
To be honest, through some of our recent interactions, you came off as somewhat insensitive, tone-deaf, and lukewarm at best, which really upset me. I’m not sure if it’s just your total lack of knowledge on the subject or your desire to be so impartial that it clouded your ability to understand our pain and real-life stake in all of this. Maybe you didn’t understand the importance of Judaism in my family’s life or how it defines us in many ways, inwardly and outwardly, until now. Maybe you just don’t really know me at all.
My life and the way I think about the world around me has shifted since October 7th. Maybe you don’t understand what October 7th meant to me, my family, and Jews around the world? Maybe you’re not 100% clear about the kind of depraved violence that was inflicted at the hands of monsters upon innocent people (men, women, children, babies, pets, entire families), just because they’re Jewish, that started this war. Maybe you don’t realize the direness and right of Israel to defend herself, and that connection to our survival as Jews. I don’t know your reasons, but it’s not my responsibility to figure it out.
As a Jewish person I have no choice but to think and behave a certain way, and to surround myself with those who can support me in that way – in a way that some of my other friends and neighbors have so graciously provided my family and me. I can’t tell others how or what to think or feel, but I can choose who I let in. I can’t tell others where to stand, but if you’re not by my side, then you’re on the wrong side of history. In a world that wants to exterminate us and invalidate our feelings, as Jews we need to ensure a sense of physical and emotional safety. I welcome any friends who can be there for us in that way, but I have to distance myself from those who cannot. Words and actions will tell me who is who. I hope you can understand where I’m coming from, and respect why we feel the way we do.
Your Jewish Friend