Walking out of the supermarket the other day, I was a few steps behind a woman with a baby carrier, her hair was up, making her back-of-the-neck tattoo visible. It said, שלום. I smiled. A simple moment of connection in that word, shalom—hello/goodbye/peace—especially seeing it in Hebrew, especially now.
As I passed her, I turned and said, “I like your neck tattoo.” She smiled back and said, “Thank you.”
Amid chants calling for death to Jews, either through slogans or increasingly blunt chants, and the grotesque ignoring/diminishing/discounting of Israeli women’s (and men’s, it now appears) horrific experiences of sexual assault and rape on October 7th, and the harrowing stories from the released hostages, and the increasing fears for the remaining hostages, and the stories of Jewish college students fearing for their lives on once seemingly pastoral campuses, and the vandalism and protests outside of Jewish institutions and Jewish-owned businesses, and disruptions of celebrations, and blocking highways and bridges, and the “context” that morally bankrupt college presidents (and their supporters and advisors) need to condemn genocidal antisemitism—and and and—this long list of pain and suffering—just let us Israelis and Jews live in peace!—this woman made me happy to see how easily she expressed herself and her existence.
It was a relief. Like when I see someone wearing their Jewish star or Chai necklace (חי, which means “life” in Hebrew). I look at them and smile, often with a nod of mutual recognition.
To spread those nods, I wear a new Jewish star necklace. This symbol, also referred to as a Star or Shield of David for the biblical king who ruled in Judea—Israel—from approximately 1010-970 BCE (more than 3,000 years ago!) represents Jews and Judaism. It was important to me to buy mine from an Israeli artisan: supporting my people in two ways.
When I took my mother to a doctor’s appointment the other day, a woman in a Muslim head scarf signed us in. I could see her looking at my necklace. There was no nod of recognition, but I felt an acknowledgment. Here we are, both proudly showing who we are, in this country where we are both minorities (against the backdrop of a big Christmas tree in the lobby and a small Hanukkah menorah), and especially since we are often portrayed as enemies or expected to be enemies. But we are not enemies. My abiding fear is that the extremes—the terrorists and their growing numbers of ghastly supporters who have become so visible and verbal—will continue to get to define how we see each other and how the world sees us. It does not have to be this way.
The pit in my stomach since October 7th is a real, constant presence even here, in southern Florida. It is hard to remain calm amidst so much hatred—hatred with fancy explanations.
How does it feel to be obsessed with an entire group of people? How does it feel to hate people you don’t know? How does it feel to think that raping, beheading, and burning people alive is a form of liberation? How does it feel to believe that death is better than life? How does it feel to be proud of hurting and terrorizing people? How does it feel to know that there is so much blackness within you?
If this is a test for humanity, so many are failing. And it doesn’t matter the psychological explanations, the religious reasonings, or the philosophical underpinnings: to be ruled by hate is a dark existence. It is not one conducive to inquiry, discovery, creativity, conviviality, and inspiration, or even the basics: happiness and love.
Rather than seeing that there can be light and striving toward it, they are/there are insatiable black voids of hate.
I would like to pity those who refuse to emerge from their internal tunnels, but I am too angry, disappointed, distressed. Too many people believe blanket assertions of evil about Jews. The absurdity makes me laugh, a bitter laugh for the twisted state of the world.
I am too saddened by more reports of deaths. Of deaths because the people were Jewish, or protecting those who live in Israel. If prayers—heartfelt thoughts that go out into the ether, perhaps creating a stir, like butterfly wings—have an impact (how do we continue to believe this after centuries of this cycle of pain and hatred?) I want to use mine to find light, I do not want to be dimmed. Oh, how I want to believe that our continued existence, our strength, our commitment, our beliefs have been/are for good.
In my prayer class today, when one woman tearfully said how dismayed she is about the latest devastating news out of Israel, others told her not to give in to despair, to not let others break her.
I don’t know. I get not despairing because it removes hope, but not being broken? Perhaps the innate drive to repair one’s broken soul and spirit forges something stronger.
But what purpose is the dead-end darkness of hate?