Ed Gaskin

Checking on Your Jewish Friends and Colleagues

Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile program in the Middle East and is using it against Israel.

Six months in, the war in Gaza isn’t going well for anyone. Israel doesn’t have its hostages back, Hamas remains a threat, Israel is viewed as a pariah because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and there’s no end in sight. The United Nations remains aligned against Israel, as it has been since 1975 when General Assembly Resolution 3379 declared, “Zionism is a form of racism.” Now, some Jews believe that the pope’s recent call for a cease-fire in Gaza means even he opposes Israel.

Some American Jews have deep connections to Israel while others have no relationship with Israel and don’t consider it their homeland. But all Jews are feeling the repercussions of the war in Gaza, which has accelerated antisemitism in the United States. Iran has the largest ballistic missile program in the Middle East and is using it against Israel. So now would be a good time to check on your Jewish friends and colleagues, because they’re probably feeling a range of emotions, including a sense of isolation.

Some American Jews who are strong liberal Democrats may nevertheless oppose a cease-fire, because they believe Hamas is an existential threat to Israel and cannot imagine a peaceful future while Hamas exists. Hamas has vowed to attack Israel repeatedly until Israel is destroyed. The Israeli Defense Forces continue to find a range of weapons in Gaza, including long-range missiles. Jews shouldn’t be hated for opposing a cease-fire while this threat exists. They’re torn and anxious because they support President Joe Biden and don’t want him to lose in the upcoming election, but they also don’t want him to distance himself from Israel to gain support for reelection. Other Jews who were part of the peace movement before Oct.  7 have redoubled their efforts and are calling for a cease-fire.

Meanwhile, antisemitic hate crimes continue to rise around the world. False bomb threats are being made to synagogues for no other reason than to harass Jews, forcing them to make a choice: Go to services and risk their lives or stay home and become further isolated. Jews might want to wear a ribbon or put up a yard sign in support of the hostages but fear that such actions would make them targets. Other Jews won’t hide their Jewish identity by concealing their Star of David jewelry or removing their yarmulkes and remain targets.

Jewish elementary school children hear misinformation and terrible tropes from trusted adults in their lives, and it scares them. Jewish parents try to protect their children from this pain to no avail. Middle and high school kids who may previously have had little interest in their Jewish faith now have even less so, as they struggle with their Jewish identity while trying to blend in. Being Jewish is not popular these days, to put it mildly.

Jewish college students have reported experiencing a range of harassment, which often affects their ability to focus on their schoolwork. On some campuses, Jewish students don’t feel safe, and some have even left school. When one mother inquired about how safe her child would be on campus, the administration responded that there were safe places on campus for Jews. That hardly reassured her, as she felt the entire campus should be safe for her child. Anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist hate groups seem to be exempt from campus policies on hate speech and activity. Loudly trumpeted diversity, equity and inclusion policies seem to protect everyone except the Jews. Administrators and campus communities seem unable to model the behavior they advocate. Parents wonder why America’s best and brightest minds can’t figure out how to protect speech while providing safety.

Some Jews have found that their workplaces have become hostile. Should they speak up and draw more attention to themselves, perhaps making things worse? When they have the option, some choose to work remotely, not for convenience but out of fear.

Your Jewish friends may know someone who was kidnapped or was one of the 1,400 Israelis killed since Oct. 7. They may know one of the 200,000–250,000 Israelis who have been displaced because of the war. Or they may know someone whose house or business was destroyed by Hamas or Hezbollah bombs. With 300,000 citizens called up for reservist duty and away from their farms and businesses, many have lost their crops or livelihoods.

These losses mean many Jews are suffering grief, sorrow, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. The daily reports of antisemitic attacks remind Jews of all ages of the Holocaust. Of the approximately 245,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors still alive, 16% live in the United States. They are afraid because the atmosphere here now feels very much like the atmosphere in Germany just prior to World War II. If you think they’re overreacting, check out the Mapping Project, which identifies the locations of Jewish institutions.

Some of my Jewish friends told me they were disappointed that I didn’t call them after Oct. 7. I don’t want to make that mistake again, and I encourage you to not make that mistake either.

This may feel like a hard time to support your Jewish friends. But it shouldn’t be. They are not responsible for what’s going on in Gaza any more than you or I were responsible for former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy of separating children from their families at the border.

The Israeli government may be doing a poor job of executing the war against Hamas, but attacking Jews and Jewish institutions — or supporting those who do — won’t bring more aid to Gaza. It will increase anxiety, fear and terror, which doesn’t help anyone. We can simultaneously hold compassion for those experiencing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, those who are still reeling from the events of Oct. 7, and American Jews who are afraid to be Jewish in their daily life.

About the Author
Ed Gaskin attends Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Roxbury, Mass. He has co-taught a course with professor Dean Borman called, “Christianity and the Problem of Racism” to Evangelicals (think Trump followers) for over 25 years. Ed has an M. Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and graduated as a Martin Trust Fellow from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has published several books on a range of topics and was a co-organizer of the first faith-based initiative on reducing gang violence at the National Press Club in Washington DC. In addition to leading a non-profit in one of the poorest communities in Boston, and serving on several non-profit advisory boards, Ed’s current focus is reducing the incidence of diet-related disease by developing food with little salt, fat or sugar and none of the top eight allergens. He does this as the founder of Sunday Celebrations, a consumer-packaged goods business that makes “Good for You” gourmet food.
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