Loolwa Khazzoom

Dance as a radical act of solidarity

My mom with a message!

In the wake of the Oct 7 massacre of Israelis…

And the celebrations that followed worldwide – glorifying the raping, burning, and decapitating of my people…

And the subsequent mass destruction of posters raising awareness of Israeli hostages being tortured in captivity by Hamas…

And the simultaneous call for a violent uprising against Jews worldwide…

And the astronomical spike in hate crimes against Jews – among other things, leading to incessant harassment, assaults, and death threats of students at my alma mater, Columbia University, and additionally leading to the murder of a kind Jewish man I knew in Los Angeles…

And the international mob chants of, “From the river to the sea,” harkening back to the harrowing cries my father heard on Arabic radio stations as a child in Iraq, “We will throw the Jews into the sea”…

And the palpable terror I then felt as a Jew, whose family had seen this before, had fled this before, in a pro-Nazi uprising in Baghdad, where an identical massacre had taken place during my father’s childhood…

And the deafening silence in the wake of all this – not even one word of care or kindness, from the vast majority of non-Jewish people I had loved, had lived with, had broken bread with…

And I felt as if I had died.

I stopped journaling, stopped writing poetry, stopped writing music, stopped singing, stopped playing bass, stopped dancing. I got sick repeatedly and continuously, over the course of two months, even ended up in the emergency room with symptoms of a possible stroke at 2:00 am one night – this after years and years of never getting sick, not once, not even when my ex got COVID and I nursed him back to health.

I couldn’t sleep, had nightmares, woke up in the middle of the night, lying awake for hours, my mind circling around and around, imagining the horror and terror the hostages must be suffering through, was haunted by the video image I accidentally had seen of a young Jewish woman, who was naked and chained, publicly being dragged around by Hamas, as they filmed her, one of the many Jewish women they gang raped and mutilated that day, often next to the dead bodies of these women’s friends – filming that violence too, in something akin to snuff porn.

I could feel it in my body.

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t move.

Despite the destructive impact on me, I felt that somehow, by energetically experiencing – and, by extension, by physically experiencing – the pain that my people were enduring, I was communicating a telepathic message to them:

I will not forsake you. I will not forget you.

No, I will not frolic on the beach beneath the misty gray soothing skies. No, I will not enjoy the quiet, peace, and comfort of the vast rainforest just outside my door. No, I will not detach myself from something “happening on the other side of the world,” as a non-Jewish acquaintance kindly advised, because there is no “other side of the world” when it comes to Jews. You are me, and I am you, and we are connected. I cannot control the world’s response, but I can control mine. I will face, see, hear, and feel your pain, until it is gone.

But wait…that’s exactly what Hamas wants, isn’t it? To demoralize and destroy Jews. To suffocate us, hijack our imagination. To strip us of our dignity, safety, peace, and perhaps most of all, joy.

So to reclaim my joy is in fact a radical act of Jewish power and solidarity. To flip imagination on its head – instead of visualizing all the horrors and shrinking in my body, to instead expand in my body and visualize all the hostages, injured people, and bereaving families as resilient, grounded, surrounded by love, and the dead as soaring freely and peacefully, wrapping their loved ones in comfort.

Nothing is black and white, but this is an article, not a book, so I’m trying to keep it short and sweet. Suffice it to say, I actively and repeatedly had attempted to turn the images around, over the course of two months – to send white light, to bless the hostages, to emit some kind of protective energetic shield, but it kept seeming silly, foolish, without actual impact, perhaps just making myself feel better, like a hollow New Ager. My prayers would not stop a psychopathic Hamas gunman with absolute control over a hostage, I reasoned, because G-d gave humans both the gift and curse of free will.

But then…

But then I went to a concert of Yemen Blues, which was more of a primal howl of freedom than a “performance,” and which featured an Israeli woman dancing with a defiant, raw ferocity that brought back to life the sanctity, dignity, and power of the Jewish female body – and, with that, permission to dance.

And after that, I started dancing again. And after that, I started singing again. And after that, I started frolicking with my beautiful dog, beneath the misty gray soothing skies on the beach, and through the vast rainforest just outside my door.

And I came back to life.

In this very difficult but transformative journey, I learned that life begets life begets life, and artistic self-expression is not an indulgence, but rather, a superpower.

As I danced on the beach with my dog over the past couple of days, a vision emerged – a global movement of Jews and our allies taking videos of ourselves dancing joyfully, and sending those videos to the people wounded in the Oct 7 massacre, the families of those who died, the families of those taken hostage, and the young women and men on the frontlines defending Israel from further attack – turning “we will dance again” into “we will dance for you until you can dance again” – sharing whatever strength, freedom, and joy we have, to uplift those who are in the thick of it, struggling and suffering.

Having snapped out of an emotional coma of sorts, I then picked up my bass, and out poured both the melody and lyrics of my new song, “Til You Can Dance Again.” That same day, I finally finished the one song that I had started, but could not finish, a few weeks after Oct 7, “Dear Hostages.” Not having touched my bass for the better part of three months, I played until my fingers were blistered and almost bleeding. Over the next 24 hours, I wrote two additional songs, and have since completed a total of seven songs for a full album, ‘Til You can Dance Again, offering both my journey and my joy as a catalyst for healing and transformation.

It is in fact through song, dance, story, prayer, and food that Jews historically have not only overcome tragedy, but have taken that very experience and transmuted into an vehicle for joy – the ultimate “f*** you” to those who have tried to destroy us. For this reason, my band will release our new album on March 6, at the start of Purim, a holiday marking one of many historical traumas that the Jewish people have turned on its head and morphed into a cause for celebration. My heartfelt prayer for this album is that as broken as we may feel right now, we shall once again rise up, sing and dance ourselves back to wholeness, and honor the victims of Oct 7 not only through our grief and pain, but also through our fierce and irrepressible Jewish joy – emerging, once again, like that unstoppable phoenix, soaring up and out from the ashes.

About the Author
Loolwa Khazzoom ( is the frontwoman for the band Iraqis in Pajamas ( and editor of The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage ( She has been a pioneering Jewish multicultural educator since 1990, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, and other top media worldwide.
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