Rebecca Sonkin
Dispatch from the Diaspora

Do Hostage Posters Imperil You?

When a city takes down hostage posters in the name of safety, it's a betrayal, disappearing Jews from public life and emboldening antisemites.

Last week a pair of young men armed with a butterfly knife entered the neighborhood where I live to slash down the scores of hostage posters that had gone up—and mostly stayed up—since October 7.

Until then, the opposition had been slight and stealth. On a couple blocks, the posters came down without a trace, seemingly under cover of night. On Nextdoor, a “concerned citizen” wondered whether the posters, which are prohibited under city rules, put municipal workers in an ethically fraught position. Once, someone called the police on me.

We kept putting them up anyway, galvanized by an alarming new poll that found a majority of Americans under 25 believe that the massacre in the South of Israel can be justified.

Then came the young men. It was a Thursday, 3:30 in the afternoon. The neighborhood teemed with kids walking home from school. But something was off. Posters that had survived rain, snow, and political turmoil were ripped and slashed. They’d been there that morning. Now, the beautiful faces of Hersh Polin-Goldberg and the Bibas babies and Noa Argamani lay ragged. Bits of tape glinted in the dull winter sun. Shreds of printer paper fluttered in the wind.

I’d seen the teardown videos online. But the raw rage, inflicted at scale, was new here. My stomach turned. Then we saw them. Two black-clad young men darting in and out of a Ford Focus, unable to decide, apparently, whether to be clandestine despite the time of day.

My husband asked them what they were up to. Tearing down posters, they sneered, confronting the camera on my phone. Why? Because they hate Jews. Because Jews made up a God (so?), claim to be the Chosen People (it’s complicated), and stole another people’s country (wrong). Then one pulled out the knife and sliced the face of Naama Levy. “Just try and dox me,” he leered, vowing to return before driving off. We scarcely understood what he meant.

Within 90 minutes, college-age neighborhood kids were reporting that they recognized the pair from high school, though none could remember their names. (The principal identified them.) A local restaurateur said the one who pulled the knife was among the few employees she’d fired. Though never violent, he’d refused his assigned tasks and was “too weird” with patrons. Sometimes, he pretended to be Jewish.

How should a neighborhood protect itself against such a menace? Police patrols that monitor an adjacent Orthodox Jewish neighborhood now make rounds of our mixed, secular one. Agencies at the local, state, and federal levels say they are “watching.” It’s something, I suppose.

Our neighborhood went a few steps further. The posters are coming down. They violate city rules, the mayor says, and draw dangerous people.

I don’t feel safer. I feel betrayed.

Blaming hostage posters for luring bigoted young people is what my grandmother would call bobbymyseh when she was feeling too polite to call bull. These guys knew they were targeting a Jewish neighborhood because they went to school with kids who live here. Even if they hadn’t, all they’d need to do is Google map synagogues and see the concentration.

Next time they pay us a visit—and they may have done already—they’ll see that the city did their work for them. Quite a lesson. Will they come looking for mezuzot next? Will we be pressured to take those down too?

Envision the opposite. Envision the mayor and city council standing behind the posters, speaking out for their Jewish neighbors and publicizing the plight of the hostages. What lessons would these lost young men draw from that?

During Hanukkah a couple weeks ago, cities across the Diaspora cancelled their public candle lightings, citing concerns over safety. Ingenuous or not, fear of standing with Jews is disappearing us from public life. The message is that we are the problem. Outward signs of Jewishness, even for a kid-centered holiday like Hanukkah, are now viewed as incitement. This is the true danger.

Everyone’s on edge. I get it. But the posters are going back up. And we’ll keep putting them up until every last hostage is accounted for.

About the Author
Rebecca Sonkin has published essays in The Washington Post, Tablet, Tin House, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She has taught writing at Columbia University, University of Michigan, and Jewish Theological Seminary where she was Writer-In-Residence. She is now Literary Lead of Families for Safe Streets, where she runs the reading group on bereavement, and is reporting a memoir about a fatal car crash.
Related Topics
Related Posts