Sandra McDonagh
Vegan / writer / blogger

Double Trouble

Jewish and Vegan. (courtesy)

A few days after the shocking atrocities of October 7th in Israel, a couple of my non-Jewish friends reached out to me via text and social media to let me know that they were thinking of me and to reassure me that they were there if I needed them. One chose to send me uplifting Instagram reels instead of repeatedly asking me if I was okay, admitting that she was finding it hard to find the words. The other sent me a WhatsApp message from abroad asking me how I was doing after hearing about the week’s disturbing details. My reply understandably was sad and morose but a few messages in I decided to try and turn the conversation around so I cracked one of my in-very-bad-taste and technically unfunny jokes. Concluding with “try being Jewish AND vegan! The hatred runs deep” My friend replied, “you have indeed chosen a difficult path.”

Writing this reminded me of something my husband once said to me when we were discussing our heritage in the early days of our relationship, him being first generation Irish and me being Jewish. He looked up at me sweetly and with a glint in his eye declared “our kids will be good looking and funny, but everyone will hate them!” He was being ironic, of course, but unfortunately there is some truth to this, especially when two oppressed races come together! 

So why was I so shocked at losing a few of my Instagram followers when I posted about my heartbreak at what was going on in Israel, and then a few more when I shared that my first blog for the TOI would be published in the coming days? There definitely was no prepping for those feelings of hurt and upset that arise when the world starts to descend into an antisemitic spiral.

The majority of my Instagram followers and friends are fellow vegans so I was expecting the same kind of support and empathy towards the 1,400 people massacred in Israel on October 7th as they give to all animals murdered on a daily basis. Instead, what I encountered was silence from the majority of people, who were either sitting on the fence or refusing to acknowledge what had taken place and are continuing to do so. It wasn’t until Israel started to retaliate that I noticed the people who stayed silent over Israel suddenly posting about Gaza and how many innocent Palestinians would lose their lives. What about the innocent Israelis? Were their lives less valuable, less important, less deserving? 

Suddenly there seemed to be huge support for the Palestinian people and very little for the deaths of Israelis amongst my vegan community. I have witnessed the escalating anti-Jewish culture that is way more prevalent since 7th October and it reminded me of an interview I watched a few years ago on the Shoah channel on YouTube. It was a dialogue with a female Holocaust survivor who said that she was recognising subtle changes in the world today towards Jews that she had witnessed back in the 1930s, before World War II had begun, describing her fear that maybe the world hadn’t actually learnt anything at all from the six million Jews who lost their lives back then. She was fearful that what  she was sensing indicated that it could very well happen again. This resonated with me, but in the back of my mind I thought that her thoughts must be still linked to a trauma response as a Holocaust survivor. I’m now beginning to think that she may be right.

It grieves me to think that my maternal grandfather, who was once one of the underground doctors for the Lehi, fought for independence in vain, it makes me incredibly sad when I think of my  maternal grandmother who fought to survive in a Siberian gulag where she was raped and made to endure hard labour only for it to be repeated again.

Desperate feelings have been rising up in me when I remember my  paternal great grandfather murdered by the Gestapo and my countless family members killed in the ghettos. 

My heart is aching for my family members in Israel who are risking their lives daily.

It’s distressing watching the Jewish community asking themselves hypothetical questions like who out of their non Jewish friends would be willing to hide them. It’s unnerving witnessing Jewish influencers desperately pleading with the public to support the Jews around them. It’s scary to observe and vibe such a strong dislike for Israel and Jews both on social media and in reality, be it overhearing conversations or seeing it graffitied on the streets near your home.

People who seem to know very little about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, have jumped on the bandwagon and spreading misinformation at an alarming and dangerous rate. It feels like a witch hunt and it’s a very isolating feeling.

It’s easy to make throw away comments about how to deal with all that is occurring like “don’t rise to it“ or “you are being over sensitive” it just feels very real at the moment and emotions are running high and precious lives are being lost.

What is unveiling itself is a sign that Israel needs to exist more so than ever, if for no other reason than to remind all the Jewish people around the world that there is a place where they will always be welcome and never feel persecuted. Has the time really come where we have to feel scared, worried, disliked, and in fear of our lives once again? 

On a positive note, social media can be a place to make those very wonderful connections with like-minded people. I have met up with a few of my vegan Instagram friends at festivals and gatherings in the past and at this moment in time, I feel more connected to the Jewish community than I have before. 

The truth is, I have felt a shift recently, a shift that as a Jewish person I feel I am no longer as truly welcome in my online vegan community as I was pre October 7th.

I have been accused as a Jewish vegan of greenwashing with veganism whilst a genocide takes place by one of my followers who I unfortunately had to block.

To be clear I am distressed by all the lives lost in this ongoing conflict. I am devastated by this war, but there are certain facts that I am unable to dispute and one of those facts is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Hamas exploit their own people and use them to carry out the brutality and wickedness they are renowned for. I fail to see how this can be supported in any way.

I have of course been accused of possessing biased views as I am a Jew, but where is the bias when my heart goes out to all the Palestinian innocents. My heart is breaking for the lack of freedom that is delivered to these people by their own regime.

I’m finding it hard to consolidate my veganism with other vegans who contend they are anti-violence and want to save all sentient beings from harm when they so blatantly have zero empathy for the lives lost in Israel recently and the hostages taken. I am wrestling daily with the notion that some people are even denying the right for the Jewish and Israeli community to have a voice at all.

It seems that being Jewish is an open invitation for haters to hate in the very same stance as some non-vegans seem to hate on vegans.

Finishing on an optimistic tone and through an idealistic lens, I look forward to a time when we no longer  feel the need to hate on someone or something. A time when all begin to recognise the harm we are doing to each other and everything living on this planet. There must be another way to harmonise.

Instagram @vegangreatgrandma

About the Author
Hi, I'm Sandra McDonagh (nee Schwarz), and i am a writer. Originally from London, I am now living in Brighton by the sea. Married with three children and vegan for the last twelve years. I have just written my debut book all about my great-grandmother Dora Schwarz, a pioneer and trailblazer of the vegan, vegetarian and raw food diet. Dora Schwarz ran a very successful health sanatorium in Zichron Yaakov, Israel in the 1930s through to the 1960s.
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