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Daniel G. Saunders

From a Corner of Chutz La’aretz

My brothers are at war and I am staying here. For as long as the Jew hate is vaguely tolerable. I feel guilty, survivor’s guilt. Sometimes it seems there isn’t a safe place for the Jews in the world, not in Israel and not in chutz la’aretz (“outside the land,” a better term, I feel now, than “the diaspora”). How is life in this far-flung corner of chutz la’aretz (London)? We can escape the war more easily than Israelis, but we are still trying to connect to our brothers and sisters, to empathise, to understand, to care. Last night, I dreamt I joined the IDF, more from guilt than anything else, and was on the front line, where I was terrified of being killed.

My wife and I bought our first home last week, but the feelings of anxiety and misery that have been around since 7 October persist around the excitement and the stress of moving. At the back of everything is the fear for hostages, soldiers, ordinary Israelis, chutz la’aretz Jews, all of us, all the time. It’s inescapable, like checking The Times of Israel multiple times a day (a day? An hour!).

When I read Times of Israel, I read not just the news stories, but especially the blogs. I obsessively read the blogs. A huge number are published each day (I think I counted fifty on one day, not a particularly prolific one) and I at least skim perhaps two-thirds. From the relative backwater of England, I want to connect with my Jewish brothers and sisters across the world, but particularly in Israel. I have huge survivor’s guilt about living in a country where no one has killed or kidnapped my family, no one is firing rockets at me, I’m not in the army. But then, I could be living there soon, if Jew hate continues to worsen. Whatever brakes were put on Jew hate after the Holocaust are well and truly off now.

A friend of mine in America diligently reads reports from survivors and their medical examiners. She sees it as bearing witness and staying emotionally involved. I can’t bear to read it in detail. I feel that I don’t need to. I know it happened. I know why it happened and what needs to be done to stop it happening again. It’s the people who deny it or blame the victims who need to read the testimony, although they won’t be convinced (Guardian journalist Owen Jones saw the IDF screening of video evidence and more or less called it faked or at least exaggerated, claiming there was no evidence of rape, despite the disclaimer of the IDF that they were not showing the most graphic material to protect the dignity of the victims). But I do feel a bit guilty for that too, that I should be exposing myself to what happened to the point of trauma and nightmares because so many of my brothers and sisters had no choice.

Every day brings new sources of fear, anger, misery, despair. For the last few days, I have taken a bit of a Times of Israel blog break, beyond the usual Shabbat break, for self-care. I went cold turkey for two days; today I am limiting myself to reading a few posts. But is that wrong? Is that walking away, uncaring? I want to find a way to invest my talents in something I can do well for my people, not just freak myself out with helpless anxiety and despair, without moving to Israel, which is impossible at the moment for several reasons, although, for the first time in my life, my wife and I have been having conversations about “having to move there one day.”

In the meantime, I blog, and hope. I try to find practical ways to connect where I can. My wife and I decided not to give Chanukah presents this year, instead making donations to suitable charities that need the money more than we need the gifts right now. We chose Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance service and blood bank, and University Jewish Chaplaincy, the UK charity supporting Jewish students on campus, who are bearing the brunt of antisemitism in chutz la’aretz right now.

I daven (pray) and learn Torah to connect with Jews across the world and across our long and often dark history. This is not the place to discuss my theology of prayer, but a part of it is the idea of identifying as part of a “covenantal community,” as stated by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in The Lonely Man of Faith. Regardless of whether our prayers are heard (I believe they are, but I acknowledge that not everyone does), I see prayer as a way of identifying as a Jew, sharing hopes and needs and aspirations with other Jews, now and in the past. Prayer is a way of  binding us together even when we are not near.

I remind myself that we have walked this road before and survived. We can do it again, if we don’t forget who we are and the strength of the heritage we bring with us.

About the Author
Daniel Saunders is an office administrator, proofreader and copy editor living in London with his wife. He has a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford and an MA in Library and Information Management.