Around the world, Jewish homes are attacked.
Jewish businesses and schools are vandalized. Bomb threats are rampant among synagogues.
Jews in religious garb are assaulted in the streets.
Fear is abundant. Jewish communities are on high alert. We check our front doors to ensure that our mezuzah has been left untouched. We walk the streets with extra precaution, often looking over our shoulder. We call on law enforcement for extra protection, particularly in child care centres and places of worship.
These sentiments are reminiscent of what the Jewish people have faced for centuries and were brought to a height with the extermination of 6 million Jews during the Shoah, less than 80 years ago. ‘Never Again’ became a thing of the past, or so we thought, with the last remaining Holocaust survivors transcribing their stories before perishing forever.
The horrific events of October 7th, also known as the Black Sabbath, resulted in a new generation of survivors, many young, free peace-loving music goers, as well as families sitting around breakfast tables in Kibbutz’s across Southern Israel.
I remember waking up in my home that morning north of Toronto and checking the news on my phone, as I normally do. The horrifying images of Israeli civilians being tortured, killed and dragged into Gaza with their clothes bloodied, often wounded, felt like a stake to the heart.
Like so many others, I was completely powerless. Sitting in my home comfortably and safely with my family and, for the first time, coming to the realization that many others were not so lucky. Even worse was seeing mothers and young children violently taken hostage by Hamas terrorists. Some as young as 10 months.
I felt paralyzed. It brought back difficult memories of my childhood in Nazareth during the Gulf War when my parents and I hid in a saferoom wearing gas masks and sirens blaring overhead as Saddam Hussein launched missiles into Israel. At 2 years old, I had no idea what was happening or why. All I knew is that I was terrified.
My parents had told me at a later age that due to a fear of a chemical attack by the Iraqis, our beloved German Shepherd had to remain outside of the shelter to ensure that we had enough oxygen for the 3 of us. How do you explain that to an innocent child? There surely are no right words to do so.
Luckily, not much physical damage was done, aside from the brutal suicide attacks during years of the First Intifada, and we remained unscathed. However, the trauma that lingered from incidents such as this one stayed with me for life, resulting in night terrors and asking myself, why do they hate us?
When my parents and I immigrated to Canada a year later, we left our beloved Eretz Israel, a country my parents loved immensely and continue to hold dear in their hearts, for hopes of a future without war and violence. By no means did this imply leaving behind a state that was perfect, as it surely was not – but rather, one with its own internal conflicts and dynamics that continues to be in conflict as it was well before its formal inception as a Jewish nation in 1948.
On October 7th, I thought about how much worse the horrors that were faced by other children in Israel, who, like 4-year-old Abigail Mor Edan, saw her parents butchered in front of her eyes before being hauled into Gaza in inconceivable conditions with her neighbours. The mental toll this has taken on so many of us has often been unbearable.
Trying to make some sense of what has been going on in Israel, like many others, I’ve tried to seek a sense of belonging and, in these spaces, have come across the most amazing people. The power of the Jewish community has been nothing short of incredible.
Yes, as a people who have suffered from countless years of oppression and persecution, we certainly have collective trauma that has been passed on from generation to generation.
Yet, we also have a collective spirit. Like a ‘Sabra’, a Hebrew word signifying a prickly fruit of the cactus family, refers to one born in Israel, who is said to be soft on the inside, but hard on the outside. Endless resilience and perseverance. These are the strengths of the Jewish people both within the holy land and in the diaspora. The Sabra is within each one of us.
At a time of rampant global antisemitism, as the Jewish community we have a choice. Either we hide our identity, or we embrace it. The choice has always been the latter, and is how we have ensured our survival for thousands of years. Our greatest power is unity and only by standing strong together are we able to illuminate the darkness.
The fire in our hearts have not extinguished and never will. More than ever, this is a time to attend our places of worship, to wear our Magen David proudly, to celebrate simchas and to not back down from our Jewish identity, but to rise above hate and proudly proclaim עם ישראל חי, the people of Israel live.