Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: The Illusion of Safety

(Photocredits: Author)

I have been watching, with a fascinated sort of horror, how antisemitism has exploded in the last three and a half weeks. In the name of justice, people have taken up the mantle of hatred. In the name of peace, these people have no problem condoning the slaughtering and raping and kidnapping and torturing of our people.

Oh wait. I forgot.

Jews aren’t people.

And we never have been. Not in the eyes of the world. If we were, the Holocaust could never have happened. If we were, the Chmielnicki pogroms could never have happened. If we were, the Inquisition could never have happened. If we were, the Crusades could never have happened. Not the first, or the second, or the third.

If we were, October 7 could never have happened.

In the immediate aftermath of the horrors of October 7, I—and a lot of people I spoke to—were blown away by how many people reached out to show that they care. I mentioned once before, but that first Monday night, I was on a Zoom call with a group mostly composed of American Catholics, and they took some time to pray for us. My aunt, who made aliyah in 2009, has had former colleagues from when she lived and worked in the States reach out to see how she and her family are doing and to let her know that she—we—are in their thoughts and prayers. A soldier friend sent me a screenshot of a message that he got from the sister of someone he had randomly hiked with once, who was messaging him because she just wanted to let him know that she cared. And I was genuinely stunned when a prominent law firm publicly rescinded its offer to the president of the NYU Bar Association after this student, a third year law student, condemned Israel for—I kid you not—oppressing Palestinians to the point that they had no other choice but to lash out like this. (I still cannot get over that, by the way. As my cousin put it, if you stand with Gaza, you can go stand in Gaza.)

But on the flip side, the hatred and vitriol and blatant antisemitism, no longer hiding behind the mask of anti-Zionism, has caught on like wildfire. The amount of closet antisemites that have come out in recent weeks is staggering. College campuses are particularly dangerous now for Jewish students, some of whom are afraid to go to class because there are people who pass by and stop for just long enough to call for their deaths. There was chilling footage last week of students at Cooper-Union who had to be locked into the library for their own safety as a mob shouted for their blood. One of my siblings attended one of these schools that has been been in the news for its student body’s blind hatred, although to call it simple hatred feels cheap, and he said that he has never been so embarrassed to be associated with that school. A friend of mine is a graduate of another one of these schools, and she couldn’t believe that the president of the university took a week to put out a statement, and when the president finally did, said statement was beyond underwhelmingly tepid in its condemnation of this unspeakable horror because it kind of didn’t really say anything of substance.

And it’s not just college campuses. The Brooklyn Bridge this past Saturday groaned under the weight of Hamas-sympathizers marching across in protest of Israel’s defending itself. Grand Central Station in Manhattan was shut down on Friday night as those who had the unmitigated gall to call themselves humanitarians called for a ceasefire. An ancient Jewish cemetery in Vienna, Austria, was set ablaze the other night. An airport in some Russian satellite state that I never heard of was overrun with bloodthirsty animals calling for the blood of the passengers who had just landed on a plane from Tel Aviv. Jewish homeowners in France woke up one morning this week to find their houses tagged with a Jewish star, so that everyone should know that this home is Jewish. You know. Kind of like the Nazis made all Jewish homes and businesses do after Kristallnacht. Or was it before? Honestly, I can’t remember right now. But I don’t think that detail even matters at the current moment.

What matters is that the illusion of safety has been shattered. The perception of security has been revealed for what it truly is. Or at least, our eyes should be opened to the truth. But I’m not confident. The other day, I found myself talking about Israel with one of my classes, as I am wont to do, and I made what I thought was the very obvious statement that there’s no better place for a Jew to be than Israel, and while that’s always the case, it’s a thousand times more true right now. And I couldn’t believe how many of them got stuck on the fact that it’s safe here and it’s not safe there. Now, I need to give a couple of quick disclaimers: First, I am well aware of the fact that the media, and especially social media, tends to blow things out of proportion, and that the war is magnified from afar. That’s how things go. And part of my role in my coming back to the States is in allaying some of their fears, explaining how we adapted to life, how we lived, how we were implored to live. The second disclaimer is that I am also well aware of the fact that these are high-schoolers who have not yet fully developed their minds or their worldviews. And another part of my role, in coming back to the States, is to help them with that. So I don’t blame them for their response.

But I do wonder about their parents. Not blame, God forbid. But I wonder. I wonder about the homes in which these kids were raised where they can still say today, more than three weeks into this nightmare and more than three weeks into the incomprehensible eruption of antisemitism, that it’s perfectly safe for a Jew here in the United States. I wonder about the values systems in homes that would choose to continue to labor under the delusion of safety and security. I wonder about the values systems in a home that doesn’t seem to recognize that God’s focus on the world in concentrated through the land of Israel, and it’s as if He sees everywhere else in His peripheral vision (see Rashi’s comment on Deuteronomy 11:12). I wonder if these parents made it a priority to get their children passports immediately, the way that my mother did, because a Jew should always have a current passport because we aren’t home and we need to remember that. And I’m not blaming. And I’m not accusing. I know that there are reasons—real, valid reasons—for people to live in the Diaspora.

But I wonder.

I’m not looking to scare anyone. But I do want you to think, long and hard, about why it is that you feel safe, and whether that feeing of safety is illusory. (Hint: It is.) For most of us, thank God, we are not under immediate bodily threat. But we aren’t safe. Because we aren’t home. We don’t belong here. We are guests, and we must—must—be grateful to our host country for the fact that we have been able to live and grow and recover and thrive since the end of the Holocaust. But it’s no coincidence that the Jewish world—the Diaspora—has flourished so much in the last seventy five years. Since 1948. With the advent of the Jewish State.

Because that’s where we belong.

That’s where we’re safe.

Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה

כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם

About the Author
As a combination logophile and Israel-o-phile, Rachel's fingers itch whenever something needs to be shared about Israel, particularly as it relates to the Diaspora. Her credentials include a Master's in English and many years experience as a high-school English teacher, which covers the writing part, and being a card-carrying member of the Jewish nation, which covers the Israel part. Although she currently resides in Suffern, NY, her heart has long since been stolen by Israel herself, and her mind is constantly preoccupied with the capital of the Jewish people.
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