I just listened to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast, on Israel and the diaspora after 7 October and whether Jews outside Israel care “enough” or feel that Israel is fighting for our safety and liberty. These are a few uncollected thoughts prompted by the discussion. Some of the thoughts were prompted by the feeling that the panelists, from Monsey, Passaic and Nairobi, have necessarily very different experiences to my own, in London.
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Jew-hate is a long-term issue here in the UK. We of course had Jeremy Corbyn a couple of years ago. But even on the street, I periodically get abuse shouted at me. It last happened a few months before October 7, when a bunch of pre-teens (ethnically mixed) shouted, “Nazi! Holocaust!” at me. Even so, I have been shocked reappearance last four months and feel unsafe in a way I have never felt here before. The center of London is a no-go area for Jews on Saturdays now because of the weekly pro-Palestine marches, admittedly not such an issue for shomer Shabbat Jews like myself, but still shocking that the government, the mayor and the police have allowed this to happen, not to mention for other Jews.
I feel nervous about wearing my kippah in public. I’ve felt that in specific situations in the past, but now I feel it the whole time. For the first time, I am also nervous about having workmen in our home, which has happened a lot recently (we’re just moving in).
Despite this, I honestly do think Israel is fighting for MY freedom. The Diaspora Jew-haters didn’t just wake up and decide to hate Jews on October 8. They hated Jews for years, but were deterred from expressing it by the strength of the Jewish state, which they now see as weakened. If Israel doesn’t win a decisive victory, the Diaspora *will* suffer, maybe not in New York and New Jersey, or not initially, but elsewhere.
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I suspect every country has its own unique shades of Jew hate. In the UK, it’s the BBC. The BBC is hated by Jews the world over now, but here in the UK, we actually have to pay for it through the BBC license fee, which is paid by anyone who has a TV. I tried to organize a mass Jewish license fee boycott a few months ago in protest, but nothing came of it. My wife and I went to Plan B: legally avoid paying the license fee by not connecting our TV to an aerial to get live TV signals. We can still stream (although we don’t, generally) and watch DVDs.
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At the same time, the non-Jewish friendships that have endured in recent months, which are the ones where they actually cared about the murder of Jews, seem extra precious now.
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I wonder if the dilemma about Jews outside Israel caring “enough” is a product of modern communications and transport technology. After the Kishinev Pogrom, people weren’t trying to get there to help or bear witness. Of course, Israel isn’t “just” Kishinev either. It is always going to loom larger in our consciousness, wherever we live and so it should.
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Strange things can trigger thoughts of the murdered or the hostages, as well as obvious ones like the news. Being around my wife reminds me of Hamas brutally weaponizing sex. Seeing my 1-year-old nephew reminds me of the murdered babies and other killed children in this conflict. I still feel compassion for Gazan children, but, unlike in previous conflicts, I have no real feeling for “ordinary” adult Gazans. Are they Jew hating? Hamas-supporting? Hamas-hating? Brainwashed? All of the above? I don’t know and don’t think that talking about “innocence” or “guilt” here is really relevant – it has no bearing on what Israel has to do, legally and morally. I don’t wish them harm, exactly, but I struggle to feel any empathy.
Light fiction, novels or TV, can suddenly have a reference to hostages, tunnels, war, bereavement and grief. Last week I was wiped out with COVID and re-read a bunch of Tintin graphic novels as I couldn’t get my brain around anything else. Even there, there was a reference to kidnapped babies. In a children’s comic from decades ago.
Maybe it’s good that we can’t get away from these triggers right now. I have set the Jewish people before me always.
Even so, I have layered survivor’s guilt: for not being murdered on October 7th, for not living under fire, for not living in an area when pogroms and attempted genocide against Jews were normal. I thank God three times a day in the Amidah prayer for giving us a state and an army, for autonomy and defense.
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The hard thing at the moment is not to care about Israel. The hard thing is to find the balance between the part of me that wants to immerse myself in the Jewish people’s pain and the part that has to deal with the rest of my life. It is about finding ways to care that are authentic, meaningful and helpful, not trivial or indulgent.
It is not possible for my wife and I to visit Israel right now. We have donated to Israeli causes, but we can’t give indefinitely. I try to stay in contact with family and friends in Israel. I have been wearing tape with the numbers of days of captivity written on it each day. I sometimes wonder if there will come a point when I stop doing this, either because all the surviving hostages are free, or because all the hostages are dead, or because it seems hopeless that they will return.
Davening (prayer) is important to me right now. I have worse kavannah (mindfulness) than I did in the immediate aftermath of 7 October aftermath, but some prayers are still very important e.g. for redemption, ingathering of the exiles, destruction of the wicked, peace and, perhaps surprisingly, for gratitude. Lately I am more aware of God’s concern and compassion than ever, not least in the return of Jewish autonomy and self-defence after nearly two thousand years, something that may just be the greatest miracle of Jewish/world history, not to mention one predicted repeatedly in the Torah.
Like davening, Torah connects me to Jews throughout the world and through history. Regardless of the content, it helps me feel rooted in Yiddishkeit and in the Jewish people. This has always been the case, but particularly now.
It is true that as time goes on, it becomes harder for observances to feel fresh. This is not unique to hostage/war observances e.g. my davening generally goes through “dry” spells.
My reading patterns have changed. From being a huge consumer of novels, I find it much easier to read non-fiction, particularly anything dealing with Jew hate, the Holocaust, Jewish identity, the far-left and radical Islam (the sources of most Jew hate in this country). I read the Times of Israel blog section obsessively.
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Aliyah seems both more important and more impossible than ever. At any rate, my wife and I have had serious conversations since 7 October about under what circumstances we would/wouldn’t make aliyah. I focus on the prayer for the ingathering of the exiles in the Amidah, reasoning that God can resolve all difficulties.
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I feel proud to be Jewish, to belong to this people, even if I feel an inadequate Jew at times. I would not desert the Jewish people for the admiration and respect of all the world.