One of my closest friends and I are struggling with our relationship during this awful war.
It’s not just about politics for us, although I don’t think I know anyone who feels this war is anything other than something deeply personal. We have both dedicated our professional lives (our entire lives?) to empowering our communities, contemplating Jewish identity, and writing about antisemitism. The only problem is that we have wildly different definitions of what exactly antisemitism is.
To provide clarity as to why, I am an Orthodox Jew and Ava is a progressive feminist. I started out as one myself, only to become religious in college and attend a Haredi seminary with a Women’s Studies degree in hand, no less. Meanwhile, Ava became more… progressive. We met a few years later and clicked. Don’t ask us how.
There is not one personal dilemma that I don’t speak to her about. Given that life provides fresh ones regularly, Ava and I are in touch often. We are on the same page about many things— parenting styles, work-life balance, cheese, militant lactation consultants, etc., etc. It’s not easy to find someone who knows how to make you laugh and jolt you back into a functioning adult on your toughest days. Friendship is easy for us— we see and understand each other.
Except when it comes to one topic.
When it comes to antisemitism, we don’t complement each other like we usually do. On most days, we’re akin to a quirky, amusing duo of podcast hosts. A modern Lucy and Ethel, if you will. Even on many serious subjects, we agree more than you might expect. There’s something about no-holds-barred conversations with someone you admire that’s grounding. It’s hard to let opinions run wild in your mind when a trusted friend enjoys bringing you back down to reality.
But during the war, things have been different. Painful. Awful, even. The distance has been harder for us to bridge, let alone bear. She lives on Mars and I live on Neptune. And our wonderful friendship on Earth feels farther and farther away.
It all began in the haunting week after the Hamas massacre, but not in the way you might expect. Ava was horrified by the reaction of many of her progressive colleagues and we supported one another through those terrifying first days.
Slowly, as the bombing in Gaza became relentless, Ava’s activism on social media became even more difficult for me to swallow than usual. “How can you use the word genocide so easily now but not before?” I asked. She immediately responded, worried, wanting to make things right. That was enough for me to hold on to. We moved on.
Then I began to share excerpts on social media of an article I was writing on the history of Jews under Arab nationalism in the 20th century. Arab nationalist movements, I explained, rendered Jews’ safety conditional on their ability to become “pure” and loyal Arabs. They were subsequently expected to suppress fundamental aspects of their Jewishness, from their national identity as Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) to their longing for Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) to their tradition of financially supporting diaspora Jews’ settlement in their homeland.
Ava strongly disagreed. “No, sorry.” She responded. This was always where I lost her. She vehemently opposed the idea that Arab nation-states required the dismantlement of Jewish identity and the Jewish nation. “It only required the dismantlement of Zionism” she would say. I couldn’t believe that the October 7th massacre didn’t prompt her to experience the slightest doubt in her convictions.
To be sure, Ava’s politics are complicated, as are mine. We don’t perfectly toe our respective party lines. She is not anti-Zionist herself, but she collaborates with anti-Zionist groups. She also “theoretically” supports the Palestinian armed resistance. And I “theoretically” want to hurl my phone at the wall every time I think about it.
“Yes, they did try to dismantle the Jewish nation, Ava. And Jews’ safety was conditional on their assimilation” I reply brusquely to her message.
“I know you know I don’t think Jewish safety should be conditional.” She wrote, while needing reassurance.
“I believe your politics imply they should be. I honestly feel like you act as an apologist for antisemitic political movements.”
“If you don’t think I fundamentally believe in the right for Jewish safety then I actually don’t know how you can be in conversation with me.”
The more we tried to resolve our issues, the more bitter our conversations became. “You’ve internalized so much antisemitism, Ava. I can’t do this anymore” I finally told her, already regretting my callousness. But I didn’t want to apologize either.
We have spoken little since.
As the silence grows between us, I’ve realized that a close friendship is a living body of its own. When the heart begins to fail, blood is no longer pumped to the other organs. They become less vivid in color. Colder. I didn’t understand how interconnected it all was until the core began to deteriorate. Until the part of me that needed to be understood the most began to die.
The question is, could it ever be revived? I don’t have an answer, only more questions.
“Ah yes,” Ava would say to that. “A true Jew.”
There she is again. In my head, responding to my thoughts. Without my permission, I might add.
And yet, she’s right. I am a true Jew and we are true Jewish friends. Arguing about religion and politics before breakfast, making sure the other one’s eaten something by lunch. What’s to come remains unknown.
As I reflect on my conversations with Ava, I keep returning to one of my favorite quotes from the Talmud.
“Rabbi Ille’a said to [Rabbi Hanina]: May the Merciful One save us from following this opinion, as your argument is illogical. Rabbi Hanina replied: On the contrary, may the Merciful One save us from your opinion, as yours is the baseless opinion.”
Yes, I pray to myself, May God save us from her opinion.