Just 30 days ago, I was jolted off of my yoga mat by the news that there had been an attack in Israel. An attack on Jewish people like none other since the Holocaust.
My Frankfurter Oma and my Alsatian born Opa came to New York from Amsterdam in 1939. I wondered a lot over the past four weeks what it must have been like for them to be there, to be safe, while their families were still in Europe. Could they sleep? Did they eat? How did they acclimate to life in a strange place while hearing the rumors circulating through New York’s German Jewish refugee community? While watching the evening news? When reading an inch long article buried deep in the pages of The New York Times, weeks after similar (and probably more accurate) information had been published in the German language newspaper, Aufbau? What must it have been like to hear about horrors that were too inhuman, too unimaginable to fathom? Incomprehensible? Unbelievable? The United States also had its own fair share of antisemitism. They kept their heads down, moved in their tight circle of fellow refugees, and waited through the long years, hoping against hope, to learn of the fate of their families and friends. In my grandparents’ case, the news was not ultimately good. With the exception of my Opa’s sister and her husband, they were the only survivors of their immediate families.
This time, over 80 years later and from 1000’s of miles away, we got to watch the war against our people play out in real time. This time those unimaginable horrors were brought directly to our televisions and to our phones, 24 hours a day. Death, destruction and inhumanity confirmed right in front of our eyes, everything in excruciating detail. Time was needed to overcome the feeling of being too far away and too powerless to do anything about it. We would find our footing over the coming days, figuring out what we could do to help our brethren in Israel. We called our representatives. We donated. We took to social media. We got into a routine of scrolling and texting and messaging and WhatsApping while crying and not eating and mostly not sleeping. I couldn’t definitively say that I had it worse than my grandparents but, for the first time, I had an inkling of what they had gone through. But was it worse? I still didn’t have an answer.
However, the following few weeks brought about a defining difference between then and now. This time it isn’t just us worrying about our families and friends from 1000’s of miles away. This time, the people in the middle of the war zone, who are sending their sons and daughters to do battle for the very existence of their country, are also worrying about us. About the safety of our students on college campuses and in high schools. About security on planes, in our Jewish institutions and in our homes. Antisemitism has been given tacit permission to rear its ugly head- not just in the United States, but in Canada, Australia, Britain, all over Europe. Everywhere. Our family and friends in Israel, while fighting for THEIR lives, are worried about the rest of US.
THAT is the difference between then and now. Back then, my grandparents were alone. This time we have the State of Israel, its military and, most of all, we have each other’s back. And if there was ever evidence that we are one people- that is it right there. And, in the memory of all of our loved ones and in the merit of getting our hostages released and keeping our soldiers safe, we will overcome this together- yachad n’netzach. Together we will win.