Going to the Pro-Israel rally in Times Square last week was a very beautiful experience for me. It meant so much to see such love and solidarity for Israel.
It was also scary. Normally, people can’t tell just by looking at me that I am proudly Jewish and Israeli, but now, just by being at that rally, I was publicly identifying myself. I knew that meant I could be targeted by terrorists and bigots.
I teach self-defense. To plan my lessons, I need to put myself in the mind of attackers. I could think of so many ways we could be attacked. I felt so exposed, looking at every passing car with suspicion. While others were dancing and enjoying themselves, I remained in a state of hyper-vigilance.
I wasn’t being paranoid. Jews were targeted in 54 hate crimes between Jan. 1 and May 2, and more events since needed to be added to the list. Gathering together felt like sending an invitation for trouble. Maybe this was a bad idea. Did I really need to attract so much attention?
I thought about so many Jews who are scared right now, seeing the huge rise in hate crimes and wondering if they should make themselves less visible? Should they tuck in their Star of David necklace or wear a baseball cap instead of a kippa?
I thought of the poem Emmanuel Harusi wrote about my grandfather Simcha Henkis of blessed memory. “You were born a Jew. Hold your head high.”
Terrorists want Jews to be afraid? Davka, I will stand wearing a kippa and an Israeli flag in the middle of Times Square. I want every Jewish person to see I am not afraid to show who I am, and they should never feel ashamed or afraid to identify as part of our wonderful people and country.
When I was in the army, I did wear a uniform that identified me to the world as an Israeli. This made me a possible target for violence. I wore the uniform proudly, because I was proud of who I was, and because I had the confidence and training to protect myself. I didn’t just wear a uniform, I wore values and education.
I still wear those values and education. While I was being interviewed, I was asked: ”Who is to blame in this situation?”
My answer came directly from the ethics and values of the identifying symbols I wore, the flag of Israel and the Kippa of Judaism.
Being Israeli allowed me to serve in a moral army, where we are and always are operating defensively against terror. I know from my personal service how the army targets specific targets in order to protect civilians in the most efficient way possible, and that it is our moral duty to do everything in our power to fight terror without hurting innocent people.
Being Jewish taught me that we must solve our problems with words and negotiations, not deadly weapons. It taught me that communication and cooperation, and especially walking in peace with others is how I should live my daily life.
Every Jewish person today needs that confidence, training, and pride, to walk in peace, live our lives authentically, and work to create a better world.
I am proud I am headed to another rally this Sunday, details below. Going is my way of saving, I was born a Jew and I will hold my head high, and I want everyone to see it.