Last week was my younger daughter’s birthday. She turned 28. She and her boyfriend went to a restaurant near their home for dinner, then to a bakery for birthday cake to complete their celebratory evening. Last weekend they went to a concert and this weekend they plan to go hiking.
If we hadn’t left Israel, the place where she was born, years ago, the reality of her birthday would be much different. Would she have gone to the nature party where so many young Israelis were killed, abducted, shot at from the air, and wounded by grenades in shelters? Would she and her boyfriend have been called to reserve duty? Would she need to huddle in the safe room or stairwell of the building where she lives when sirens go off, or along a barrier on the highway when she and her sister go together to or from a funeral or shiva call? Would my daughters be organizing supplies for people who have been displaced from their homes because of the constant intermittent bombing of Israeli towns and cities? Would they know that I, their mother, had moved to Israel from America for a better life for them as Jews, which I still believe to be true, which is a damning statement to the world.
It boggles and doesn’t boggle my mind: the hatred, the victim blaming, the anti-Zionism—the antisemitism. For years—up to now—I wondered intellectually about the reasons behind antisemitism. But I think I will stop doing that now. Does it matter why people think it’s okay to kidnap Israeli children, rape Israeli women, murder Israeli men, and harm Israeli elders? Does it matter why people gleefully support the kidnapping, raping, murdering, and harming of Jews? They do. And others don’t speak up against it. That’s enough to know.
Kind of like with the bombing of the hospital parking lot in Gaza. If you don’t care that terrorists did it, if you don’t even stop to ask, “Are you sure?” about who did it or the number of people killed, then why should I let you agonize my brain?
My blanket understanding after doing so much reading over the years, including for a Master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, is that there is evil in the world and there is the pull of the ego for power and control over others. There are people consumed by envy and low self-esteem, and fear that they will be harmed by bullies, so they bully first. There are people for whom Jews are scapegoats, blaming them for all their own failures and disappointments. It’s so easy to live in the crowd, without an independent thought, without the moral fiber to ask “Is this right?”
And there are those who have been taught to hate. What chance does a child have to know right from wrong when the adults in their life—at home, at school, in the mosque—encourage them to hate and kill—that Jews are not worthy of life? These brainwashed, life-deprived people cannot abide that people—Jews—show that, no, your way is not the only way. We do things a little differently, but can’t you see that it’s all the same: we all have the same basic needs? OK. You say a prayer in Arabic and we say one in Hebrew. So? What’s the problem?
Apparently, you can’t forgive us that we decided that the way we had been doing things for centuries before your religion even started is just fine for us, but you, go ahead, find your own path. (And this same sentiment and analysis fits with Christians; and, oh, how I wish that after 2,000 years they have finally come to accept us as we are.) How does our dedication (and stubbornness) harm you and your belief system? Does everyone have to be the same or kill anyone who isn’t? Are we at a modern Inquisition where conformity is king. Is this the philosophy that liberals, who supposedly believe in free speech and human rights and individual rights, have adopted, thus completely relinquishing their morals?
On this topic, the spread of antisemitism, there are enough thoughtful people, who I have been reading over the years and intensely so over the past two, heart-wrenching, aching weeks (two weeks that feel like a lifetime)—at this holy work of calling out the, oh, so basic, truth that Jews are people too.
Since that black Saturday, October 7, these people have had to explain things over and over and over again, hoping to dismantle the little house of hate cards that some have built in their brains, and to prevent others from creating their own.
There have been so many words, but there have also been those horrific images.
As I feel committed to listening to people’s stories, so, too, did I feel that I need to see what happened—what was done to people because because because—there can be no reason for such brutality. It is not a crime to be Jewish.
But following through has been hard. Not hard to understand that people can be brutal savages. Hard to witness a human body—created in God’s image—to have suffered so much. Hard to grasp the pain those people experienced. Hard to know that people think it was—is—okay to cause so much pain because they’re Israelis.
No. I don’t want to think about those savages any more.
I want to think about the victims, alive and dead. I want to think about the people who may still die protecting Israel or simply living in Israel—who are not all Jews. And, yes, I also want to think about the civilians in Gaza who may still die because their leaders don’t care about them.
Since the massacre on October 7, I have been to a prayer service, a Solidarity with Israel rally, and an information session about the work that Magen David Adom does in Israel (it’s Israel’s Red Cross, but without the cross). At each meeting, the phrase Am Yisrael Chai (the People of Israel Live) was chanted at the end, signaling that while we had gathered to mourn and cry at the horrific massacre of Jews in Israel, we also reaffirmed our faith and our connection to each other.
We Jews are a people with a religion and a culture with approximately 4,000 years of continuous history in our homeland, Israel (c.1700 BCE, the Biblical patriarchs of the Jewish people settle in the Land of Israel). Some of us like to refer to ourselves as a tribe. After all, there are only 15 million of us (finally back at our pre-Holocaust population). While this deep familial connection between us may have been hard to see recently with the divisions that the government seemed to be sowing, we are standing side-by-side at this moment of attack and survival and commitment.
I’m not sure why Jews need to keep proving that they are worthy of being treated just like everyone else. Oops. I caught myself: I’m not going to think about antisemitism. I’m going to think about Am Yisrael and Jewish pride.
If part of our assignment as Jews has been to be a light unto the nations, then even now, our unity and support of each other, in Israel and in the Diaspora, show that our spirit, the thing that makes us human, the motivation to care about others, the force that keeps us Jewish regardless of religious observance, is mighty within each of us. Strong even as we suffer watching the parents of kidnapped children plead for help, for their immediate rescue and release. Strong even as we absorb the pain of parents, whose children were murdered, with their otherworldly look because they now inhabit a different world.
I ask that you don’t use labels—Jew, Israeli; Muslim, Palestinian—to determine who is deserving of compassion, of life. I ask that you see that terrorists (yes, that is a label) who set out to murder and abduct others do not represent a worthy cause. I ask that you look at yourself to see if you have a light within that could be used for good, rather than supporting evil.
And, me, I will do what I can from here, in the States, to support Israel and the right of Jews to their homeland, to acceptance, to peace.
One small step that I am committing to at this time when rockets are still landing in Israel, and terrorists are still trying to infiltrate from the south and the north, and when so many people have been displaced from their homes because they don’t have homes any more or they are in harm’s way, and others have been called up to serve in the military, is to buy at least one product made in Israel each time I go to the supermarket.
Am Yisrael Chai!