The attack of October 7 has had a profound impact on the Jewish people throughout the world, including those in remote places in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The situation has drawn all Jews closer together wherever we may be.
Kulanu, a group that supports returning, emerging and isolated Jewish communities in 33 countries, asked members of these communities to share their experiences as they reacted to the crises.
Here are some of their responses that primarily were addressed to Bonita Nathan Sussman, President of Kulanu (who happens to be my wife). While I have not included their names for safety reasons, these Whatsapp messages and email responses are being shared with the permission of the senders. They were received between October 8, 2023 and November 21, 2023. My comments are italicized.
A message from Côte d’Ivoire
“Dear family, I have not been quick in writing when the war broke out on SIMCHAT TORAH. When I was informed two days later, I was angrily surprised by the circumstances of this war and the death toll in Israel.
I am still very angry as Bnei Israel are once again standing between the devil and the deep blue sea : the devil is the hypocrisy of western countries and the deep blue sea is the stupidity of the arab-muslim world. Israel is the hostage of western powers and the whipping boy of the arab-muslim world. This tragic pattern dates back to the middle age Christians vs. Muslims crusade for the exclusive possession of the Holy Land.
Though you permanently live in the US, you may still have close family and friends in Israel, I just do hope they are fine and pray that we all come through this episode of the unending war. Though very hard, Israel should follow its own Torah -based path, not be overly satisfied to have friends in western powers as they are countless accounts of situations where Israel has been betrayed by supposed friends. Cannot be long as it is difficult for me to write from my phone. AM YISRAEL CHAI”
Some of the responses record the threat of violence. Here is a report of an incident involving the Rabbi in Antananarivo, Madagascar as he goes about his business wearing traditional Jewish dress and faces physical danger.
A message from Antananvarivo, Madagascar
“I found myself at the Lemmonier tram station, where a lot of Muslims live. I was quietly waiting for my tram when a guy approached me and started threatening me in Arabic and then asked me to get out of here. The whole time I kept silent, just ignoring him. I have never been afraid to go out, even in the evening, and openly display my signs of Jewish religiosity, no matter what happens. And above all, I never responded to the slightest provocation or insult, just showing that I was neither intimidated nor impressed.
After a few minutes, seeing that I was completely ignoring him and not moving, the guy started uttering threats that he was going to slit my throat if he saw me around again, that I should never again set foot in this neighborhood. Still no response or look from me.
He then came closer and this time with an attitude showing that he was ready to hit me. And that’s when several Muslims came to hold him back and form a semi-circle to protect me and push him back. They told him to get out of here, to leave me alone, that I had the right to go wherever I wanted, etc. When the guy finally left, one of the men who had protected me said to me: “Frankly, we ask your forgiveness. You shouldn’t believe that he represents us. It’s not a Muslim attitude, etc.” I simply told him that we didn’t have to apologize for someone else’s stupidity and that most of my friends outside the Jewish community were Muslims, that he shouldn’t worry in my opinion.
I am not responsible for everything that a Jew does anywhere in the world, and therefore I have never considered that I should hate all Chinese people for what China does to Chinese minorities, or hate all Americans because of American policies in the world, or all Muslims for what one of them allegedly did”
In many parts of the world including our own country and Europe, Jews are worried about the rising tide of antisemitic and anti Israel statements in the press and media.
The same is true for many Kulanu partner communities want to do their all to help Israel in this difficult moment. At the same time they also feel conflicted about the danger public expressions of Jewishness may bring.
This is especially true of the small community in Pakistan which practices Judaism. Most of the members of this community are from Christrian backgrounds and have been getting together for Shabbat and holiday celebrations and study for many years with rabbis in Israel and the US.
A message from Karachi, Pakistan
“Ma’am we are very worried to see the current situation of Israel. I wish we were in Israel at that time and we would fight the enemies of God together with our people. If Israel needs volunteers, my family and I offer ourselves to help Israel, we will be loyal until our last breath. We offer ourselves for their services to care for the sick and wounded people ,if you wish, use us to help Israel, we will always be loyal.
I keep hearing news about this war all the time. Israel’s war with Hamas is taking new turns every day. Both sides are suffering more damage. It was extremely sad to know how Hamas killed Israeli women and children on the first day. We are all deeply saddened and traumatized here, and we are all constantly praying for Israel’s safety and victory. I am well acquainted with the words of the prophets. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah wrote many prophecies about the return and gathering of Israel and the wars of the last days.
The prophets have written the names of all the enemy countries of Israel, which countries will fight with Israel. The loss will be great, but the victory will be Israel’s. The situation in Pakistan is getting very bad, 98% of the people here are Muslims, everyone is reacting against Israel. America and European countries are standing with Israel, so people are raising their voices against Jews and Christians. Threats are being made to my family and people of the community, Jews and Christians are in great danger here. Despite all these dangers, I have visited different cities of Pakistan where people of our community live. I have gone to them and consoled them and have made them familiar with the words of the prophets about these situations. I am fully fulfilling all the responsibilities of being the leader of the community. I hope things will get better soon.
May Hashem keep you and your family from all evil and keep your soul. May Hashem guard you and your family going out and you coming in, from this time forth and forever. Amen, we Stand with Israel.”
Later update: “Ma’am, the war between Israel and Hamas is still going on and I have a feeling that this war will continue for many more weeks. Hashem will give victory to his people, there is no doubt that the men of our army are very brave and fearless. They will succeed in freeing hostages.
I want your advice, should we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah in these circumstances, should our people have a Hanukkah party, should the children dance, sing and celebrate? Is it appropriate to do this, because I don’t know what we should do. Please give me your opinion, what should we do?
Some communities see their role as advocating for Israel and strengthening already strong ties between their countries and Israel.
A message from Cameroon
“In Cameroon, Israeli trainers are at the heart of power. They are the eyes, ears and armed arms of the Cameroonian president. For several decades, Israelis have led the country’s elite unit. Hazak Tsahal Soldier.”
Another post from Cameroon: Never again will we accept being killed like cattle, Ann Frank I’m thinking of you. To our brave Soldiers Hazak! Shabbat Shalom to Every Israelite/Jew! Hazak to Jewish audiences across the world for our active solidarity! We would have liked to be all present as one man in Eretz to defend our eternal heritage.
And yet another post: May Hashem listen to your wish. I can assure you that Cameroon is a country where religious affiliation does not create any problems. Here Muslims celebrate both Israel, when I was little I did my studies in the Jesuit Catholic System precisely in a seminary where we had improved the importance of the Land of Israel our Land.
Even if we have other challenges, it is important to strengthen the achievements of the acceptance of the Cameroonian people in majority to the People of Israel. Thus, we as Jews from Cameroon, by showing a good example, will perpetuate this natural love of Israel here; so that Cameroon: Africa in miniature is the welcoming country for all Jews in the world and Africa.
A message from Zimbabwe
“I had two Interviews with a Zimbabwean radio station based In New York USA, about the Zimbabwean Jewish perspective on the War between Israel and Hamas.
We are going to organize a march in solidarity with Israel in Harare next week. If we can do this in our SAJA Subsaharran Jewish countries, we will put it across the world that Israel is not and will never walk alone. Let’s dream of a future when Africa, through the influence of its Jewish component, will be an ally to Israel and Jews across the world.”
Several days later: The two Studio Seven interviews attracted a lot of attention. Some positive and some negative. You can read “The Shona Newspaper”. For others it’s a connection we have to the president’s office alerting me that members of the Muslim community in Zimbabwe were angry, they interpreted the interview to mean I advocated for the killing of Palestinians.
From intercepted communication from the local islamic community, our friends and connections at the president’s office, some of them Jewish thought we were under threat, especially after the attacks at the Sephardic synagogue (a synagogue that existed before independence). We were even offered some random patrol security for 2 weeks following the interviews. The threat level has been scaled down. They advised us not to hold any demonstrations that we were planning to show solidarity with Israel. But soon we may get the green light to do that.”
A message from Tanzania
“Tanzania Media and social media and Muslim leaders are pressuring the government to break relationships with Israel, tensions are extremely high. We are praying tehillim (Psalms) and special prayers for Israel.”
A message from Nicaragua
The week of October 7, Kulanu received a video of the desecration of an old established Jewish cemetery in Nicaragua from the turn of the last century. It was desecrated with red paint and swastikas. I have visited this cemetery in one of my many visits to Nicaragua.
The Ethiopian response is directed, assuring Israelis that the community supports their struggle.
Messages of Support from Ethiopia and Ghana; Letters to Embassies
“Shalom. We condemn any kind of aggression towards the state of Israel and its people. This is a war that is declared by these terrorists that are targeting the civilians of Israels. We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives and the captured hostages by these terrorists. We aren’t only by the side of the victim families, but we feel we are the families of the victims and our sorrows are deep. We pray to Hakadosh Baruchu, for the souls of the dead will rest in peace and gives to their families, and to the safe and speedy rescue of the captured Israelis.
We stand by the state of Israel and we urge unprecedented retaliation towards this aggression and give unforgettable lesson to this terriorist groups, for targeting the state of Israel and its civilians. We will be in full support of The state of Israel and we will be part of any possible way that we can help. This is the time of unity; we shall stand as one person as one heart.” Am Yisrael Chai.
A follow up message to the letter:
“We are now very ready to help Israel. We have a lot of human resources in various fields and an educated community. If the Israeli government gives us the opportunity, we are ready.
A message from Ghana: Letter of Support to Israeli Consulate
“We, the leader and members of Organization Tzavar Jewish Assembly in Ghana, currently located at Sefwi Datano, strongly condemn the aggressions towards the state of Israel and the antisemitism on the rise across the world.We also condemn the barbaric attack on the citizens and civilians in Israel.
We declare our stand to justify our stance against the war that is declared against humanity at a civilized world with the beasts of the barbaric world. We are with a heavy heart in condolences to the bereaved families, we say Baruch Dayan HaEmet; to the captured hostages, we say Am Yisroel Chai and to the rest/remnant we say chazak!!! We pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and all Yisrael.
May Hakadosh Baruch Hu grant us the safe and speedy rescue of the hostages, we stand in solidarity to define our full support for Am Yisroel,..we also urge the president, Prime Minister, Defence Minister, the IDF, MOSSAD and Reservist to unprecedentedly retaliate on all terrorists organization to eliminate all of them totally,.we know the media will promote antisemitism and publish fake news, but let this be a lesson to them unforgettable one.We are and will be in full support for the State of Israel in any way possible to help.
This is time for unity, we are not only supporting but we are Am Yisroel
ONE PEOPLE,ONE HEART,,ONE DESTINY, LONG LIVE ISRAEL..AM YISRAEL CHAI.”
These statements show ahavat Yisrael and Jewish unity. They are inspirational to all of us.
(While some may feel differently about the content of some of the messages above, I chose not to edit these sentiments. They speak for themselves).