Franki Bagdade
Educator, Social Worker, Author and Mom of 3

Preparing for the Seder with a broken heart

Second seder in purple

I am hosting the Passover Seder tomorrow. The second night of Passover’s ritual meal. I have tables already set up spilling out into my foyer, adorned with preschool projects made by my now teens and tween a decade or so ago. This year I picked purple plates and cups and I had hoped my favorite color and accompanying jewel tones would break me out of this funk. I keep joking that the Torah, our bible, must have a clause in it that when there are Jews in the world who are actually being held hostage we can skip Passover. How can we celebrate freedom at a time like this?

I preheated my ovens. I should be sitting here proud. I should be playing the old tapes in my mind of my Grandma Betty, Mom and I spending 72 hours chopping and peeling and baking. I should remember how I felt when my Grandma and Mom told everyone how much of the seder I made totally by myself when I was just a tween. I should be thinking of my Papa Sid and my Nana and how they oohed and awed over every course. I should be thinking of my Father with his booming and always theatrical voice leading the seder service with such passion and moving way too slowly for my ADHD brain. I should be nostalgic thinking about how much I would give just to have one more seder with my Dad sitting at the head of the table and talking too much. Yet, I haven’t thought of any of those memories until right now as I write.

Instead, all I can think about is how the world has broken my heart.

I always knew there was prejudice against Jews still alive and well. When I started at Michigan State in 1997 I had a roommate ask me why the Jews killed Jesus. I had a boy in my dorm, and another at a party ask me if I still had horns. Strange as it may be to imagine they asked those questions out of curiosity, not hate. My Jewish status was never a factor in whether we became friends. Those young college students had never met a Jew before and they had many questions. I felt lucky that I had a religious day school education and my Mother was a lifelong Jewish educator only a phone call away when I needed more information about the history of the Jewish people.

There have been other much more horrifying antisemitic stories among those close to me, more in 2020-2022 than I had ever known. Those, however, are their stories to tell and I won’t share them here.

I follow the news as much as my anxious brain will allow. I was worried as I saw antisemitic hate crime incidents on a steady rise. I did what I could. I continued to strive to be a good person and a great example of Jewish values. I strove to raise three children who would bring more of these values into the world. I also tried hard not to think too deeply about the trends in my country and the rest of the world.

I never let myself think about the fact that not only was antisemitism trending upward, but Jewish allies seemed to be trending downward. About six months ago that all changed.

At 1 am on October 7, 2023. An alarm on my phone started blaring loudly. I quickly realized that my daughter had set off the “find my phone” alarm on my cell phone from halfway across the world. I also saw ten missed calls from my 16-year-old who was studying in Israel and even more missed text messages.

“Mom, Israel is at war. We are in the bomb shelter. “

I woke up my husband and yelled at him to turn on CNN and MSNBC and try to figure out what was happening while I frantically called Ruby. It took her a while to call back. Bomb shelters being mostly underground, don’t have good cell service. We couldn’t find anything on the news or online. I assumed it was more of the same. More “normal” isolated rocket attacks from the countries that hate Israel. Israel, which is surrounded on all sides by enemies, invests most of their tax dollars on defense. They have no choice. So I felt relatively confident (as confident as a Mother could feel after receiving the above text) that Israel’s army (IDF) and state-of-the-art rocket deflecting technology would keep her safe.

Later when we finally connected by phone Ruby, my oldest was panicked.

“Mom, this is not a typical rocket barrage. My Madrachim (counselors) are scared. They all served in the IDF if it was just a few rockets they wouldn’t be scared. “ (Take a minute and think about that reality. Rockets could no longer be a cause for fear if you want to live in Israel.)

An hour or so later the news started to pick up the details of the largest terror attack against the Jewish people since the Holocaust. My husband and I just looked at each other. This was not another day or two of intermittent violence. This was mass genocide, rape, murder, violence and kidnapping. These were not acts of war, this was terrorism by its very definition.

I cried with Anderson Cooper as he reported the hundreds of deaths and rapes at the Nova Music Festival, the children who watched their parents be brutally murdered, and the parents who watched their children be killed.

It took 8 days to get Ruby home and in our arms. Israel has a 7-hour time difference so I was often up all night talking to Ruby as she went in and out of bomb shelters. I had to cancel all of my therapy clients. I found myself hardly able to form words. I stopped returning phone calls. All of our time was filled with endless waiting.

I can’t begin to explain the relief I felt when I squeezed Ruby at the airport a week later. A week that felt like decades. I can’t help but think about the family members in Israel and all around the world who have had their loved ones held hostage for over six months (yes there are American hostages and many other nationalities held by Hamas and other connected terror organizations.)

My Mother retired in Israel and still splits her time between Israel and Michigan. She was thankfully in Metro Detroit on October 7th and her husband soon joined her. They returned to Israel in November and are rather isolated from the war due to their location, though being anywhere near a war is too close for my comfort.

So there is my most personal connection to the Israel/Gaza war. What I really want to write about today is how my heart has shattered again and again in the months that followed October 7th.

About a week or two into the conflict there was a dramatic shift in the media. One morning I was watching the Today Show and I heard a war correspondent say:

“I am currently walking the streets of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv has been under attack by hundreds of rockets for days. “

He went on to explain the impressive military capability of Israel to deflect those rockets. He shared a few words of sympathy for a people in war and then said this:

“BUT of course that is nothing like the suffering of those in GAZA.”

Let me be 100000% clear. I am not in any way upset that the news is covering citizens in Gaza struggling in the war. People are people. I don’t profess to understand war, war strategy, or why we can’t figure this out and live in peace. I won’t discuss that here- it’s not my area of expertise. I worry about every human in every country (and PS there are thousands upon thousands of civilians enduring war and torture across the world that no one talks about) who is living through a war.

The word that hurt me was “BUT.” It was the beginning of a media frenzy pitting Israeli Jews against Gazans in a contest of whose suffering is the most valid. And excuse me here, but as a professional who has studied trauma and grief, my professional opinion is what the actual…

Would anyone ever go up to a grieving widow at a funeral and say, “ I am so sorry for your loss, but I have lost two spouses, so I really have it worse.” I sure hope not.

When did it become ok to dismiss grief, loss, and terror because maybe someone else has it worse? And how on earth would we even determine who has it worse? Grief is grief, loss is loss. Humans are humans.

Are the people of Israel incredibly lucky to have a country that takes their protection seriously and invests most of their money on security? Yes, they are.

Are the citizens of Gaza in an absolutely unlivable situation right now because their government is run by non-humans? Are they actually lacking a government at all but instead have a network of terrorist monsters that don’t care about them in the least? Yes.

Do yourself a favor and read up on how Hamas historically and continually especially in this current conflict use their civilians as disposable human shields to protect their leaders.

Go ahead and criticize the Israeli current and historic government. Do it from a place of knowledge, make sure you know your facts, and then go for it. This is democracy, free speech, and extremely important. I may join you in many of your concerns and disagree with you on others. That is healthy and just fine.

What is in no way “just fine” is that for the last six months, and what I have been grappling with is the unimaginable reality that this has somehow become an international war against the Jewish people. To all of those who have argued that being anti-Israel is not being antisemitic, how do you explain the dozens of times in just the last few days that I have heard protesters say “death to the Jews, globalize the Infitada, and from the river to the sea (finally recognized as hate speech by the US government.)”

For those of you who think this is inaccurate, you can find clips of activists all over college campuses saying “death to the Jews” on any social media channel. You can listen to them, you don’t have to take my word for it. Some professors have joined them and encouraged them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about- read up on Columbia. There are deans of universities testifying before Congress that it depends on the context of whether threatening the LIVES of Jewish students is allowable. The president of Colombia told the house committee she actually wasn’t sure if the professor who put in writing that he was “exhilarated and proud” of the Hamas terrorists who murdered 1200 people in Israel (by the way that included many non-Jews and Arabs) was still teaching or held a leadership position as a committee chair anymore. Again, what the actual… How could she not be sure? And if you are worried this is “fake news” you can find a clip of her saying this with a quick google. These are her words, not mine.

For the first time in my 45 years as a Jewish citizen of the United States I am terrified to be Jewish.

I recently removed any trace of the term DEI from my professional bio, my website and my blog. I have been in the field of disability incision for over two decades. I adopted the term DEI when I started my own business five years ago. Who wouldn’t want their name connected with “Diversity-Equity-and Inclusion.” Well, time after time I have seen University Leadership, my own children’s school district, and countless others leave the Jewish people out of the DEI narrative. My country, my news channels, and celebrities that I have loved and followed for years have told me that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion matter but not for me. Jews are not worthy of protection from discrimination, because it is context-dependent for us.

How do I explain this to my children?

How do I explain that while our family will ALWAYS fight against discrimination and prejudice based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexuality- the world will not fight for us?

How do I tell my children that my heart races in fear every time they wear their Jewish star jewelry?

How do I tell my kids that I’m scared to have a mezuzah on my door?

And by the way, if you are reading this and thinking that you just don’t get why the Jewish people need their own country… Well, we clearly aren’t wanted in a whole lot of other places. In a strange twist the protesters of Israel themselves, have actually proven why having a Jewish country a backup plan if you will – when we are no longer safe in our country of choice is so extremely vital.

So how do I get up off this couch and start cooking for Passover? How do I sing songs about freedom, spring, and hope?

The world has broken my heart.

About the Author
Franki Bagdade owns and operates FAAB Consulting, which offers training for professionals in education, camping, and mental health fields as well as ADHD coaching. In addition, Franki is a clinical social worker with a solo private practice specializing in ADHD, Autism, Anxiety,l, and Parenting Support. Franki’s first book, “I Love My Kids But I Don’t Always Like Them,” was published in October of 2021 and has won several awards. Franki has written several articles for publications such as Metro Parent (Metro Detroit), Chicago Parent, American Camping Association-Camping Magazine, Autism Parent Magazine (UK), Respectability-NYC, The Time Timer blog, and more. Franki received a BA in Elementary Education from Michigan State University, a M. Ed. in Special Education from Wayne State University, and a MSW in Clinical Social Work from the University of Kentucky. Franki’s mission through her two businesses and writing is to advocate for disability inclusion and remove barriers to mental health support and services.
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