I was raised in an Israel that most people around me today never got to experience – a young but bustling country, Israel was only 41 years young when I was born. My house was on a row of newly built villas in Rishon LeZion, with miles of open fields and construction sites going up every week. My brother and I frequently walked to school and even at the age of 6, I was outdoors all day with friends and neighbors, popping in and out of houses just to grab snacks and soda. We spent Friday nights at home and Saturdays on the beach before grabbing hummus in Jaffa or fresh fish at Benny’s in Tel Aviv. I still look back at that time with immense longing.
You see, my family, all our families and all of Israel – we weren’t raised on hate. Everyone I knew were descendants of immigrants who fled to Israel from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Georgia, Europe and the USSR, to flee antisemitism and persecution. Our grandparents’ and parents’ stories were still very fresh. The Holocaust felt recent as survivors were young at the time and lived to tell their horrific stories and the importance of living a proud Jewish life. My grandparents frequently spoke about their experience fighting in the Yom Kippur war, and I had immense pride coming from a family of men who served in elite IDF units for the single selfless goal of ensuring that the Jewish people have an eternal home. I still remember sobbing every year as we sang Hatikvah in my school’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony. Naturally, growing up in Israel at that time, you recognized from a very young age, the existential threat that exists for Jews without Israel. That realization came with significant amount of reverence, and pain.
That pain turned into fear in the early 90’s with the first Intifada when Israelis experienced massive riots and growing violence from Palestinians. Many of us believed that, maybe, if we just gave up more land, the terror would stop.
Israel did just that.
Unfortunately, what followed was the Second Intifada. Five years of endless terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in buses, malls, markets and restaurants, and rockets aimed where civilians roamed. I still recall the day my mom changed her mind about attending a kids’ festival, only to find out that a suicide bomber destroyed the lives of so many young families attending the festival that day, and we just narrowly escaped that same fate. We, sadly, relocated to the United States not long after that.
And even after those brutal years, even from afar, we naively believed that, maybe, if we just gave up more land – the terror would finally stop.
Israel did just that, again.
In 2005, we dismantled Gaza, uprooted and relocated thousands of Israeli families (and Jewish graves) and handed over an agriculturally rich and thriving seaside land to the Palestinians. We gave what our own people built with their bare hands for the sake of peace.
In 2006, Palestinians elected Hamas, who would go on to not only destroy and terrorize the lives of Palestinians but proclaim a permanent war against Israel. Instead of creating a thriving, successful Gaza, Hamas destroyed infrastructure and used international funding to build terror tunnels where they hid terrorists under civilian homes, schools and hospitals. They purchased rockets and weapons and initiated a brainwashing campaign to teach toddlers about the honor of murdering Jews as early as pre-school. Hamas has attacked and terrorized Israelis and Palestinians ever since.
And here we are again, years later in November 2023, following what was the largest massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust.
And we now know that this is no longer about land. That this was never about land.
We now know that when terrorists record murder and rape sprees and proudly stream it live, the world will still demand that Jews show proof.
We now know that when our babies are burnt alive, people will call it resistance.
We now know that when Israelis are gang raped and dismembered, women will say that rape is freedom fighting.
We now know that when over 240 of our own are kidnapped into Gaza, the world praises terrorists while ripping posters of kidnapped babies on the streets.
We now know that screaming for the end of Israel and calling for the murder of Jewish students across college campuses is allowed under the guise of freedom of speech.
We now know that antisemites don’t want us in Israel, and they don’t want us anywhere else. They don’t want us, at all.
Since October 7th, I have tried to figure out how to tell my sweet, accepting American-Israeli child that she is growing up in a world where she will be hated not because of anything she has done, but simply because she is Jewish.
How do I tell her that kids her age were murdered in front of their parents, abducted into a black hole of hell before they even opened their eyes on one sunny Saturday morning, their only crime having been born Jewish. How do I tell her that we once said, ‘never again’.
And if this continues, how do I tell her that we failed?
I’ve thought through this countless times, and decided that instead of telling her, I will tell you. I will tell you that we cannot fail. I will tell you that we must not fail.
We must not fail because we now know.
We now know that all we have is each other.
We now know that we don’t have any other land to exist safely on but our own.
We now know that it is up to us to eliminate evil so that one day, our children won’t need to experience this unbearable suffering.
We now know, and once we know, we can’t ever look back.
Today, I will catch my breath when the pit in my stomach takes over and the headlines bring one piece of horrible news after another. I will pick up my child and put her to sleep in the warm bed we are so fortunate to give her.
And when she wakes, I will tell her of love.
I will tell her of the strength of our people, of how in the scariest times, we are always being watched over, even when we can’t quite see it, especially when we can’t quite see it. I will tell her that she is the embodiment of hope and strength. I will tell her that she is here because her great grandmother chased life so fervently, she managed to escape the Nazis and give birth while being hunted.
I will tell her that she is survival.
And like on our recent trip to Israel, I will once again take her to Abulafia at midnight and get her the olive pizza from the sweet Arab whose family was there since he too, was little. The same place my father took me for the same olive pizza at her age. I will take her there because our love as a nation is stronger than the hate against us. I will take her there because we were thrown into a war we didn’t want nor ask for. I will take her there because I believe that good will always triumph over evil.
Until then, in between checking my WhatsApp endlessly and confirming the safety of my family in Israel, we will hop and skip to the playground every day and yell out Rabbi Nachman’s words, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be…AFRAID!”
She already knows that before we say “afraid”, she needs to jump as high, and as far, as she could – and never ever look back.
I hope we can, too.
We have a whole generation on our back, and our responsibility to those murdered, those kidnapped, and those growing up in our times, has never been greater.
What we tried then, failed us, and we now know the grave task in front of us.
Am Israel Chai.