Many years ago, my cousin recorded an interview with my grandfather about his life growing up in Russia in the early 1900s. With his trademark sense of humor, my grandfather took the interview lightly. When asked where he was born, he answered, “in a bed.” When asked what he did when he woke up in the morning, he said that he got the milk. When she asked where he got it, she laughed when he said, “From a cow – where do you think we got the milk?”
Then the subject turned to his religion. He said that when he went to school to study Jewish texts, the Russian authorities would sometimes come. Asked what he and the other students would do, he simply said, “We would run.”
His answer made me think of my years attending a Jewish day school. I realized how fortunate I was to live in a country that permitted me to be openly Jewish and learn as a Jew. The idea of having to hide my identity or run from school was unthinkable.
When my parents bought a gold necklace with a Jewish star, one for each of my sisters and me, they had no reason to fear for our safety. Unlike today, we were able to attend synagogue and pray without armed guards nearby.
My Jewish friends and I all had grandparents who experienced overt and government-sanctioned antisemitism. Our grandparents fit into two categories: the ones who stayed and the ones who left. All of my grandparents were the ones who left: they immigrated to America from Europe well before the Nazis came to power. The ones who stayed were not so fortunate.
Regardless of which category we fell into, we understood that we were all living in a unique period of time for the Jewish people. We knew that we were the first generation to be born in a world where modern-day Israel existed. For 2,500 years, our ancestors lived in countries all over Europe and Northern Africa. Wherever Jews lived, they faced forced conversions, expulsions, pogroms, and genocide. Persecuted by Christians and Muslims, Jews would say, “Where can a Jew go? There is no place for a Jew.” They longed to have autonomy, feel safe, and return to their historic homeland, the land of Israel. They yearned to be a free people in their own land. In 1948, our hope was realized.
While my generation experienced sporadic incidents of antisemitism, we never felt unsafe. We knew that if things got bad in America, we now had a country that would take us in – not despite the fact that we were Jewish, but because we were Jewish. We knew that Israel had a strong army that took an oath to defend not only the Jewish country, but also Jewish people all over the world.
That sense of security, a security that was slowly chipped away over the years by neo-Nazis and left-wing antisemites, evaporated on October 7. The horrific Jewish history that we had escaped by being born at the right time had suddenly come to life. The pogroms our ancestors had experienced, pogroms that we thought were in the dustbin of history, were not just happening now, but were happening in Israel, our homeland, our safe haven, our bomb shelter.
The scenes from October 7 that we watched on television were appalling. Footage of young people running for their lives from an outdoor concert was repeated every time we watched the news. We saw scenes of children’s bloody bedrooms, and heard stories of people who ran to bomb shelters only to be met with a live grenade thrown inside.
Devastated by the events in Israel that day, I could not have imagined that we would immediately be hit with another brutal attack, an attack that would occur all over America and all over the world. While the bodies of the murdered Israelis were still warm, protestors rose up in support of the terrorists. These were the “compassionate, woke, progressive” protestors, many on college campuses.
I felt like screaming, “You are supporting people who beheaded babies, who burned them alive, who literally baked babies in kitchen ovens, who amputated body parts of children, who tortured, who raped, who kidnapped. Where is your compassion for the victims? You think you are enlightened people who accept all kinds of people, yet you do not accept Jews. Do you know what it’s like to see people all over the world chanting that they want to kill you because of your identity?”
Compounding my frustrations, I knew that the protests included advocacy groups whose beliefs were in stark contrast to those of Hamas.
I could not understand how Democratic Socialists of America could rally for Hamas and other Palestinian leaders who became billionaires in part by stealing from their citizens. While most of the Gazan population live below the poverty level, their leaders live in the lap of luxury. Additionally, were these DSA equity champions aware that the socialist benefits they lobby for in America already exist in Israel?
The protests also included members of Black Lives Matter, a group that the Jewish people have contributed to and marched with, supporting them both with their money and their feet. Can they understand that, similar to a white person who refuses to have a black person live in his neighborhood, the Palestinians rejected statehood because they were unwilling to live in a country adjacent to a Jewish country?
Were the LGBTQ aware they were supporting a government that forced the LGBTQ in Gaza to stay in the closet? If they lived there and were openly gay or trans, they would be thrown off a roof. Shouldn’t they be supporting Israel, a country where LGBTQ have rights?
Somehow the women at the protests were okay supporting rapists. Did they know that under Hamas, women legally have half the rights of men, whereas in Israel, women’s equality is enshrined in law and women have full reproductive rights?
Were the Christian people who were marching aware that, due to freedom of religion, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown in the last half-century?
Did the people who advocate for diversity realize that whereas Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world, Hamas wants a Muslim-only country, devoid of both Christians and Jews?
Did the same people who champion the rights of indigenous people know they were denying Jewish people, the indigenous people of Israel, the right to their historic homeland?
Were they aware that worldwide there are 130 Christian-majority, 49 Islamic, and three Hindu countries, but only one Jewish-majority country whose elimination they were supporting?
Did they seriously think that Israel is responsible for Middle Eastern violence? Did they realize that all of the wars involving Israel have been defensive wars? Were they aware that in recent years millions of Muslims have murdered other Muslims in wars and violent upheavals in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria? If indeed Israel left, there would be more bloodshed.
Did these protestors honestly believe that this was a struggle over land? If so, how could they explain the fact that there was no peace even after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, giving the Palestinians all of the land? In addition, the Palestinians received billions of dollars in international aid. Instead of investing in infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and factories, Hamas invested in terrorism, building rockets and terror tunnels.
Did they know that Hamas uses its citizens, especially children, as human shields, whereas Israel uses its soldiers to protect its citizens?
Were these protestors aware that under Hamas, people are jailed, beaten, or killed if they speak out against their government, yet in Israel there is freedom of speech and free elections?
Did these “peace advocates” know that Israel has offered the Palestinians peace agreements multiple times over the years, only to be rejected every time and met with an increased level of Palestinian violence?
Did people know that the Palestinian “refugees” have been used as pawns by the Arab countries who have refused to take them in? Did they know that in 1948, there were actually more Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries than Palestinians expelled from Israel?
Most importantly, were they aware that all of the bloodshed between Arabs and Jews could have been avoided with one word: YES! When the United Nations offered both the Jews and the Arabs a country of their own, the Jews said YES, but the Arabs said NO, choosing war instead.
Is it willful ignorance or intellectual laziness that has brought the level of antisemitism to where it is today? At a time when it is increasingly unacceptable to be racist or homophobic, antisemitism continues to be a cancer that briefly recedes only to return with a vengeance.
I yearn for the day when going to synagogue does not involve an armed guard at the entrance.
I long for the day when Jewish people in America and all over the world can wear their Jewish star necklaces, as I did as a child, without fear.
Until that time, the Jewish people can only hope that, unlike my grandfather and so many people on October 7, we never have to run.