Hila Bar
Writer, translator, editor

The New Jew: Sorrow, Antisemitism and Fighting Back

Photo: Megs Harrison on Unsplash

Nancy Putterman, a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has spent 30 years in the Canadian news media, both in Toronto and Vancouver, fulfilling various positions including writer, associate producer, researcher and assistant assignment editor.

The following essay is her response to the Israel/Hamas war, a first-hand account of the behaviours and feelings she has witnessed in her community and herself.

* * *

In the final moments of a Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom steps on a symbolic glass object and shatters it, signifying that life’s joys will be punctuated by sorrow and pain. For Jews in Israel and around the world, the glass has been shattered since October 7th.

The weeks leading up to the October 7th terrorist attacks now seem like the blissful, halcyon days of a collective people. We had just celebrated the Jewish New Year. It was followed by Yom Kippur, the holiest observance in the Jewish calendar. At the Toronto synagogue I was visiting, the end of Yom Kippur was signified by a touching tradition: all the lights were shut off and children held up coloured glow sticks. Suddenly, from different corners of the vast, darkened sanctuary, several Shofars, or ram’s horns rang out, signifying the end of the holiday. The shofar’s sound harkens back to ancient times when our forefathers used it to mark important occasions. The moment felt spiritual and magical. Later, my family walked home in the warm fall air surrounded by loved ones and friends. It was September 25th. We were happy. Peaceful. And blissfully naive.

Twelve days later, during yet another holiday observance, the Jewish life we knew would be devastatingly altered. For Jews in Israel, the October 7th attack hit home literally; for those in the diaspora, it clobbered us metaphorically. We were in utter disbelief as the reality of what happened in Israel’s south became apparent. Terror, torture, rape and death rained down upon the innocent. Bodies destroyed. Families desecrated. People stolen from their homes. Communities plundered. Houses burned. Glass shattered, everywhere.

For most Jews, these heinous crimes felt different. It was depravity beyond what any human being could or should bear. Israelis and Jews everywhere buckled under some of the greatest sorrow they’d ever experienced. For all of us, it felt deeply personal. And there was more heartbreak to come.

Within weeks, some of the world seemed to push aside the atrocities of October 7th. In its place, as a war raged on between Israel and Hamas, hatred of Israel and Jews began to emerge en force. There it was, behind placards and bull horns and heated protests. It was spoken from the mouths of colleagues, educators, students, politicians, journalists and world leaders. Equally alarming, many Jews discovered people they were friendly with suddenly making shocking accusations about Israel and Jewish people.

This outward show of hatred just didn’t seem plausible after October 7th. My thoughts turned to 1948, the year of Israel’s founding. Three years after the Holocaust, the world was fully aware of the atrocities and horror propagated on an entire race, and thus sympathized with a people who needed a country to safeguard them from antisemitism and its murderous consequences. How many innocent people slaughtered, maimed, raped and kidnapped was enough to get the world’s support now? How many to constitute outrage?

Until you are on the receiving end of a vicious hatred aimed solely at you because of your race, culture, or religion, it’s hard to explain the dread that follows. The foundation of your personal freedoms and rights has been shaken. Modern-day Jews are not new to the perils of antisemitism but this time it was pre-empted by an unprecedented, horrific slaughter. First, our bodies, then our minds. It was as if we’d been attacked twice.

The fact is, being Jewish can be dangerous. That’s been proven throughout thousands of years of our existence. But persecution is not an exclusive Jewish-members-only club. When the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregants of the Commonwealth and a brilliant scholar, spoke to the House of Lords in 2018, he explained it this way: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews… It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler. It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Stalin. It isn’t Jews alone who suffer under ISIS or Al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad…” Antisemitism, he pointed out, presents a danger for all who care about decency and humanity.

Thankfully, this fact was not lost on countless people outside the Jewish world. I am not talking about countries or politicians or companies that pledged to continue supporting Israel and Jewish people. Rather, there were smaller personal gestures from non-Jewish friends and acquaintances. Many of us received messages offering support and compassion. There was the local developer who days after the attacks wrote a cheque to an Israeli cause for hundreds of thousands of dollars. My friend’s father, who gave a substantial amount of money to Israel because he was sick and tired of racism against the Jews. A former broadcast colleague who was so outraged at what was happening called to console me and participated in several Jewish rallies. Many people asked what they could do to help. The result was a feeling that we were not entirely alone, proof the world was made up of more than rampant antisemites and Israel detractors. Here was a glimmer of light. Of hope.

More rays of light emerged from a place that we as Jews had counted on since time immemorial: each other. Synagogues suddenly filled up for Shabbat services. There were solidarity rallies, expert speakers, fundraisers and other gatherings in a show of unity many had never experienced before. Communities were holding together tightly.

Persecution and slaughter don’t have to signify the end of a people’s ability to flourish. In fact, it can foster a desire to come back stronger. There is now a collective push back. The Jew in every Jew is emerging. Break our hearts but you’ll never take our souls.

That is not to say we aren’t still damaged. Things are different now, especially in Israel. Suffering and decimation changes people and entire nations. A psychiatrist friend of mine told me the effects will resonate for years, even lifetimes. It may be hidden in various forms including anxiety disorders, depression, breakdowns, drug addiction and more.

October 7th reminded us that evil is a formidable foe that can never be fully extinguished. There is no telling when life will feel entirely secure again for Jewish people. When the shofar’s melody will bring on bucolic thoughts and Jews will walk together in public without worry of condemnation or worse. Like the symbolic glass stepped on by the groom, there are still shards everywhere to clean up. Only then will it be safe to move forward.

About the Author
Hila Bar is known for her penetrating commentary on people and society, as well as her deep, insightful poetry and prose. She studied English and Hebrew language and literature at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and works as a translator and editor. Hila made Aliyah in 1996 and currently resides in Srigim, in the Ela Valley region of Israel. Hila can be reached through Facebook or via email -
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