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What can we do?

Last night while I was on a Zoom conference call that shockingly had nothing to do with Israel or anti-Semitism, a political strategist advised the anxious online group to “Worry less; do more.” I know this is a popular self-help mantra that makes perfect sense, but for me, as a Jewish mother, this advice is counterintuitive, even unnatural. Since October 7th, my worrying has taken on a singular focus—Israel and its citizens. I am now a one issue voter and a one issue worrier. Although worrying less is an aspirational goal and perhaps an unrealistic option for me, I have been trying to do more, pouring my energy into initiatives that can help increase awareness and/or alleviate trauma and pain.

Like most Jewish mothers, I have been keeping an eye on the rising anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, and especially on college campuses. It seems like each morning I wake up to new incidents of anti-Semitism at the institutions that I and my family members attended or still attend. There has definitely been a spike since October 7th, but this has been an ongoing and exponentially growing problem for a long time. I just didn’t want to see it.

Donna Weintraub is a Board Officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey who helped to create and launch the iCAN program, which helps prepare high school students for the opportunities and challenges facing Jewish students on today’s college campuses. I have known Donna for over two decades, and she has been sounding a warning about anti-Semitism on campus for much, if not all, of that time. She has known for years what some of us are just coming to terms with now. According to iCAN informational materials: “Many campuses throughout the country have become a breeding ground for anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activity.” In November, Donna spoke on air with Sandra Smith of Fox News about anti-Semitism on campus. In my area, the Jewish mothers watched and nodded, and said “Donna was right.” In a recent conversation, Donna told me that she, of course, wishes she had been wrong.

My entire street is lined with lawn signs that say “We Stand with Israel.” My great-grandmother was born in this country; she was a world-famous long-distance swimmer whose trading card was in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. So, is it understandable that I felt that I belonged, that I did not notice the anti-Semitism? Although, when I look back, I remember someone is grade school calling me a dirty Jew, and I remember the mezuzah outside my New York City apartment where I lived after college being defaced with a swastika. But the boy who called me the name was a troubled outcast, so I paid little attention. And the superintendent of my apartment building was mortified and quickly painted over the Nazi symbol, so I was relieved. However, the outline of the swastika was still visible through the thick coat of fresh paint. And I guess that is illustrative of the current state of affairs.

This morning, I woke up to news of another terrorist attack in Israel. I also received yet another digital copy of Dara Horn’s latest article, The Return of the Big Lie: Anti-Semitism is Winning. The article was published just yesterday, but it has been recommended by many, so I decided to read it before I got out of bed. The article is beautifully written; it is also devastatingly sad. I sent it to a friend who read it and responded, “Thanks for depressing me.” She went on to praise the article. Also illustrative of the current state of affairs.

On my recent trip to Israel, I met a young soldier on the Shura IDF base who spoke perfect English with no accent. I asked him about it, and he explained that his parents were Americans who had made Aliyah, although he was born and raised in Israel. When he found out that I was from New Jersey, he told me that he has grandparents in Fort Lee and cousins in Teaneck, both towns in Bergen County where I reside. I asked him, “Are they worried?” I meant are they worried about you and your family because of October 7th and the ongoing war. He replied, “Yes, actually. My grandparents always had an apartment here, but now they are making Aliyah.” His grandparents are more worried about anti-Semitism in the United States than terrorism and war in Israel.

On an El Al plane ride from Tel Aviv to New York, I met a young Israeli who had survived the Nova Festival massacre. He lost two friends at the musical festival. He and his friend were staying in New York City for a few days before traveling around the United States. He asked me, “How much do they hate us there?” He had survived a massacre by Hamas terrorists in Israel, and he was worried about anti-Semitism in the United States. He was specifically worried about a tattoo he had gotten on his arm after October 7th with the map of Israel on it. I wanted to cry. I told him that the vast majority of people in the United States support Israel, but that he had to be careful.

People want hope, and they need hope.” Hatikvah” is Israel’s national anthem. Many articles and podcasts about the state of affairs in Israel, which are by their very nature depressing, manage to end on a hopeful note. We really have no other choice than to have hope. So, I have hope– that Israel and its citizens will be safe and secure; that Diaspora Jews will live free from fear and anti-Semitism.

So, to end on a much-needed hopeful note—what can we do? One day, your children or grandchildren will ask you what you did during this time. In November, I, along with Donna and hundreds of thousands of other people, attended the March for Israel, a pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C. It was a beautiful, peaceful day, and it made me feel good, but I wasn’t sure how much it accomplished. Many people in Israel mentioned the rally and told me they were so heartened by the support. We may not be able to worry less, but we can always do more. Anything. Send an e-mail. Forward a podcast or an article. Go listen to an October 7th survivor or a family member of a hostage. Make a donation, a telephone call, or even a promise.

About the Author
Leslie Perlmutter resides in New Jersey with her husband, her dog, Hank, and occasionally her three almost-grown children. A former attorney, she is a freelance writer covering a wide range of topics.
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