I can’t think of an equivalent relationship to how Jews in the diaspora feel about Israel.
There are lots of people who leave their country on good terms and bad. And they may always have a fondness for that place they call home or even a longing to return.
But most of the 10 million Jews who don’t live in Israel, never lived there. Yet there is a connection as strong as an umbilical cord.
There have been attacks against Jews in America, some getting more attention than others, like the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. They always scare us. There is a predictable follow-up: We deploy police to our schools and synagogues, we donate money, we reinforce windows, put up barricades and add it to the things we live with.
But somehow, in this mixed up world where truth, home and community are as elusive as ever, an attack on Israel feels more threatening than one within our borders.
And it’s not just the Jews that understand this.
When a hate crime against a Jew happens in the US, we don’t often hear from our non-Jewish friends except maybe to make sure we are safe. But when the attacks on Israel happened last week, the calls came. As the memes online indicated, people knew we were not okay.
When to reach out to a friend or colleague during a calamity can be complicated. A death in the family is obvious, but what about their community? And what does that mean?
This attack on the Israeli homeland goes far deeper into our psyche than an act of violence in our backyard. Many Jews believe in our generational souls that we are not safe in this world without Israel.
This sense of security is very real and there are two parts to it:
First, Israel is a small country (the size of New Jersey), and we are a tiny fraction of the world population (16 million Jews/0.2%). Everyone knows someone and that makes this personal. My daughter’s prom date who moved to Israel was just called up, cousins who live there are sending their family and friends to Gaza. We are the Kevin Bacon of religions.
Second, there is real terror. My adult children live in New York City and they are scared to go to a Pro-Israel rally in their neighborhood. Messages abound from their primarily pro-Israel friend group and social media algorithm, telling them that there are Palestinian men chasing women through Washington Square yelling “you’re next.”
This is personal for all Jews whether orthodox or reform. It’s not about your observance to the religion, it’s about how you feel being Jewish in this world. We feel naked.
A non-Jewish friend reached out this week that his boss, a Jew, was being honored by an antisemitism awareness group. He wrote: “honestly, I naively wondered why he was doing this. Sadly I just realized why.”
We have to stay forever vigilant because you never know where you are in the cycle of history. Is it 1880? 1932?
At a time when our country feels unsafe we are reminded of the Golda Meir story Joe Biden has been telling for years. At some point in 1973 the Israeli Prime Minister told the freshman Senator that the Jews have a secret weapon. He thought she was going to disclose some instrument of war, but instead she revealed: “We have nowhere else to go.”