Shuly Babitz
Connection from Afar: Israeli Culture from the US
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Why actions speak louder than sirens

While the bullies with their bullhorns make outrageous accusations, I keep my eye on the Israelis who've got better things to do
Israel's Embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2024. Photo by Shuly Babitz.
Israel's Embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2024. Photo by Shuly Babitz.

I was taking my son to renew his Israeli passport when we were met by an unwelcome surprise. The morning sky was peacefully cloudless and sunny, yet a howling siren pierced the air surrounding Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC. We twisted our heads looking for a police car or an ambulance but didn’t see any flashing lights.

Finally, we found the source: an alarm hooked up to a bullhorn on the sidewalk in front of the embassy grounds. It was framed from behind by posters of the hostages Hamas captured on October 7th and surrounded by a garden of Israeli flags planted firmly in the ground. It was also accompanied by homemade signs taped to every available lamppost, each one insisting that Israel bombs babies and steals land. Later, my son marveled that someone had used markers and posterboard – the same art supplies he uses to draw superheroes – to create those hateful signs.

One or two protesters organized this scene, including a woman in a keffiyah-patterned hijab reiterating the messages through a bullhorn of her own.

We winced from the noise as the security guard checked us into the building. Is it always this loud, I asked. He nodded with classic Israeli unflappability, adding a barely visible eyebrow raise and eye-roll. Inside the consular office, we wondered to ourselves how people can get any work done with the siren blasting through the entire building. Eleven-year-old boys have a high tolerance for noise, but even my son was holding his ears.

Despite the noise, we chatted with the staff in the consular office as they processed our paperwork. Another family came in to renew their child’s passport. Soon enough, our new passport was ready. Everyone did what they needed to do regardless of what was going on outside.

Walking out of the embassy building, I told myself to avoid interacting with the protesters. I took a few photos of the scene, and through her bullhorn, one protester taunted me to keep taking them. Then she turned her bullying on my son: “Ask your mother why Israel kills babies.” Breaking my promise to myself, I screamed at her: “Tell them to give back the babies they stole!” I grabbed my son’s hand and we walked quickly back to our car. We both had tears in our eyes.

We were shaken, but fortunately, the rest of our day was filled with all the reasons we are proud to be Jewish. My son went back to school, where he learns Hebrew and Torah every day. I went home to prepare Shabbat dinner and to wish my mother and several friends a peaceful Shabbat. After Shabbat, my husband and I settled in to watch an Israeli political satire show, Eretz Nehederet.

Getting yelled at by protesters can’t change what we believe, how we behave, or who we are. This is even more true for Israel itself. It’s surrounded on its borders by loud, dangerous enemies. But inside those borders, no matter how shaken people are, life continues.

Last week’s “business as usual” included Israelis lining up around the block to try the new Shake Shack that opened in Tel Aviv. More branches are on the way, and maybe they’ll even make one kosher! At HaBima Theater, there is a full performance schedule, including Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, which tells the cautionary tale of what happens to Jews when they hide their identities and cower to their enemies. In Eurovision news, musical artists are revising the lyrics of the song Eden Golan will perform so Israel is not disqualified. The Eurovision committee rejected previously submitted song lyrics referencing October 7th for being “too political.” And another Israeli artist, a rapper named Roy Kornblum, got a lot of social media attention for a piece called Zero Point Two Percent. In it, he wonders about how we can understand the diversity of Jewish identities in the wake of October 7th.

These examples of entrepreneurship and creativity are the strongest antidotes to hate. We will continue growing, investing, creating, participating, inventing, engineering, acting, producing. We will not stop.

For too long, Jewishness was defined by antisemitic experiences like the one we had at the embassy. But what I want to remember – and to teach my son – is that we won’t let it define us. Even the loudest bullies will not prevent us from being proud to be Jewish and Zionist. Israel’s perseverance in the face of mortal danger is the ultimate example that strength, coupled with a “business as usual” attitude, is often the best defense.

Thanks to my son, Nati Babitz, for helping with this blog post, including composing the lead sentence.

About the Author
Shuly Babitz is a writer and public affairs strategist. She lives with her husband and 4 children just outside Washington, D.C., though her two oldest daughters recently made Aliyah.
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