Janna Tusa
The Inconsolable New Yorker

‘Why do you care so much about Israel? Are you even Jewish?’

Since October 7th, I’ve heard, “Why do you care? Are you even Jewish?” as a reaction to my strong activism for Israel. Question to my readers — does the knowledge that I was not raised in a Jewish home change your perspective, as you read my articles? In my humble opinion, it should not.

I had the privilege of immersing myself into the Israeli culture and experiencing all of its beauty and wonder in 1996. I was one of the few United States America-Israel Friendship League delegates selected to travel 5,700 miles to develop deep relationships, expand my awareness of international affairs, and increase my appreciation for diversity and tolerance between Israelis and Americans. When I was approached by my professor who asked if she could nominate me, I had no reservations and jumped at the opportunity.

Photo Credit: Janna Tusa, Tel Aviv, 1996

From the moment I stepped onto the sacred land of Israel, I was overcome with a profound spiritual and emotional connection. It was as though I had discovered a long-lost home that I had never known existed. In contrast, New York had never evoked such feelings within me. Seeing images of October 7th still elicits a visceral response as it hurts me to my core. It’s not because of any religious affiliation, but rather a deep-seated love for the holy land. When social media and my everyday life remain silent in the face of misinformation, I feel the urge to scream out in defense of truth. It’s saddening to see thousands of people in New York calling for the destruction of Israel. In a time of safe spaces and acceptance, this does not align.

When discussing Israel with my Jewish friends, I am often met with a surprised tone and questions like “why do you care?” Many of them have expressed that they are used to experiencing silence in the face of anti-Semitism and apathy towards the subject. It is no secret that collective support for Israel is not trending on social media, and posting a pro-Israel flag on Instagram will not earn you any “performative activism” points. In fact, it might even lead to an unfollow or a flood of negative comments. The gratitude I receive from my Jewish friends when I express my support and voice is both humbling and concerning. Are we truly living in a world where we have to thank someone for standing up for our basic right to exist?

Exterior of Georgetown University’s medical and dental school, August 5, 2007 (Wikimedia commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0/ Workman); Screenshots of antisemitic social media posts by medical students at Georgetown University following the October 7 Hamas atrocities. (Courtesy)

Unfortunately, the surprise and antagonism I have experienced with some of my secular peers is equally disheartening. Even the most unassuming people can harbor underlying tones of hatred and ignorance. It was and still remains my hope that when we call out the betrayal and dismissal of women’s rights that has taken place globally in response to the October 7th attacks, women will unite regardless of politics or religion. The widening divide of support on the sexual and gender-based crimes continues as we approach the 123rd day of war. This is particularly dangerous, and undermining my belief that all women should agree that the rape, murder, and violence against Israeli women is wrong despite race, religion, or political view. In my opinion, no politicization or propaganda should be able to skew someone’s humanity so far that they disagree with this statement. Sadly, humanity is skewed.

Maintaining composure requires a great deal of self-control. However, sharing your story and perspective, based on real-life experiences and facts, can often calm the antagonist and lead to deeper understanding. Before attempting to seek a platform for debate, it is critical to help others understand their audience first. Personally, I have a deep connection to Israel and its people. I have experienced the pain of seeing calls to destroy Israel, Israelis, and Jewish people, with the tagline “by any means necessary.” This pain is amplified by the thought of a world without my Neshama, their brilliance, and legacy. When I encounter someone who disagrees with me, I ask them to consider how they would feel if the situation were reversed, and harm was wished upon someone they loved. The silence that ensues speaks volumes.

File: Demonstrators rally at an “All out for Gaza” protest at Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

“Why do I care?” you may ask. The answer is simple: my love for Israel runs deep within my heart and soul. It’s difficult to put into words the sense of home that I feel for this nation. But what I can tell you is that I care deeply about the safety of the Jewish people, the well-being of Israelis, and putting an end to the daily violence and hatred. My heart breaks for the families affected by the tragic events of October 7th, the hostages still held captive, the women, and the children. As a follower of Judeo-Christian teachings, I strongly believe in the message of love and acceptance at the core of these religions. In all my writings, I aim to convey this message of truth and self-discovery, and to promote love and acceptance in all its forms. Interestingly, I recently discovered through my family’s ongoing testing that I have Jewish roots on my mother’s side, despite not being raised in a Jewish household. I invite you to reflect on this new information and ask yourself: does it change your perspective on my writing? Do you view me differently? If so, why?

Photo Credit: Janna Tusa, Jerusalem, 1996

When the October 7th attacks occurred, I faced a difficult decision: should I tell my daughters? They were already aware of my connection to Israel, so it felt important to share the news with them. Witnessing their grief and eagerness to help however they could was inspiring. Every morning, they’d wake up and ask if the people I love were safe. They struggled to understand how kids their age could wake up multiple times a night to go to a bomb shelter. My eldest daughter even became an advocate at school against anti-Israel propaganda. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter chose Israel as her country for a school project, displaying a genuine interest in Israeli culture, history, and language. Seeing the world through their eyes gives me hope for a peaceful future in the Middle East.

Photo Credit: Janna Tusa

I encourage you to speak up for what is right, even if it goes against the popular narrative. Before you utter the phrase, “Why do you care?” take a moment to consider the person on the receiving end. Perhaps then, you will thank them for their support and not question their motives. As for me, I will always stand by Israel, and I will never stop caring. It is important to remember that standing up for what is right often means challenging the status quo. It means having the courage to speak out against injustice, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular. For some, it may mean taking action physically to help those who can’t help themselves. When we do this, we not only show our support for those who are marginalized or oppressed, but we also help to create a better world for everyone. By standing up for Israel, we show our support for a thriving democracy and a beacon of hope in the Middle East.

Edited by: S. Brooke Berkowitz

About the Author
I am a native New Yorker that experienced the deep connection to Israel at the young age of 16. I always believe that Israel chose me when I was selected to represent America and immerse myself into the amazing culture. I am now forty-three and my unparalleled love remains the same if not stronger as we stand tall against the dehumanization of all Israeli's. I studied the Holocaust while battling theologians on the theory if God was responsible in my early 20's, attained my degrees in social work to help children of trauma, moved on to become a financial executive, a mother to three awesome children, a semi-professional opera singer, currently a sales and operations executive for a national private education company, and still here working for my purpose.
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