Sarah Sassoon
An Iraqi Jewish Writer, Poet, Educator, Mother

Why I am not protesting

As long as the rhetoric on the Right is no different from that of the Left, my heart remains shattered. They aren't calling for unity; I am
Protesters demonstrate for a hostage deal and end to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, in Jerusalem's Paris Square on June 29, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
Protesters demonstrate for a hostage deal and end to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, in Jerusalem's Paris Square on June 29, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

They are calling for a million man march on the 7th of July, to mark nine months since October 7th. It is time for the government to go, they say. The people deserve better.

I am writing to give voice to those who do not protest. To those who sometimes do not know how to speak up. I too believe the people deserve better.

Since October 7, the air has been saturated with grief. There is so much pain and suffering. How do we grieve for 1,200 massacred? How do we house and comfort 135,000 displaced Israelis? How are there still 116 hostages in Gaza? What do we say to the survivors of the Nova festival? What do we say to the families of soldiers who are now lighting memorial candles? What do we say to the parents, and wives, and children, of soldiers, who can’t sleep at night, and whisper prayer after prayer to stave off paralyzing fear?

I know about such prayer because I am the mother of a soldier. My oldest son is an elite paratrooper covered in Gazan dust as I type these words.

Through my Jerusalem bedroom window, I hear the protests. I hear the anger, urgency and despair rise to the hysterical crescendo that preceded October 7. I understand the distrust of the government. I too am angry that the failures have yet to be addressed. I try not to judge.

I am trying to understand how anyone can protest during a seven-front war. I am trying to understand why they’re not protesting against Hamas.

I am thinking what I thought during the pre-October 7 protests: our enemies are watching. As Mideast expert, Dr. Mordechai Kedar says, the Arab world observes us closely. And where we see the exercise of democratic rights, they see weakness.

Maybe they are right.

The meaning of the name “Israel” is “to struggle with man and God.” We are good warriors. We are brilliant at fighting each other.

I recently heard a grocer on Azza Street complain to one of the protestors that the constant road closures have destroyed his business. The protester’s response: “You don’t care about sending your children to die.”

I am not here to defend the government. I know how Israeli governments have failed their citizens from my own Iraqi Jewish family. My own uncle was declared dead at the hospital at the age of two. An empty blanket was handed to my grandfather. There was no death certificate. There was no burial. Too many babies disappeared, not only from Yemenites but also from many Moroccans and Iraqi Jews in the 1950s.

We know what it is to be hurt and betrayed by a government. But most Middle Eastern Jews are not protesting.

I lost hope in our government last year when my curiosity led me to a protest in favor of the judicial reform. There, I heard the leaders’ passionate arrogance. None of them called for unity. Something in my heart shattered. The rhetoric on the Right was no different to that of the Left.

I am still picking up the pieces of my heart. Trying to find which part fits where. Seeking unity.

“Unity” — read it and roll your eyes. Read it and know that I am an idealist. (What other kind of person makes aliyah with her husband and four boys?) But know I a dreamer who fails her own ideals.

I asked my friend yesterday if he is going to the protests. He replies yes. “How could you?” I say. He is a good friend and tries to hear me. But I cannot bear to hear him. I want to smash the glass of water in my hand. I join the dark side.

I can hear the emperor from Star Wars sneering at me, “Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.”

I know this and still cannot calm my breath. Cannot say to my friend, “It’s okay.” Nothing feels okay. It is war, and my son is in it. Being a mother of a soldier is a special type of suffering.

I ask the butcher how he feels about the protests. With a pained expression, he replies, “I thought they were my brothers. I understand they’re upset, but why now? Why in a war?” I ask the coffee shop owner the same question. He says, “They’re not Jews.”

I ponder this. “Not Jews.” So much hurt in that sentence. So much pain.
I ask another friend, a reservist soldier. He says, “They’re stupid. It’s always the same people protesting. They don’t represent everyone.” He tells me off. “ Your job is to not despair. Youre job is to keep doing good.”

And he quotes Yoda. Star Wars, it seems, will shape my week. “Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path forever will it dominate your destiny.”

“Do not give into the dark side,” he insists.

He then tells the apocryphal story of an exchange between Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Einstein, “You Jews are sheep surrounded by wolves,” the philosopher said. And Einstein replied, “Yes it’s true, but don’t forget we have a shepherd.”

I look up the story online and cannot find it. I like the anecdote too much not to share it. It gives me hope. As soon as God (something beyond our frail humanity) is brought into the picture, the lens of the story widens.

We need to widen our lens. We need a new perspective.

Right now, I am primarily a mother. I know how siblings fight. How complicated family is. How every family is dysfunctional. But a mother never gives up. “Love heals the deepest wounds,” a healer tells me when I ask for advice about my teen. “Love him more.” And that is what I do.

Where is the love in the protests? The protest signs framing our streets are black and red. They blare danger, fear and catastrophe. Where is the love in the government? Where is the reassuring matriarch? The patriarch who establishes boundaries, yet knows how to harness the voices and talents of both sides?

The naysayer cries, “There is no place for love in war. We are fighting for our truth and ideals.”

I reply, “Which war is worth fighting without love?” My son is in the army because of love. Love for his family. For me. I am sitting here typing up thoughts and ideals and fears because he is on the front line, reportedly having received one piece of bread in two days.

Give me a country committed to love that is worth my son fighting for.

What would a protest of love look like? A government of love? A supreme court of love? Why are such wishes scoffed at as the stuff of fairy tales?

Pre-October 7, there was no end to hate and division. Why do we think doing the same thing is going to work? Einstein says insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Why must we mark ourselves with insanity?

There must be another way.

Two weeks ago, my 14-year-old nephew passed away from brain cancer. I have never experienced such deep pain and sorrow. I realize that under the grief lies the question: what do I want? As I imagine him alive again, I am filled with a type of joy. The question changes to: how can I keep him alive?

There is joy in life. There is joy in asking ourselves: what do we want? What do we want to create? What kind of society? What kind of government? What are our dreams and ideals as a community, city, country?

We are a small nation. We come from one man, one family. Family relations were dysfunctional in biblical times. We complained throughout the desert and were doomed to 40 years of wandering. Two Temples were destroyed because of our failures. After 2,000 years of exile we are back in our land. Where is the Third Temple?

This time, we need to build it differently. To transcend quarrying limestone in Jerusalem. Perhaps what is being asked of us is to build a temple in our hearts. Found our hearts with love for each other, with unity, knowing that even if we don’t agree we can break bread together. Each of us only has one heart. One homeland.

My dear friend tries to calm me, “What blessing would you give your son?” I reply through gritted teeth:  “The blessing of unity. The blessing of a loving country that is worth fighting for. Worth dying for. Worth living for.”

It’s not easy facing the darkness of my heart. It’s hard not to hate. To call my friend and say, “Sorry.” I know that he is not angry. But in my heart I find it hard to reach out. I am shaking with the effort to understand anything that undermines the safety of our country. Of my son. Nine months is a long war. I am exhausted.

“Is the dark side stronger?” Luke asks.
“No, no, no,” Yoda assures him. “Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

We need patience, we need to be brave.

This Sunday, I want us all to go to the streets. Let us tear our clothes in frustration, lacerate our skin as mourners did in ancient Babylonia, pour grey ash from the recent forest fires on our heads as in biblical times. Together we can sing lamentations over what has happened here. Share our stories of grief. Listen to each other’s sorrows. Hear each other’s fears and concerns. Then we can rise up, wash our hands and break bread together. We can share our dreams. Feel the joy of learning that our dreams and ideals aren’t so different. Then we can sit on the same street, at the same tables, eat, and bless, and pray for better days that we will create together.

Another meaning of the name “Israel” is to walk straight with God. It is a humble route. A route that acknowledges that nobody has the whole answer. But perhaps if we acknowledge that we are all Israel, we can piece the shards of our broken, war-weary hearts together. Different but related, argumentative but communicating, fractured but dreaming — together and whole.

About the Author
Sarah is an Australian born, Iraqi Jewish writer, poet, and educator. She is the author of the award winning picture book, Shoham’s Bangle and This is Not a Cholent. Her poetry micro chapbook, This is Why We Don’t Look Back was awarded the Harbor Review Jewish Women’s Poetry prize. Her poetry and personal essays have been published in Consequence Forum, Hadassah Magazine, Michigan Quarterly and elsewhere. She is an editorial advisor for Distinctions: A Sephardi and Mizrahi Journal. She is also the joint author of the The In-Between a literary dialogue about identity and belonging. She received her MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four boys. Visit
Related Topics
Related Posts