I’m a Civilian Jewish Mother

December 13, 2023

I remember, when I was childless, how easy and effortlessly it was for me to fight for Israel.

I remember how, when I was 29, I snuck into Gush Katif, Gaza, as a freelance journalist, almost on a whim, to cover the IDF withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

I remember how easy it was for me to cover the aftermath, interviewing former residents and soldiers at any time of the day, working late into the night to write detailed features on the crises of faith among the evacuated youth and the feelings of the soldiers who participated in the evacuation.

I remember becoming a professional Israel activist in my hometown of Los Angeles when I was in my 30s, childless, organizing rallies for Israel when Hamas and Islamic jihad would once again drag Israel into war after firing countless rockets into Israel.

I remember how fun and easy it was for me to make controversial “hasbara” videos, editing late into the night and then waking up pretty much whenever I wanted to edit some more until the product was practically perfect.

Since becoming a mother four years ago, my memories of activism are very different. Actually, now my memories are of what I don’t do for Israel.

I remember how, when a pro-Israel rally took place in my adopted city of Berlin the day after the Oct. 7 massacre, I had to organize a babysitter to cover it, rushing out right when it was over because the meter’s always running on a babysitter.

I remember how I had to wake up at 7:30 am the next day to make sure Hanna made it to kindergarten by 9 am, and how I had to stop any pro-Israel crusading activity by 4:30 pm so that I could pick her up.

I remember how, when a new rally was announced the next week, I didn’t go, because I didn’t really want to pay for a babysitter, and rallies are no place for children, especially with violent counter-rallies possibly on the horizon.

I remember how I wanted to help go to community events to feel comforted, but that I didn’t have the time or energy because at 7 pm Hanna takes a bath and then wants to play a new game.

I remember how I didn’t want to go to rallies in general because I don’t want anything to happen to me.

I remember how I didn’t want to post something too pro-Israel online, lest some antisemite send me death threats.

Whether we are in Israel or the Diaspora, Jews these days are fighting for our lives, literally. We are spiritual soldiers in some capacity, whether by lobbying governments to do more to fight Jew-hatred or by going to a pro-Israel rallies, let alone organizing one. For many Jews, just going to college is entering a battlefield.

So most of the time, I stay home. I can’t even be an armchair “soldier.” Even when it comes to being a social media influencer, most of my posts are dashed off in haste, and they are uninteresting and uninspiring.

I think about what I could do if I did not need to maintain a routine for my daughter. I would probably have returned to southern Israel to cover the carnage and its aftermath. I would probably have joined a movement to help the hostages somehow. I’d join the friends I made on the Gaza shore in 2005 to figure out a just solution for the “morning after” Israel’s victory.

Who knows? Maybe I would have moved back to Israel indefinitely.

But now I have a new battle: my daughter. She is the future I’m fighting for, which means I can’t be a warrior for all Jews. For once, I need other people to fight for me, to protect me. To protect us.

I’m a Jewish mother, and Jewish mothers are going through the toughest emotional battles these days. We’re the ones who need warriors, military and moral, to protect us. Traumatized by what Hamas did to parents and children on that horrible Shabbat, we need to be shielded from the fears that something like that will happen to us or our children.

I now remember how every day and night since Oct. 7, I can’t stop hugging Hanna and telling her I love her and that she’s the best daughter in the world and that I’m so lucky to have her, because who knows if some Jew-hater will do something horrible to either of us.

I remember how I sent a lawyer friend of mine instructions on guardianship should, God forbid, anything happen to me in a country where I have no family.

I remember how I’m so fortunate that Hanna is safe but that I can’t feel fully happy putting her to bed at night, knowing there are still children and mothers in captivity, and I shudder at the thought that it could have been Hanna.

We are in constant emotional wars, and yet I want to fight more, for my sake, for her sake, for the Jewish people and for all humanity. But I just don’t have the time. And I just can’t risk my life the way I did when I was childless. Even wearing a Jewish star pendant feels like holding a weapon.

So, for now, I think that all I can do is write from the comforts of my own home, when Hanna is in kindergarten or sleeping, articles, books, and even a script about the path forward amidst one of the most frightening times for Jews in this century.

And hopefully, in the far off future, I’ll remember how we not only survived this ordeal, but thrived.

Orit Arfa is an author and journalist based in Berlin. Her first of two novels, The Settler, follows the aftermath of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Her work can be found at: www.oritarfa.net.


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