About a week after the October 7 pogrom, I was in a bagel shop in New York City. One would think that’s a fairly safe space to be, but not this particular bagel shop. The former owner, an Israeli, sold the shop to two Arabs, and the Arabs who now work there are not particularly interested in making Jewish customers feel safe. While I was there, one millennial worker came up to each of the visibly Jewish customers and started singing a not particularly friendly song in Arabic in each of our faces.
I was somewhat in shock: The Israeli owner had often employed Arab workers, who had always been quite pleasant. Not this current group. When I respectfully asked the manager about the confrontations, he shouted back: “If you don’t like it, leave!”
Which of course I did, along with the other Jewish customers. On my way home, I tucked my great-grandmother’s Star of David behind my shirt, something I’ve never done my entire life. And I was shaking. Having lived the well-protected “good life” my parents created in the U.S. — meaning free from persecution — I had always marveled at the Israeli ability to deal with incessant terrorist attacks. I never thought I could handle it — and never thought I would have to.
Synagogues and Jewish community centers here began increasing security after 9/11; metal detectors and bag checks have been so thoroughly normalized it’s created a false sense of comfort.
As the days passed, my fear quickly turned to anger: How dare they try to scare us here. And then I began to see Generation Z high school students wearing their kippahs, mezuzahs, and Stars on the streets with prideful smiles. Millennials have taken to bashing Gen Z, and if you look only on campuses today you might be inclined to believe them. But Gen Zers in NYC, at least could not be more different from the mindless conformity we’re seeing on campus. Their deceit detectors have been on high alert for years, having been lied to (by their millennial teachers) about practically everything since kindergarten.
Indeed, Hamas was able to do something few Jewish leaders have accomplished: Begin to unite the Jewish people through pride.
I looked at them and thought: Yes, this needs to be the Jewish Diaspora’s response. Soon, I began to see memes on social media to this effect: “I’ve never been so proud to be Jewish.” Indeed, Hamas was able to do something few Jewish leaders have accomplished: begin to unite the Jewish people through pride.
The Jihadnacht ante was upped on Thanksgiving: smoke bombs outside the Los Angeles home of the president of AIPAC, and more than 30 Jihadi protestors taken into custody in NYC for disrupting the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and painting genocidal slogans on the New York Public Library.
Since Jihadnacht shows no signs of abating, how should we respond? From a place of strength and pride. Some caveats:
• Pride — true pride — is not in your face, literally or figuratively. It doesn’t have to be. True pride is confident, dignified, resilient. It’s not about lowering oneself to the antics of those who hate us;
• True pride is recognizing that though we’ve been victims of persecution for thousands of years, we’re not going to wallow in victimhood. We know what has been done to us, what continues to be done to us, but the true miracle is Judean resilience. We need to continue to call out and challenge every lie, but we’re not looking for pity; we’re looking for justice.
• Understand that truth, justice, and reason are on our side: We have nothing to apologize for. We just need to state, and restate, the truth; no propaganda needed.
• Understand — and internalize — that Judaism is not just a religion. It’s an ethnicity, a people, a nation that is tied genetically and historically to the land of Israel. You can’t “colonize” your own land.
• Learn Judean heritage. Fully understand that Jews are not white, privileged, or colonizers — today’s blood libel. Jews come in all hues — an exquisite mosaic — and most of our ancestors came here with nothing. My grandfather was overjoyed to get an apple for his bar mitzvah; he had never tasted one before.
What does true pride in one’s identity look like? — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Martin Luther King, Jr. With Sacks and King in mind, here’s an initial list for both parents and kids, a list that should have come from our synagogues and community leaders:
* Demand that the media, politicians, and teachers stick to the facts. Pull funding from any institution unwilling to do so.
* Wear something visibly Judean every day. Last summer I began to wear an IDF T-shirt quite a bit because of the blatant normalization of antisemitism at the City University of New York (CUNY).
* Homes and businesses should consider having an Israeli flag outside. Those of us in apartment buildings, make sure an Israeli flag can be seen through your window.
* If confronted, don’t engage. Jihadis don’t excel at reason, and the entire point of this is to normalize Judean pride.
* Aggression — verbal, physical, or even menacing trucks — signifies weakness. Observe, take videos, report; let their aggression be matched by our dignity.
* In schools, no matter how small the incident, report it to the dean immediately. And publicly state that you will be pulling your student out unless jihad is addressed forcefully by the administration.
* Campuses like Harvard, Columbia, and Penn, where it’s Jihadnacht on Steroids: Your initial instinct may be to keep your student home until the school finally addresses it. According to a new study from Hillel, one-third of Jewish students now feel a need to hide their identity. But either one would be teaching your kids the wrong message. They need to be able to stand with dignity and pride while the mini-jihadis continue to make fools of themselves.
* Learn conversational Hebrew. It’s our language; we should know how to speak it.
* Teach your kids what the Judean people have been able to accomplish — the light we’ve created — while facing endless persecution.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t take necessary precautions. Obviously, all synagogues and community centers now need the tightest security, as do all schools and many homes. Think of pride as emotional security — and hope.
Theodor Herzl succeeded in creating a country of Maccabees. But it’s now way past time for the Diaspora to follow. Ironically, we can borrow a term from the neo-Marxists on campus: Decolonization. Each of us needs to decolonize our minds and our souls: Remove all deeply embedded instincts to act like a “dhimmi,” second-class citizen, or to over-assimilate.
We’ve already seen the tremendous lift uniting with other Jews has given us. It’s now time to put all politics aside (unity does not mean conformity) and allow our unity as a people to help us not just get through this but also to make us stronger so that it truly will never happen again.
Or as only Rabbi Sacks could put it:
You are a member of an eternal people, a letter in their scroll.
Let their eternity live on in you.
Karen Lehrman Bloch is editor in chief of White Rose Magazine.