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Finding Our Inner Jew

We are warriors against those who wish us harm, we are transmitters of light and seekers of justice, and we never apologize for being proud members of an ancient tribe.
[additional-authors]
May 20, 2024
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Something deep and tribal has touched more than a few Jews since Oct. 7. The massacre of that fateful day, followed by months of anti-Israel and antisemitic rage, has triggered among many Jews a sense of being under siege—a feeling that “it’s us against the world.”

This “us” is a reconnection with Jewish peoplehood, a realization that we are part of a distinct and ancient people with a uniquely dramatic story. The horrific drama of Oct. 7 has brought Jews closer to that ancient story and to one another.

We might call it a reconnection with our inner Jew.

In America, this sense of kinship has long been referred to light-heartedly as being an MOT– “member of the tribe.” Given our need to be accepted, MOT has always come with a friendly wink, as if to say, “Let’s be playful and not go overboard with this tribal thing, lest we turn off our benevolent American hosts.”

Oct. 7 has made MOT deeper, sober, more serious.

For many Jews living through this period of pervasive antisemitism, connecting with other “members of the tribe” has become a kind of necessity. Yes, in the post-Oct. 7 world, we can say that Jews are looking for other Jews.

It’s not that Jews have abandoned the Jewish ideal of universality; it’s more that we’re going through a particular moment where the Jewish value of particularity has taken precedence.

I’ve spoken to Jewish college students who’ve told me they feel safer hanging out with other Jewish students. With the animosity surrounding them, is that an unreasonable choice?

We shouldn’t assume, however, that this tribal connection is simply a search for safety. Whether we realize it or not, it is our souls that are being touched by the threatening winds of the moment.

Our souls can’t be touched by a superficial 24-hour news cycle or the frantic talking points of propaganda. Our souls can only be touched by something that goes very deep, something as deep as a sudden death in the family.

October 7 was a massive and sudden death in the Jewish family, a reminder of the eternal existential threat facing Jews. We can feel its lingering depth through the memorials, art exhibits, films, songs, posters, plays, demonstrations for hostages and volunteerism connected to Oct. 7 that are keeping that reminder alive.

No matter what goes on in the Knesset, at the White House or the United Nations, the savage massacre of 1200 Israelis on the Shabbat of Oct. 7 stands as a singular tragedy that is now anchored in our souls, an atrocity that will not stop haunting us.

My disagreements and disappointments with this Israeli government are many, but they are independent of my relationship with that Shabbat massacre, with the empathy I feel for Israelis who must still brave the aftershocks of that day. Being hardened by reality is the status quo for Israelis.

But it is not our status quo in America. Our homes don’t come with bomb shelters. We don’t hear sirens warning us of incoming rockets. Our fears and concerns have always been on a much lower scale.

The unprecedented horror of Oct. 7, coupled with the anti-Israel frenzy that now surrounds us, has brought us emotionally closer to our Israeli brethren. This is no longer a case of another suicide attack or a BDS protest. We can’t just brush off Oct. 7 and move on to the next story.

This story cannot and will not let us go. It transcends politics, policies, current events. It goes deep enough to touch our souls, to connect us with the inner Jew we so often take for granted.

In this inner Jew lies the courage to fight back. We fight back, each in our own way, on behalf of our tribe and in honor of our ancestors who kept the Jewish flame alive since the dawn of history.

But in this inner Jew also lies other Jewish ways of fighting.

We fight back by having joyful Shabbat tables, by spreading the light of kindness in our little worlds, by caring for our families and supporting our communities, by praying for the hostages, by reaffirming life, and, yes, by criticizing our leaders when we feel they messed up.

Maybe, then, this is what it means when our souls are touched and we find our inner Jew: We are warriors against those who wish us harm, we are transmitters of light and seekers of justice, and we never apologize for being proud members of an ancient tribe.

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