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I Don’t Want to Win

I needed to say it. I needed you to read it, feel it, confront it. I needed to lay down this shard in a heap of burned and broken bodies. 
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November 9, 2023
Lidiia Moor/Getty Images

I cried throughout Shabbat services. My sister and I split a tissue, reminding me of something our mother does, which made me laugh, then cry some more. I even danced in a circle pulsing with grief and connection. When it was time to say Kaddish, I stood. I always do. The entire congregation stood.

They butchered us. 

I’d held this at a distance, unable to absorb the grotesque slaughter Hamas unleashed on revelers at a music festival and multi-generational families in sleeping kibbutzim two weeks earlier, reminiscent of pogroms and Nazis, stories seared into the backs of my eyelids.

Can you think of a horrific event where we haven’t shared some collective shock and horror, comforted those most directly impacted, and vowed we would not stand for such depravity? Moments of shared humanity, however brief or tenuous, enable us to witness, show solidarity, and commit to ending future cycles of violence.

But where was this response of devastation and revulsion in the wake of the mass murder of Jews? Instead came justifications and statements about complexity – a word as true as it can be a deflection.

But where was this response of devastation and revulsion in the wake of the mass murder of Jews? Instead came justifications and statements about complexity – a word as true as it can be a deflection.

What is complicated is to be a Jew in this world, who holds human rights as a core value, celebrates and finds solace and joy and meaning and endless profundity in my tradition, wants Israel to continue to exist, yet does not want my existence bound up with anyone else’s oppression. 

They butchered us.

The reactions flooded the internet, the newspapers, and the streets, rolling in like a tsunami, but are helpless to do anything other than trying to reach higher ground. 

Israeli flags on one side, Palestinian flags on the other. 

More emails from friends, readers, clients, and strangers than I’ve ever received in such a compressed timeframe. Conversations with loved ones – shock, confusion, isolation, grief, anger. My body numb.

I almost didn’t go to services. Some part of me knew being in the sanctuary would crack me open. Some other part of me wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. 

I went.  I sat and stood, sang and cried, at once uplifted and crushed. 

Uplifted: Judaism embraces contradictions and challenges me to sit with things that don’t make sense. Uplifted: The prayers and songs evolve alongside us as our tradition lives and breathes. Uplifted: Not alone in my anguish. 

Crushed: Shattered, dismayed, bewildered, at a loss. Crushed: The speed with which friends and institutions condemned Israel. Crushed: No moment of silence, no acknowledgment of human lives, no unequivocal rejection of brutality and degradation. Crushed: When Jews are slaughtered, we should just stand by because [reasons].

They butchered us, and you said nothing?
They butchered us, and you skipped right to protesting the State?
They butchered us, and you shared memes?
They butchered us, and you played the oppression Olympics?
They butchered us, and you couldn’t even say our names?

These words are my howl of pain, which I hold in the same hand as my despair for Gaza and the seemingly impossible questions of how two peoples can find a way to coexist in a land that is sacred to both. 

These words are my howl of pain, which I hold in the same hand as my despair for Gaza and the seemingly impossible questions of how two peoples can find a way to coexist in a land that is sacred to both. 

I came to life in Israel, chatting in my rusty Russian with the taxi driver who had come to Israel seeking refuge. I thought of my ancestors, expelled from Spain, driven from Macedonia, Romania, Ukraine. I thought of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Morocco. I felt I had come home after a lifetime of waiting, that sense of rightness irreconcilable with the sense of wrongness as we drove along the border of the West Bank – lush here, barren there. 

I am not trying to talk you into or out of something. 

They butchered us, and I needed to write that down. 

I needed to say it. I needed you to read it, feel it, confront it. I needed to lay down this shard in a heap of burned and broken bodies. 

You know that one about the history of the Jewish people in nine words? 

They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

My stomach lurches. I don’t want to win. I want to live.


Jena Schwartz is a poet, essayist, and writing coach whose work has appeared in Cognoscenti, On Being, Tikkun, and Vox Populi, among other publications. She lives in Amherst, MA, where she serves as Poet Laureate at the Jewish Community of Amherst. Learn more about her work at www.jenaschwartz.com.

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