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My Necklace of Solidarity

The silver, dog-tag style pendant hanging from the chain reads “Bring Them Home Now!”
[additional-authors]
February 21, 2024
Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Image

I wear the necklace to remind myself who I am. The silver, dog-tag style pendant hanging from the chain reads “Bring Them Home Now!” Above this message is Hebrew lettering that translates to “The Jewish People Live.”

Wearing the necklace in my Brooklyn neighborhood makes me think of the role Israel has played in forming my identity. While going about day-to-day tasks, the slight clanging sound it makes when I walk around reminds me that the Jewish people — my people — both here and in the Promised Land are in great trouble.  

The necklace was given to me by my cousin while I was visiting her in Florida. She had lived in Israel for several years, and her Florida community includes many Israeli expats, and observant Jews. 

My wife, child and I went to Shabbat services in my cousin’s Sephardic synagogue. Because I was used to the Ashkenazi traditions of my Conservative congregation, the service made me feel like a stranger.

Even though I felt out-of-place amid the Sephardim, wearing the necklace made me feel at one with my cousin and her neighbors. I imagined that everyone I passed on the street was as fixated as I was on the message conveyed by the pendant. While I seldom see the necklaces in my Brooklyn community, they are popular in Israel. Most of my wife’s family is Israeli and we visit them often. 

I marched with my relatives in Jerusalem during one of the pro-democracy protests. I have done volunteer work, promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Liberal-Zionism is central to my sense of self. I responded to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack with anger, sadness and fear. Not only am I worried about my nephews serving in the military, but the centerpiece of my ethnic and religious identity is now in flux. 

At home, the Jew-hatred exhibited during pro-Palestinian protests have upended my belief that I was an equal partner in America’s multicultural makeup. I have never felt so vulnerable.

I have taken refuge in the outbreak of tribalism among Jewish-Americans. When my wife and I joined my child’s middle school at a pro-Israel rally in Washington D.C. I felt deeply connected to the 300,000 people in attendance.

I grew up with the belief that such unity is the natural state of the Jewish people. But today we are divided by culture, religion and politics. 

Except for some Ukrainians I know from Federation work my Ashkenazi-centric social circle is closed to Jewish outsiders. I rarely interact with Bukharans, Iranians whose families fled the revolution, or the Hasidim, despite being a short subway ride from their strongholds. 

Perhaps the biggest divide is between Israeli and American Jews. My Israeli cousins have never known what it is like to be a minority in your home country. I have never had to take cover in a bomb shelter. 

The intense divisions revealed by the anti-government protests in Israel made me think Jews were too divergent to ever constitute a singular people in more than name. I felt an emptiness, a kind of loneliness, as I tried to regain my footing in America’s diverse landscape.

The solidarity inspired by crisis has tethered me to the disparate pieces of the Jewish world, pulling them into a whole of which I am a part.

In spite of the ongoing tragedy and loss of life, the months since Oct. 7 have been strangely exhilarating. The solidarity inspired by crisis has tethered me to the disparate pieces of the Jewish world, pulling them into a whole of which I am a part.

Amid New York’s vast array of races, religions, and ethnicities — each with its own concerns and traumas — my necklace symbolizes that I am more than an individual. I am bonded to those I gathered with in Washington D.C. and Jerusalem, to my relatives in uniform, to the hostages, to the students experiencing antisemitism, to everyone calling themselves a Jew.

But I worry that the siege mentality that I and so many other Jews are experiencing will prove inadequate to sustain the surge of togetherness sweeping the Diaspora. In a podcast by the Shalom Hartman Institute, Donniel Hartman, author of “Who Are The Jews And — Who We Can Become,” talks about the impact of crisis on Jewish peoplehood: “But at the end … while catastrophes and antisemitism might exist … people are only going to choose Judaism [and peoplehood] if it inspires them.”    

He believes that American Jews need a peoplehood project. I agree.

The Israeli nonprofit Shaharit thinktank combines leadership training and cross-cultural outreach to help dissimilar Israeli communities find their commonalities. The Diaspora needs similar efforts on a large scale. 

Rallies, slogans, and necklaces are no substitute for the glue of making a commitment to each other.  Only then will the Jewish People truly Live.


Ben Krull’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News and other publications.

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