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A Mistake I Won’t Repeat Again

In times of such immense suffering and loss inflicted upon the Jewish people by terror, how are we supposed to respond?
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October 11, 2023
P Deliss/Getty Images

On October 6, I made a mistake I hope to never repeat again. 

It may have seemed innocuous enough then. But after the events that transpired in the Jewish world over the weekend, the gesture has come to embody an entirely new meaning. 

Friday morning October 6 was a bright and unseasonably warm day on the UCLA campus. We had just finished morning services at Hillel, and I was making the short walk to my first economics class of the year. 

Moving through the bustling campus corridors, I was overcome by a sudden sensation of self-consciousness and doubt. Despite it being the start of my third-year, I strangely felt a feeling of estrangement among my fellow Bruins.

The main culprit? My kippah, a navy skullcap perched atop my hair. Weighing only a few ounces, on Friday, that cap had felt unusually heavy.

Then came that crucial moment, when my inner skeptic got the upper hand of the situation. It isn’t worth the trouble, I explained to myself in justification. So I unclipped my kippah and folded it casually into my side pocket, without missing a step.

With the burden being lifted, I took a seat in the auditorium and blended in with the rest of the students for the duration of the lecture. 

It was only hours later, on October 6, 2023, that the State of Israel and the world’s Jewry would wake up to a terror attack never seen before in Israel’s post-independence era. The headlines offered no reprieve: Hundreds dead, thousands wounded, and dozens captured by the enemy.

The IDF, caught off-guard during the early hours of the jubilant Simchat Torah holiday, struggled initially to muster its forces against a brutal surprise incursion by Hamas. 

My initial reactions to the violence and bloodshed were of shock and devastation, feelings which have persisted as the conflict rages on. Like Jews in Israel and those in the diaspora, I felt a crushing blow to my Jewish identity, and even to my core existence.

I resolved to act against evil and to do what I could to help defeat the adversary. It was then, however, that I recalled, with humiliation, with my cowardly decision to take off my kippah before class. 

I knew that my fate was bound together with the Jewish people. I resolved to act against evil and to do what I could to help defeat the adversary. It was then, however, that I recalled, with humiliation, with my cowardly decision to take off my kippah before class. 

As I continue to process the tragic developments in Israel, I now know that I am no longer the same person I was before class on Friday morning. 

Recently, I was reading Yoram Hazony’s “The Jewish State,” where he discusses Theodor Herzl’s vision for the modern state of Israel, decades before its creation. I recall a particularly poignant passage in which Herzl describes the significance of a flag as a salient object, symbolizing national pride and identity. 

In a letter Herzl wrote to the German philanthropist, and advocate for European Jewry, Maurice de Hirsch, in June 1895, Herzl highlights the exceptional role that a flag can play in representing the core pillars of Zionism and Jewish destiny.

“With a flag you can lead people to any place that is wanted, even to the Promised Land,” Herzl wrote. “For the sake of the flag, people are prepared to live and to die. In truth, this might be the sole cause for whose sake the masses are willing to die.” 

Herzl, reflecting on the success of the 19th-century’s consolidation of German nationalism, explained that the Jewish people have endured almost two millennia of exile and persecution for the sake of a dream — or a “fantasy,” as he puts it — longing for the era when, as the Psalmist writes, the Lord returns the captives of Zion. 

Herzl’s ideas remained with me through Hamas’ relentless assaults on Israel’s people, values, and national identity. Much like a flag, a kippah is an object of great significance. It represents lofty, larger-than-life causes, many that cannot be expressed eloquently with mere words.

Wearing a kippah is a gesture of both the universal and the particular

Intrinsically, a kippah is a symbol of faith, the fear of Heaven, and the religious spirit. Wearing a kippah is a gesture of both the universal and the particular; it acknowledges one’s ties to their Creator, and demonstrates one’s belonging and identification with the nation of Israel. 

Such an object deserves to be worn proudly.

In times of such immense suffering and loss inflicted upon the Jewish people by terror, how are we supposed to respond?

Antisemitism and Jew hatred is an ailment that has afflicted K’lal Yisroel since their very emergence as a people. The first known instance — the Israelites’ brutal encounter with Amalek in the desert — is famous and archetypical for many other waves of subsequent antisemitism in Jewish history. 

When I think of terrorism, a portrayal of Amalek comes to the fore as its most vivid conception. In many ways, the two phenomena are one and the same. Many Jewish commentators, in fact, believe that Amalek represents an ideological enemy, in addition to being the historical nemesis of the Jews. 

Hearing of the Jews’ redemption in Egypt, the giving of the Torah, and their miraculous sojourn in the desert, Amalek couldn’t fathom the idea of a prosperous, harmonious society based on justice and fairness. Instead, Amalek thrived on chaos, violence, and confusion. It strove to sow discord and doubt, foster corruption and greed while perverting righteousness and charity. 

Historically, Amalek sometimes takes the form of a political force. Projecting The Jewish Question to the nations, Amalek demands the exclusion, marginalization, and, as history has shown, even the persecution and extermination of Jews. Amalek insists that the Jewish state is illegitimate, or that the Jewish people lack the right of self-defense.

Amalek is also a psychological force. It is the inner voice that utters self-contempt and insecurity. It revels in shame and unfettered cynicism. Such an ideology strives to warp one’s identity and undermine their dignity.  Amalek is also a feeling of self-consciousness, coaxing us to remove a kippah.

This week, I found myself, once again, among my peers on UCLA’s campus. This time, however, my navy kippah remains on head each morning following minyan. I like to think that, in some small way, this is doing my part in demonstrating Jewish resilience, might, and dignity.


Alex Rubel is a third-year student at UCLA

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