We will stand strong in defiance but we won’t surrender our capacity to love.
I am not a journalist, not a politician, and not a celebrity. I grew up in New York City. My friends and partners have always been from mixed cultural, racial and religious backgrounds. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have advocated for civil rights, homosexual rights, animal rights, religious freedom, and the rights of women. Today I still fight the same fight but sadly, and quite devastatingly, the same people I have fought beside are now the ones yelling at me. Why? Due to the recent conflict in Gaza, my Jewish and Israeli heritage has led many to label me as an “oppressor.” Christians and Muslims make up 54.7% of the world’s religious population; Jews make up only a meager 0.2%, the smallest percentage worldwide. This is hardly a group of people in a position to be an oppressive force. For centuries our only goal has been to survive.
My maternal grandparents escaped the Kishinev Massacre fearing for their lives, eventually settling in what is now known as Israel. My father’s paternal ancestry was forced to convert to Christianity or be killed in 15th century Spain during the Inquisition. After expulsion, they settled in the former Yugoslavia where my father was born and raised.
From a young age I was very much aware of the struggles my family endured simply because we were Jewish. My parents could have easily wrapped me up in cotton wool, but they didn’t. They wanted me to be raised amongst diversity and taught me to love and respect all people as equals while still being proud of my Jewish heritage.
Having parents from two war-torn nations, I became fascinated with political psychology, unsurprisingly. After pursuing a higher education in psychology and receiving an MSc in international relations, I started to understand that the psychological insecurity of the individual had a direct effect on the political insecurity of nations.
Man has always found it easier to create a scapegoat than to look at the origin of our problems. We feel psychologically more comfortable with cures than with preventions. Needing a prevention means admitting there is a problem which many are not prepared to do until the 11th hour.
The War Within
Let’s think of arguments we have had with loved ones. How often are we defensive and quick to blame them instead of owning up to our role in contributing to the problem? If we displace so easily in our personal lives why are we surprised when this manifests on the political stage? Aren’t political actors merely human beings that also go home to their spouses and children and have childhood memories that haunt the decisions they make today? There is no war outside us that doesn’t already exist within us. If we are not taught to face our proverbial demons in the mirror with courage, we will continue to point the finger elsewhere. We have been doing so since the beginning of time.
Jews have more often than not been at the receiving end of the pointed finger. The reason is simple. It’s not because we are a “chosen people” who are better than anyone else, and it is not because we are part of some greater evil conspiracy. Jews contribute a great deal to the societies we have learned to call home, making us visual enough to blame and yet still small enough to conquer. The bully always goes for the kid in class he feels the most threatened by yet still feels he can beat up. Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey, the 5th smallest state in the US. Extremists such as Hamas, residing in the numerous Arab nations that surround Israel, openly seek its complete destruction. This map shows the tiny piece of land and dangerously narrow borders Israel has to defend.
My pride in being Jewish comes from the perseverance of my people. It comes from the fact that against all odds, we still stand no matter how many have tried to annihilate us. I’m exceedingly proud of my cultural Jewish roots. However, I have never been a fan of religion in general. One only has to look at historic and current religious vitriol to understand why.
The Gaza Conflict
The current Israel-Gaza conflict is not about Jew versus Muslim or Israeli versus Palestinian. It is a war of moderates versus extremists. It is a war between those who celebrate life and those who worship death. You don’t have to agree with all of Israel’s actions, in fact many Israelis don’t, but to blindly accuse Israel of war crimes is willfully ignorant. Israel is your frontline against the extremism of Hamas, the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. In 1968, a Palestinian nationalist attempted to hijack an El Al flight, Israel’s major commercial carrier. Immediately thereafter, El Al implemented strict pre-flight security measures. They were rebuked as invasive and offensive. However, post-9/11 every airline in the world followed El Al’s security measures. Israel deals with the threat of terrorism daily and Jews have been fighting against extremist ideologies for centuries. Believe us when we say that all our lives are entwined and it is imperative that we work together.
It is my hope that the moderates of the world can come together and embrace a universal wisdom that disempowers any extremist group — of any faith or background — that puts itself on a pedestal of megalomania and barbarically assaults, crucifies, manipulates and unabashedly murders others to further their cause.
Palestinians in Gaza who were suspected of collaborating with Israel were publicly executed by Hamas. It needs to be understood that Hamas are ideological bedfellows of the Islamic State. They have the same goals of establishing a caliphate, an Islamic state built on the rubble of other nations. Listen to Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a founding member of Hamas. He left Hamas when he realized that innocent Palestinians were being used as human shields to further Hamas’ goal of creating a caliphate. It is my hope that the moderates of the world can come together and embrace a universal wisdom that disempowers any extremist group — of any faith or background — that puts itself on a pedestal of megalomania and barbarically assaults, crucifies, manipulates and unabashedly murders others to further their cause.
When my father unexpectedly died in 2005, I got a Star of David tattooed on my right shoulder to honor him. It was done in Tel Aviv in 2006, another year when Israel was under constant rocket attack. The tattoo, although not permitted in Judaism, is how people know I am Jewish when in public.
I now live in London and am happily married to a non-Jewish man. We have an incredibly solid marriage. But in the last few months I have become an angry and depressed person. The rise in anti-Semitism worldwide has made me feel different from anyone who isn’t Jewish. I have allowed the hatred to penetrate me and separate me from those I love. Well, no more. Time for a Jewish exorcism.
Aggression and Pride
To the guy who antagonized me in the Apple Store about my Israeli heritage: You have made me more proud. To the Canadian who verbally assaulted me in a pub about the actions of Israel: You made me more proud. To the people on public transportation whose eyes shot daggers at me and whispered anti-Semitic remarks when they noticed my Star of David tattoo: You made me more proud. To the manager of the Sainsbury’s in Holborn, London, who decided to take all kosher food off the shelves: You have made me more proud. To the Tricycle Theatre in London who refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival: You have made me more proud. To the actors and musicians that have denounced Israel as an apartheid state but have never been there to see just how laughably wrong they are: You have made me more proud. To the aggressors who have incited an escalation of anti-Semitic violence: You have made me more proud.
The modern Jew today will not tolerate anti-Semitism. We will post on social networks until our fingers bleed and we will rally alongside thousands of other peaceful Jews and non-Jews alike. We will not cower in our synagogues or fear exposing our identities at schools or even rock concerts. We will not allow you to insultingly evoke terms such as “genocide” and “war-crimes” to chastize Israel’s actions of self-defense. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, over 11,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli citizens, yet Israel is continuously asked to “show restraint.” There is no aggression greater than the devoted promise to be wiped off the face of the earth.
And finally, we won’t allow hatred to pull us apart from those we love who are not Jewish. They may not understand our current plight but there isn’t a soul alive that can’t empathize to feeling like an outsider or that the world is against them. We are conscious that the battle we face today is the battle our non-Jewish friends and family face tomorrow. We will stand strong in defiance but we won’t surrender our capacity to love.
A final thought of affection. In June this year my husband and I went to our dear friend’s wedding at her family home on the Asian side of Istanbul. The following day we joined the newlyweds and a group of friends, and sailed on the Bosphorus, the waters between Europe and Asia. While gently rocking on the water with drink and smoke in hand, I heard the Islamic call to prayer echo through the hills surrounding us. The union of numerous voices was breathtaking.
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