This article, by Rabbi Caryn Broitman, was published in the MV Times, Nov. 30, 2023.
It is now almost eight weeks since Hamas perpetrated horrific attacks, including murders, kidnappings, and sexual violence, on innocent Israeli civilians of all ages from the very young to the very old. In the week after the attack, someone sent me a moving blog meant to help the wider community understand our trauma with a title that has remained poignant for me: “Your Jewish friends are not OK right now.”
We are still not OK.
And now, the circle of people not OK is steadily widening. With an estimated 75 percent of Palestinians in Gaza displaced, and a heartbreaking number of children killed in the war, Palestinians in Gaza and their families in the U.S. and around the world are also not OK.
And in addition to the grief from events far away, here at home both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks in the U.S. are rising. Jews encounter hate on professional listservs, college campuses, on social media, and on the street. Palestinians do as well, and just this past week, three Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vt., in what appears to be a hate crime. A sense of fear and threat has been added to our grieving. And we are all not OK.
So for those who want to be an ally to Jews during these impossibly difficult times, what might this look like? Before I answer this question, it is important to understand that no one speaks for all Jews — not the government of Israel, nor large Jewish organizations, nor rabbis like me. I do, however, want to share my own thoughts from a place of humility.
How can we be an ally to Jews during these difficult times? First, please see the trauma, pain, and fear we are carrying. Most of us have friends and family who live in Israel. And almost all Israelis have buried loved ones or attended funerals for close friends and family members. Many others are in utter pain, worry, and dread as they fear for their friends and family members who have been kidnapped. For those who have survived, there are about 200,000 internal refugees in Israel since Oct. 7, in need of the most basic services. Siren warnings of missiles from the North continue, sending children to bomb shelters. And Israelis have been exposed through verified news reports to the violent details of Hamas’s butchery and sexual violence that have added to the trauma.
And what increases the pain is the intergenerational trauma many of us carry with us from the Holocaust, in which two-thirds of European Jews were murdered, and from which some of us still feel our survival as a people and culture is tenuous. So being an ally means seeing us in our vulnerability, and seeing the horror Israelis have lived through and can never forget. It means reaching out to your Jewish friends and neighbors, and for Jews as well to reach out to Israeli friends, just to show that we see and we care.
Second, please know that being an ally does not mean having a particular point of view. We are indeed united by our fervent prayers for the release of all hostages, our outrage toward Hamas’s atrocities, and a commitment to ensuring this can never happen again. Jews and our allies differ, however, on how to get there. Some advocate for the necessity of the continuation of the war as it is being fought, in order to end Hamas and prevent another Oct. 7. Others advocate for more targeted attacks against Hamas that would reduce civilian casualties. And yet others argue for either sustained humanitarian pauses or a ceasefire that would prioritize the freeing of all the hostages, end the heartbreaking killing of too many innocent civilians, and begin real negotiations for a lasting peace. Follow your conscience, and allow space for others to follow theirs.
Third, I believe that being an ally means supporting a shared future that gives both Jews and Palestinians safety, dignity, and freedom. Hamas is not the Palestinian people. One can be unequivocally opposed to Hamas and at the same time be for freedom for Palestinians. One can also disagree with the Israeli government’s policies both in Gaza and the West Bank and at the same time be for a safe and secure homeland for Jewish people. I believe that being an ally to Jews means being a vehicle for a peaceful future for all.
Whatever your viewpoint or political perspective, how we communicate our convictions matters. All of us, no matter where we stand, must ask ourselves: Are we using words that hurt and inflame, or are we speaking in ways that engender kindness and understanding? Are we listening in humility to people’s experiences, fears, grief, or are we so sure we are right that we are willing to silence others? Are we acting only out of our anger and fear, or are we able to call upon our faith and act in the spirit of hope?
There are many organizations in Israel created by Israeli Jews and Palestinians that increase my hope for a better future. Those organizations include Standing Together, Women Wage Peace, Parents Circle-Families Forum, and the Sulha Peace Project. They are small points of light in a background of darkness, and must be nurtured.
Hanukkah is just a week away, so it is timely to recall that each spark of light, no matter how small, contains the potential for a miracle. Those small sparks are the seeds of a future where each of us is more than just OK. A future where each of us is recognized for the spark of the divine light that we carry within. For that future to be realized, every person must be an ally to all. And when that happens, in the words of Zechariah, “On that day, God will be one, and God’s name will be one.”