Holding Onto Humanity During This Time of Crisis
By Jackie Nirenberg, Regional Director, ADL Austin
It is hard to believe it has been over a month since Hamas murdered over 1,400 Israeli civilians in cold blood, the largest number of Jewish people killed since the Holocaust, and took more than 240 hostages, including infants, elderly people, people with disabilities and citizens of multiple ethnicities and nationalities whose lives still hang in the balance.
Predictably, the attack ignited a tidal wave of antisemitism and anti-Zionism around the world, leaving Jews feeling isolated and unsupported in their grief. ADL has documented a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. alone since October 7. Jewish students on campuses throughout the country have been at the epicenter of much of this activity, leaving many afraid to gather or visit centers of Jewish life on campus.
Recently, when participating in a panel discussion, the question, “why is there so much hatred among college students and young people toward Israel, when it was Israelis who were the victims of the heinous attack that precipitated this war,” was asked. The answer was that idealism and righteous indignation necessarily leave little room for nuance and complexity. And the lack of tolerance for nuance makes it much easier for people to focus all of their anger and hatred in one direction.
But there is no nuance or ambiguity when it comes to a barbaric, terrorist organization like Hamas, whose mission is to wipe Israel off the map and to exterminate the Jewish people. This is known because they have said so publicly, over and over again. They proclaimed those intentions when the group was formed in 1987, long before they co-opted the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza to achieve their goal. While there isn’t any comfort in that, it does provide some moral clarity.
That truth was echoed once again in a November 8 New York Times article that makes Hamas’s intentions on October 7 crystal-clear. In interviews for the article, Hamas leaders hiding in Qatar express their “hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders” and that the purpose of the October 7th massacre was to “change the entire equation and not just have a clash.”
It is evident that the ensuing war is bringing tremendous loss and suffering to innocent civilians in Gaza, complicating feelings and adding yet another layer to the heartbreak. That compassion is good. It’s what keeps people human in the wake of such an inhumane situation. People cannot lose touch with that humanity or allow outrage to perpetuate more hate. If they do, then they are allowing terror to shape who people are. And in that sense, terrorism will have won.
There are some positive things people can and should do. If feeling isolated and resentful that non-Jewish friends haven’t reached out to express their sympathy or support, reach out to them. This is an opportunity to educate people about the unique and complex experience of American Jews. Many simply do not have the frame of reference for what Jews are going through.
Regarding social media, it has been advised not to engage in online arguments as it leaves people vulnerable to trolling.
The road ahead will be a rocky one, filled with anger, confusion, and despair. And as many have already learned, conversations about this unfolding crisis will be fraught with emotion and conflict. Together, the community will get through this storm, and be a stronger community for braving it with humanity.
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