Friday night my family opened our home to friends and neighbors to celebrate the end of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. We partied with live music, food, and drinks. It was a joyous evening. At roughly the same time, half a world away, hundreds of young Israelis were at a music festival celebrating in much the same way.
We woke up Saturday morning to the first reports of the terrorist attacks on the festival. I have woken up every day since then thankful to be alive and safe in my home. This feeling immediately met with fear, extreme sadness, and tears for the incredible loss that is happening.
How does the war in Israel affect me as an American Jew?
For many Jewish Americans, Israel is like a second home to us. We learn about Israel during our childhood, either in school, at camp or we participate in trips to Israel either with other teens or with our families. It is the home that exists within our hearts and are extremely proud to call our own.
Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the state of Israel was established, so Jews of the world would have a place to live safely together. It is our homeland. It is our place of refuge. Seeing it under attack is heartbreaking.
While this war is happening thousands of miles away, our lives in the States change when there is conflict. Anti-Semitism increases. We must be more vigilant. Threats against the Jewish people increase dramatically, synagogue security is heightened, and our children pass armed cars and police to enter school. Everywhere we turn it feels like there are eyes on us.
When deciding to attend a recent community rally, the following thoughts ran through my head:
- Are my husband and I both safe to go or should only one of us attend?
- Remember not to sit by the door in case there is an active shooter.
- Can I run in these shoes?
- Will there be enough security there to make me feel safe?
- Do I know where all the exits are?
- Am I wearing something that makes me a target in a crowd?
- Who will tell my kids if we don’t make it home?
Let that sink in.
How do the recent events affect me as a mother?
Every single innocent person in this conflict could be me. I could be the one watching my daughter go off to war. I could be the one whose son has been kidnapped or killed. I could be the one missing. To see the death and destruction of so many is too much for one person to fathom. To know this could be my family is a place I try to keep my mind from going. It isn’t working. It’s all I can think about. My body and my mind hurt in a way I didn’t know was possible.
Our children feel our pain. Talking with them is devastating. Living very open Jewish lives in the deep South, my kids are often the only Jewish people their friends know. We’ve taught them to be proud of their heritage and encourage them to include their friends in our traditions. We want our children to feel comfortable answering questions from those who are curious and want to learn more. Most of all, we don’t want our kids to be scared to be Jewish.
Why am I not hearing from more of my non-Jewish friends?
This is a question so many of my Jewish friends are asking. They see others posting and speaking out on so many other wrongs in the world, but not this one. I think there are several factors at play. People don’t know what to say. This is happening abroad, and they may not understand the connection American Jews have with Israel. They only get their news from apps whose algorithms show them quick blurbs that are easily lost in online noise. Others may find it hard to separate the politics of the region from the senseless suffering of innocent people.
Does that make it feel less lonely? No.
Does it feel like elements of a generation ago are hitting far too close to home? Yes.
Here’s my advice. Say something, recognize that another human is hurting in a way that you may not understand, or simply ask, “Are you okay?” At this moment, we need to know that you see us and that you care. The importance of hearing voices outside of the Jewish community who are standing up and speaking out against terrorism and antisemitism is more important than ever.
Take care of each other.
None of this is easy. As humans, we have a responsibility to take care of each other. Unthinkable things are happening in our world right now. Reach out and check in on those who are hurting, talk with your children about the values your family holds, and donate to a charity that supports a cause you believe in. Please don’t assume this is someone else’s issue. If this were happening to you, you would want others to care as much about your family as much as I want you to care about mine.
How to talk to your kids
Processing any tragedy this horrific is hard to explain and can feel overwhelming as a parent. The following was suggested to me:
- Take the cues from your child
- Model calm
- Be reassuring
- Help children express their feelings
- Be developmentally appropriate
If you want to educate yourself more about the state of Israel, antisemitism, or want help
determining what is age-appropriate to share, I encourage you to find reputable resources that you trust. Resources that I have found useful in talking with my own children include:
- General information about Israel
- Understanding the map of Israel
- How to talk to kids about scary situations
- How to talk to children about antisemitism
- Teaching About Israel in a Time of Crisis | The Jewish Educator Portal
About the Author
A South Carolina native, Erica is originally from the Upstate and moved back to Charleston almost nine years ago. Of all the hats Erica wears, her most important roles are as a wife, mother, daughter and community builder. She has been married to her college sweetheart for 18 years and together they have a twelve-year-old daughter, a nine-year-old son, and a doodle named Brisket. Erica prides herself on being honest about motherhood. She enjoys learning from other moms who don’t sugarcoat the hard stuff and who are able to laugh at the wild things we all experience. When life offers a little downtime, she enjoys traveling, exploring cultures through food over @theHangryJewishMother, jumping waves at the beach, and unapologetically watching bad TV.