Guest Columns

A Local Rabbi’s Letter to Non-Jewish Friends After Vicious Hamas Terror Attacks on Civilians

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Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe

By Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe

Dear Friends,

Please forgive me as I act so boldly as to speak for our collective Jewish community. I am writing in the fear that you may not know what your Jewish friends are currently going through. Surely you have heard the news of violence in Israel and some of you have even been so kind as to express your condolences. In this very lonely time, I cannot thank you enough.

Your Jewish friends and neighbors have spent the weekend in shock, misery and mourning. We are traumatized. Our families are under attack; some are missing and feared dead. Saturday morning began in dread and from there cascaded into frantic WhatsApp texts, panicked calls and constant scrolling through social media. We are not ok.

If you are accustomed to receiving your news through the heavily sanitized Western media, please know that you are not living in the same world that we currently inhabit. You are not seeing what we are seeing: kidnapped children, naked bodies massacred and dragged through streets, parents murdered in front of their children, the elderly dumped into the back of pickup trucks; pages and pages of images of missing young adults, feared dead or taken hostage in Gaza to be tortured and paraded in the streets.

Many young adults were attending a “nature party” music festival, as if Coachella was suddenly infiltrated by dozens of masked gunmen, arriving on machine-gun laden trucks, motorcycles and descending in hang gliders, thirsty for blood. Parents are posting pictures of their children, asking if anyone has seen them to please call them. There are dozens and dozens of such posts.

You have not seen the video of the frightened Jewish young boy, mocked, abused and taunted for fun by his terrorist captors. You have not seen people dancing in the streets and handing out candy to celebrate the news of Jewish blood. You missed the TikTok videos and live-streams of armed gunmen slaughtering parents in front of their children. You don’t know about the houses set afire to burn alive the families huddled within their safe rooms. We have seen all of it.

And we know those who filmed it wanted us to see it and share it with glee. And there is a world in which these videos are distributed in joyful celebration.

Moreover, you might not understand the historical lens with which we receive these images, a history of mutilated Jewish bodies and killing Jews for sport. To say that Saturday was Israel’s Pearl Harbor underestimates the sorrow and rage of the moment. At least the Japanese attackers had the dignity to focus upon military targets. They did not celebrate the animalistic torture of children and families. Candy was not passed out on the streets of Tokyo when the news of dead Americans was received. To see these images of tortured Jews invokes ghosts passed down from our great-grandparents and beyond. We bear both the guilt and shame that it has happened again.

Our friends in Israel grieve. I can say without a doubt that there is not a single Jew in Israel who is not connected somehow to someone who was murdered over the weekend. The same goes for many Jews here in the U.S.

Our Israeli contemporaries have been called into reserve duty, to put their life on the line once again. I received a picture from a friend of mine, a 50-year-old father of four, with a sheepish look as he once again donned his military fatigues. My nephew is currently sitting on the border, somewhere under a bush, waiting for the enemy to come. Our family is heading into war. We pray for their safe return.

Here in America, your Jewish friends are under siege. Many of us spent the High Holy Days dealing with bomb threats. Did you know that many synagogues had to be evacuated last month? And that this happens to us all the time? Did you know that anti-Semitic attacks are soaring by double digits each year, with a 36 percent increase just last year?

Do you perform regular bomb sweeps of your preschools? We do. Are you forced to employ professional security teams to protect you around the clock? We do. And each time we do, we need to find the resources or cut from our programming to find the proper funding. Sometimes, it’s not enough and we have to call in the police as well.

When violence erupts between Russia and Ukraine, neither Russian nor Ukrainian churches must solicit professional protection for fear of attack. But we do. We are threatened by the far left and the far right, those who hearken to Hamas’ call for the destruction of world Jewry and those who march alongside the Proud Boys. We have seen our synagogues attacked and our congregants killed. We do not feel safe.

On Sunday in New York City, those demonstrating in support of Israel were met with a fierce counterprotest of those celebrating Jewish murder. This happened today, in 2023, in our country. Nazi signs were held aloft. Last week, a speaker was invited on to my child’s high school campus to spout anti-Semitic tropes of Jews killing Palestinian babies and perpetrating genocide. Many of our political representatives offer infuriating words of moral equivocation in defense of murdering Jews.

We hear the whataboutisms and the disinterested shrugs for a region inconveniently stained with blood. But worst of all, so many of our representatives remain utterly silent. Surely a raucous outcry will come when Israel inevitably defends itself. But when Jews are murdered for simply being Jews, and when we American Jews are targeted for the same, the silence is deafening.

There are certainly those who have spoken out with empathy and clear denouncement of such cruelty. We are thankful for the light they provide in this time of darkness.

I wish I was in the mood for peace – but I am not. How can one talk peace as children are murdered over TikTok? In this moment, we are reminded that unlike our ancestors, we live in a time in which Jews have gained the ability to defend themselves. This power was not given to us but was won through blood. We no longer need to beseech the local feudal lord nor prove our worth to the ruling monarch. We will do it ourselves. On Saturday morning, the U.N. neatly packed up its tanks and vacated the northern border, lest they come under untidy fire from Hezbollah.

The Jewish state is now beginning to surely, unapologetically defend itself. Vanished is the false security that a racist, ruthless threat can be endured through the occasional skirmish. You cannot make peace with those who distribute candy to children in celebration that yours have been murdered.

And now, Israel will act like any other country would if it was invaded by a bloodthirsty neighbor and its citizens murdered, tortured, kidnapped and mutilated. It will do whatever it needs to make sure this can never happen again. And when the world inevitably protests the Jewish use of force, we won’t care. We will sadly disappoint those who long for the centuries of meek, defenseless Jews. We are no longer looking for the world’s approval and a condescending pat on the head.

If you want to demonstrate your support, you can simply ask us how we are doing. And if we don’t feel like speaking at the moment, you can sit with us in silence and we will know that you are here. Just know that we are experiencing trauma and that the sights we have witnessed will never be forgotten. We pray that all is done so that such things are never seen again.

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe is the senior rabbi for Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua.

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