Do you know how to be an ally?

Do you know how to be an ally?

An open letter to friends, colleagues, and partners 

It has now been nine days since the start of Hamas’s massive terrorist attack on Israel — on my family, friends, and brethren. We’re nine days into a period where more than 1,300 Israelis have been killed. More than 1,000 of them were innocent civilians who were not collateral but specific targets.

Nine days in, and we are still learning about the atrocities Hamas terrorists committed with glee. Slaughter. Rape. Dismemberment. Kidnapping. Beheading. Murdering children in front of their parents. Sending thousands of rockets into civilian centers.

On Saturday, October 7, more Jews were murdered in a single day than at any other point since the Holocaust, and murdered in horrific pogroms too reminiscent of those we experienced in Eastern Europe a century ago.

There are anti-Israel, anti-Jewish protests happening all around the world. Crowds in Sydney shouted statements like “gas the Jews” a week ago. Times Square was packed with antisemitic vitriol this week. All over the country, schoolchildren and college students are permitted if not encouraged to share similar perspectives, as these perspectives are their truth and opinion, and they simply are exercising their right to free speech. (Free speech that is allowed even though it calls for violence to my people, even though it proclaims support for Hamas in their call that Jews, all over the world, be the targets of their jihad.) Last Friday, Jews were afraid to send our children to school, to bring our families to synagogue, even to ride in a cab with an unknown driver.

To those of you who have reached out via statement, text, phone call, email, or in person, thank you. We appreciate your recognition of our pain and we appreciate your friendship.

To the rest of you, your silence (or worse) is so loud it resounds across the earth. It is deafening.

Where are you? Where are your morals, your values, your sense of right and wrong? Where is your humanity?

Are Jewish children less human than Palestinian children? Are Jewish innocents guilty and Palestinian innocents pure? Are you afraid of pushback from your congregants, patrons, partners, or donors for at the very least offering compassion for the lives of all innocents lost, for recognizing the immense pain felt by your Jewish brethren?

We have stood by you, marched with you, advocated for you, and spoken up for you, even when we face pressure not to. We have and continue to be at the forefront of the fight for BIPOC, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, and other groups’ rights. We have done this because we believe in being allies and being of support, but also, because many among our people are part of these groups. We know what it is to be oppressed. We know what it is to have to fight for our rights. We know how to be an ally.

Do you? Do you know how to be an ally?

Maybe you don’t understand that we, the Jewish people, are one extended family. When one Jew is attacked, we all feel it. When one Jew is threatened, we all are threatened. And the vast majority of us, wherever we are in the world, have friends and family in Israel, which means that we are also directly affected, suffering, and grieving.

We, the Jewish people, are hurting, concerned, and frightened.

When outbreaks of antisemitism were smaller, you might have had a reasonable claim to ignorance. You might not have known. There is no way this time, however, to claim that you hadn’t heard about this attack.

Don’t get me wrong. I care about the humanitarian plight of innocent Palestinians. Innocent people are innocent people, whether Palestinian or Israeli. The loss of innocent life is unequivocally tragic. But let us be clear. There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the State of Israel. There are stark differences that should be obvious to any intelligent person. There is a difference between collateral damage when state actors are going after a massive terrorist entity that uses the civilian population and its infrastructure for launch sites and as human shields, and the targeting and indiscriminate murder of Jews no matter who they are, declaring them to be enemy combatants from infancy. There is no justification whatsoever for beheadings, dismemberments, raping, kidnapping, and slaughtering, whether seniors and children on a kibbutz or teens and young adults at an all-night peace concert.

Don’t tell me that Hamas is justified because of the blockade or the Palestinians’ history of being oppressed. THERE IS NO JUSTIFICATION IN ANY MORAL SYSTEM FOR HAMAS’S ACTS AGAINST ISRAELIS AND JEWS. Don’t tell me that Israel is entirely responsible for Gaza’s needs, humanitarian or otherwise. Why is that responsibility exclusively on Israel? Gaza shares a border with Egypt. Do some research. Check and see how many Arab states have actively worked to help the Palestinians improve their standard of living in a way that didn’t start and stop with making demands of Israel. Don’t tell me that  the Palestinians are the underdog here. Israelis are not facing Palestinians alone — they’re facing Palestinians allied with and supported by Hezbollah and Iran.

If you have been and continue to remain silent, know this: you are complicit.

If you are speaking up in favor of Palestinians and Hamas but refuse to acknowledge and empathize with the plight of my people, then you have just demonstrated yourself to be inconsistent and hypocritical and have no business in critiquing any of Israel’s policies, past, present, or future. If you think what Hamas is doing is in any way justified or deserved, then your words and deeds demonstrate you to be one of the following: biased, morally questionable, inconsistent, uninformed, a righteous idiot, or a plain old antisemite.

If you cannot bother  to pick up the phone or write a message, then know this. If I show up at the same protest as you, or in support of anything that you support, it’s not because I am your ally. You’ve made that clear. It’s not because I care about you. You clearly don’t care about me.

It’s because I will continue to do what’s right and necessary in this world. My Judaism and my humanity demand it of me. But I don’t owe you anything.

If you are not in this camp, however, if have reached out, thank you, my friend. I appreciate your care and concern.

David Z. Vaisberg is the senior rabbi of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.

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