Israel Jewish

How are you feeling?

Given the number of times those words have presented themselves to me since arriving home in the early hours of Saturday morning, you’d think I might have an answer. Truth is, I don’t really know.

The last few days… and in fact the days since the 7th October feel surreal. Many times in the last week and a bit, I’ve felt like I’ve been having out of body experiences. I would find myself in the middle of doing something, something mundane like standing in a supermarket looking at empty shelves, and wondering if I was actually there.
To take Israeli slang a little literally in translation, there have been a number of times I have felt as if I have been living Chai B’seret (life in movie).

In an incredibly British moment this morning, a friend asked me how I was and without skipping a beat I replied “I’m okay”… and as the words left my mouth a feeling of dread came over me. A feeling stronger than the usual feeling of “I’m ok when I’m not”. Within a second, I doubled down on my Britishness with “Well, you know, as okay as I can be”.

I know I’m not alone. Every Jewish person I speak to feels the same. “I’ve not slept”, “I’ve not eaten”, “I can’t concentrate”. We’re all doing things to find short moments of light in the day, before rapidly realizing the horror and sadness from last week is still hanging over us.

There’s no easy way to comprehend the events of the last week; The largest loss of Jewish life since the holocaust. Jews still missing the the abyss of Gaza. Graphic photographs of those murdered in their homes or at a festival. Endless news, media and social media coverage of events and the sense of impending doom as friends and loved ones get called up to military service, knowing that with each war comes even more loss.

And as if this wasn’t enough, scenes of celebration and hatred around the world; ‘From the River to the Sea’ and ‘Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud’ being screamed on the streets. “Free Palestine” being daubed in Jewish areas and in the centre of cities. Jewish buildings and apartments where Jews live daubed with a Star of David, scenes reminiscent of the yellow stars of Nazi Germany.

It’s been a week and a day, and yet it feels like each and every day, the world is becoming a darker place to be a Jew.

As I left Charring Cross Station this afternoon and walked down Whitehall to attend a vigil for those missing and those we lost last week I noticed something different; Whitehall was different.

Whitehall, a reminder of the greatness of this country, large monuments to the sacrifices this country made for our freedom – in some cases, freedom for the UK, others for the world and for WW2, freedom for me as a Jew.

Greeting me at the end of Whitehall, as ever was Charles 1st on his horse. Only today, he was wearing a headscarf and holding a Palestinian flag.

As we continued along Whitehall, we passed a protest/vigil for Ukraine outside Downing Street. There, outside the residence of the UK’s Prime Minister and daubed along the wall; “Free Palestine”.

The girls in front of us stopped to take a selfie, smiling, two fingers up, “Victory”, as I walked on, scared, Israeli flag buried deep in my pocket.

Once on Parliament square inside the large police presence, a sense of relief washed over me… a little cry… followed by listening to the hallowing stories, the prayer for peace, and singing along with the songs of peace trying my best not to get choked up. I found friends I knew but hadn’t yet met and I just tried my best to make sense of what was going on because the truth is… it’s insanity.

For during that hour on the square, I once again felt like I was in a movie. The whole feeling was surreal, that in London, in 2023, I had to attend a vigil because over 1,000 Jews had been killed and another 200 kidnapped.

As the event finished we sang Hatikvah, not just the national anthem of Israel but literally ‘The Hope’… and yet the one thing it was clear that we were all struggling to find, was hope.

At first, I got choked up… the singing was quiet, everyone emotional struggling the same way, but as we sang the second line; “Nefesh Yehudi Ho’miya – The Jewish soul sings” – that’s exactly what happened.
We sang, we sang loud and proud. We sang the powerful words of Hatikvah; Our hope is not yet lost, It’s two thousand years old, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

As the event finished, I found distant family members I met for the first time earlier in the year, and we stood talking, before we packed away our flags and headed off.

Walking back to Charring Cross, we found those same words, daubed onto the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office itself. “Free Palestine”. On the other side of the road, we saw one Israeli flag wearer surrounded by police while a group of people some with Palestinian flags looked to be ambushing them…. A reminder of the fragility of being a Jew.

These scenes and walking back past Charles 1st, unearthed a feeling of deep anger inside. Angry that in this day and age, of supposed enlightenment, we as humanity are not only celebrating mass murder, rape, dismemberment but allowing to be celebrated. The police should have removed the flag, the graffiti should have been removed and a single man with a flag shouldn’t need police protection.

The anger bubbled within me all the way home… until I remembered two things. Both the words of Hatikvah, and a quote I saw earlier this year: At the very start of ‘The Museum of the Jewish People’ in Tel Aviv;

To be a Jew, is a destiny.

Vicky Baum

A destiny. Everything happening for a reason. For us, as Jews, that reason just may well be a 2000 year old hope. A hope for safety and a hope for freedom.

So, to answer…. How do I feel? Angry, upset, guilty, tired, sad, anxious… all of the above? I don’t know. But what I do know is that these feelings won’t go away.

They may fade, they may bring us waves of sadness and upset (I’ve cried three times just writing this)… As Jews we have ALL been forever changed by the events of last Saturday…

We mourn together, we worry together, we cry, we sing we hope… and I guess, in one way or another, this is just another part of our destiny, to be Jews.

2 replies on “How are you feeling?”

Wow! Steve,
Thank you for sharing this powerful piece. This says it all and I will be sharing it widely. You and I met last week in Israel at the ad-hoc wedding of your friends in Zichron YAAKOV on Sunday, the day after the HAMAS ATTACK ON ISRAEL. Since then I have arrived in Montreal and the events and feelings here are very similar to what you are experiencing in London. Keep on writing. We need your voice!

Thank you for putting this into words. I am constantly under a cloud of dispair and dread.
But we are here and we have hope. Am Israel Chai!

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