A Personal Account of Life Before and After October 7, 2023, Amidst Rising Antisemitism and the Israel-Hamas War
I separate my life into two distinct periods. Before October 7, 2023, and after October 7, 2023. When I felt safe to wear my Jewish star necklace in public, and when I didn’t. When my daily routine in Israel progressed as normal, and when everything I knew had been uprooted. When my beloved camp counselor, Gili, was celebrating life at the Supernova Music Festival, and when she was dead. When my family friend, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was warm in his bed in Jerusalem, and when he was forced into a dark tunnel deep in the heart of Gaza, after Hamas terrorists blew off his arm. When my country, and my people were whole, and when we were broken.
Many people have heard the words “Jewish Geography” — a game that Jews play when they meet another Jew for the first time — and attempt to find people that they know in common. Before October 7, an example was my grandmother’s friend’s grandson, Hersh. Hersh is also cousins with my good friend Liat’s family friend. It meant that we were all, as Jews, interconnected. It now means that, each time Liat and I pass Hersh’s kidnapped poster on the street, we want to cry.
My little sister has a good friend, who, before moving to the United States, lived on a Kibbutz near the border with Gaza. Before October 7, she was just a 13-year-old girl. On October 7, she texted my sister that most people she knew were dead, or in Gaza. Now, she is forever haunted.
My community is mourning. We feel every casualty. We are bleeding in ways that are hard to explain to those who are unaffected.
On October 7, the 9 a.m. sun shone through the open window of my room in the Ascent Hostel in Tzfat, in the North of Israel. It was the second day of Simchat Torah, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the culmination of the year of reading the Torah. I was supposed to explore the ancient city of Tzfat, to take in its mystical nature. But instead, I woke up to my counselors banging on our doors, and screaming to come downstairs immediately.
At that time our program was completely separated. A fourth of the participants were in Tel Aviv, in a bomb shelter. Another fourth was in Jerusalem, in a bomb shelter. And I, along with the other half, was stuck in the very Northern city of Tzfat, as rockets fell all over the country, jeopardizing our paths back to our home cities.
Later that day, the management of our gap year program decided to bring those of us in Tzfat back to our home cities. There was widespread, justified fear that Hezbollah — an Islamic extremist terrorist organization based in Lebanon — would attack Northern Israel, in support of Hamas. The streets we drove down in Central Israel were deserted. It was only our coach bus, and open road, which we feared could be bombed at any second.
Nobody slept on that bus ride. Nobody listened to music. As we sped down the streets of central Israel, we passed numerous military bases, with cars, and cars and cars of military reservists, arriving at their stations with just a backpack and their gun.
One such military reservist was our counselor, Tal, who was called back to his station in the North. Over the next couple of days, many of our other counselors and group leaders were also called back to active duty.
We arrived in Jerusalem without a problem. But the group returning to Tel Aviv did not. While driving back to their dormitory in Tel Aviv, the blaring red alert sirens went off. There was no bomb shelter in sight, so they exited their bus, and were instructed to lay on the ground on the side of the road with their hands behind their heads. They felt the ground shake, and heard the loud booms, as Israel’s iron dome defense system intercepted rocket after rocket launched from Gaza by Hamas.
The next few days in Jerusalem were not easy. The war began on Saturday, October 7, and I reluctantly left Israel on Friday, October 13. Those six days were incredibly long. During the day, there was programming, in an attempt to form some kind of normalcy in our lives. Many of us did not attend these classes, because we found it hard to focus, and preferred to stay glued to the news for most of the day. Each day, more and more of my companions fled the country, at the request of their anxious parents, or as a result of their fear of the uncertain future.
The only thing anyone knew for sure, was that we did NOT know what the future would bring. This was not — and still is not — a tame conflict. It was intense and unpredictable. With this in mind, my parents decided it would be best for me to leave the country, regardless of the risk of physically crossing the country, and taking off into the air while rockets were falling everywhere. I respected this decision, though I was not sure if I agreed. But at this point, I was alone in my dorm room as my roommates had left.
I emerged from Israel and entered into a world unlike that which I had left it. A world where I couldn’t wear my Jewish star in public, and where my father couldn’t speak in Hebrew in public. The staunch antisemitism that had erupted worldwide became abundantly clear everywhere I went.
At pro-Palestine rallies across the world, people are saying to “gas the Jews,” to “kill all the Jews, and rape their daughters” and to “keep the world clean [of Jews]” — just to name a few.
My college, which I will attend next year, University of Pennsylvania, has seen a huge rise in antisemitism over the past few months. The former president of the University even refused to condemn such antisemitism. When asked in front of the U.S. Congress if the calling for the genocide of Jews is against Penn’s code of conduct, she responded that it “depends on the context” and “if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment [and that would be against the code of conduct.]”
It is incredibly terrifying to know that my institution does not think threatening genocide of Jewish people is a punishable offense. My great-grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She would tell me stories of the rise of antisemitism in the 1930s in Germany, as well as the influx of anti-Jewish propaganda that contributed to the Holocaust itself. I always felt some level of disconnect when hearing those stories.
“We live in a different world now,” I would say to myself. “No one in today’s generation would believe the Nazi’s propaganda.” But, yet, over the past few months, I began to draw parallels between stories my grandmother told me, and antisemitism I had experienced and seen around the world, post-October 7.
I never, ever, thought we would be back here again. After a long while at home, I returned to Israel on November 29. In some ways, I felt safer in Israel, in the middle of an active war zone, than I felt as a Jew, anywhere else in the world.
Since the start of the war, I have heard sirens three times in my neighborhood of Jerusalem. Each time felt different — as time progressed, the fear diminished, and the unifying strength grew. The first and second times were on October 9. During both, I heard the blaring sirens, and rushed to the bomb shelter. The second time, I heard the “boom, boom” sound of the iron dome intercepting rocket after rocket, fired toward the area I call home. The third time was on December 15, two weeks after my return to Israel. We were in the middle of Shabbat services when we had to run to the bomb shelter. By this point, the war had been raging on for two months. We were no longer as scared as we were in the beginning — instead, we were inspired.
We continued to conduct our Shabbat services in the shelter by singing “Shalom Aleichem” all together. I have never been prouder to be Jewish and Israeli. They can shoot rockets at us, they can try to kill us, and they can try to turn the world against us. But they will NEVER break our spirit, and we will continue to love being Jewish more than anyone hates us for it.
My opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are complicated — it is incredibly nuanced — but this war is not. The violence that erupted on October 7 is not resistance, it is just brutal violence. There is NEVER any justification for war crimes against civilians. EVER. You can be pro-Israel and still feel for the civilians on both sides. You can be pro-Palestine, and also feel for the civilians on both sides. What you cannot do is justify murder and violence in any form.
Civilians are NOT their government. They do not deserve to suffer for their actions.
I see the need for a Jewish state, as Theodor Herzl imagined it. The world saw what happened when there was not a Jewish state. And we can NEVER let that happen again. Yet, the suffering of the Palestinian people, and the injustice that they experience is not lost on me. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivor, I must stand up for anyone and everyone in this world who experiences injustice.
I am Jewish and Israeli, but I do not support the Netanyahu administration, and I never have. During my time in Israel, I attended as many anti-government protests as I could. I believe Israel needs to rethink their policies regarding Gaza and the West Bank.
In my opinion, Israeli settlements within the West Bank must stop. The IDF and Israeli governmental presence in the West Bank must stop. That is simple, to me. Policies relating to Gaza are less simple to me.
I strongly believe that Hamas is the true problem in this situation. Hamas controls every aspect of life in Gaza. From a young age, Gazan children are taught to hate Jews. They are taught violence — it is all they know. The people of Gaza are unable to speak out against Hamas, or they and their families will be killed. Hamas uses external funding to buy weapons and make rockets, instead of creating protective infrastructure for their defenseless citizens. They hijack humanitarian aid for themselves, and use their citizens as human shields, to protect themselves and their international reputation.
Israel created a wall separating their land from Gaza, to protect their citizens from Hamas. However, this wall fences in Gazans — they only have one usable crossing, the Rafah crossing with Egypt — and most of them go their lives without ever leaving. The flow of food, water and electricity is influenced by Israel due to this wall. Yet, without the wall, Hamas would have free reign within Israel. So, thus, there is no simple solution. But there is a clear problem, and it is Hamas. They are dangerous to any civilian in their path.
Right now, Israel is intensely bombing Gaza. Their stated goal is to eliminate Hamas, and free the Israeli hostages. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this bombing campaign has affected the civilians of Gaza WAY more than it has affected Hamas. I wish Israel could have, from the beginning, taken a more methodical approach to eliminating Hamas, or even just allowed more Humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.
The people of Gaza are dying and I feel for them. I wish the International Red Cross and the United Nations took a more prominent role in helping with their humanitarian crisis. They have a “governmental” system that couldn’t care less about protecting them, and they are suffering because of it. They don’t have red alert apps in Gaza, or the iron dome, nor do they even have bomb shelters. The people of Israel suffered on October 7, but death should not make room for more death.
The cycle of innocent people being caught in the crossfire of religious hate MUST stop.
Jews are native to that land. Even with the diaspora, Jews have ALWAYS lived in the area of Israel. The Palestinians also have a history in that land. I believe strongly that there is still hope for a two-state-solution — one that does not call for the eradication of the other ethnic group or people.
I want to have a Jewish state. I also want to have a Palestinian state. I want both to exist together, in peace, and in complete equality. I want a better world for future generations. Even in times like this, I don’t think it is a waste of time to dream of peace. Imagining a world where Palestinian and Israeli children can play together is what keeps us sane in times like these.
We must NEVER stop dialogue. We must NEVER stop trying to understand each other, to find common ground and to unite under the desire to see the suffering end, for everyone involved in this conflict.