“We are in the west, but our hearts are in the east” is a phrase that Jews around the world have identified with in the aftermath of October 7. Our experiences since then, as diaspora Jews, have encompassed loss and grief and, in many ways, our hearts remain in the east. But, given the antisemitic backlash we encountered soon after the atrocities occurred, my own Israeli family started to express concern for our safety in the UK. My initial reaction was to respond that we remained entirely focused in their direction and that anything here was of secondary importance. I realised, however, that we are all, in different ways, in this together.
The experience of Jews around the world is so interconnected. Whilst we do not bear the physical scars, we are profoundly affected as diaspora Jews by both our experiences from afar and those closer to home. Israel is a different Israel since October 7. But we are also a different diaspora. And we are a more united one.
On the evening of October 7, around 20 British former lone soldiers flew to Israel, summoned by the Israeli army, on a plane they had chartered. On October 8, we heard the devastating news that the son of a north-west London family had been killed at the Nova music festival. Compared with other Jewish communities, Anglo-Jewry is physically close to Israel, with so many of us travelling regularly back and forth, so many families split between here and there and so many dual identities. Leading LSJS, I employ team members based in Israel and liaise daily with Israeli teachers and students. I learn online daily with an Israeli “chavruta”. I know that giving regular moral support is critical — and it works both ways.
Our bonds are stronger than at any time in the past, and our experience of this war is different to previous conflicts. Relentless social media heightens our emotional distress, but it also ensures connection — my feed is a constant stream of Israeli shiva details, alongside details of BBQs made on army bases and opportunities for volunteering in warehouses and fields around the country. In my local community, we send supplies through numerous channels direct to the units of our loved ones who are serving, as well as through established organisations. We are needed.
On a recent trip to New York, visiting schools and educational institutions, I was able to witness the experience of American Jews too. In New York, Jews had previously felt so comfortable, so integrated, so accepted. There was little sense of the antipathy beneath the surface. While there has been a rise in antisemitism in the UK, the antisemitism American Jews are experiencing, particularly the vitriol on campus, is clearly affecting them even more deeply. And, at the same time, I witnessed the incredible scale of the response of the US community — amassing millions of dollars in federated campaigns, sending high school solidarity missions and rallying in their hundreds of thousands.
I’ve learnt that we are one family. In Israel and the diaspora, we are experiencing different sides of the same coin, but we are intimately connected. Whether in the UK, the US or elsewhere, we are responding according to our own experience but are also united by our love and support of Israel and our need for it. Israelis know that we in the diaspora matter to fight the media war and to support them in so many ways.
We can no longer deny that our views as diaspora Jews are relevant or consequential. We need each other, and being there for each other will help us all to get through these times and to emerge stronger as one global family.
Joanne Greenaway is the chief executive of the London School of Jewish Studies