Dear British Jews, you are not alone

This week I’m writing a letter instead of my column because I want to connect more personally


MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 11: Members of the Jewish community attend a vigil for the victims of the recent attacks in Israel at Central Library, St Peter's Square, on October 11, 2023 in Manchester, United Kingdom. More than 1,200 people were killed in Israel on Saturday when Hamas militants invaded from Gaza and attacked Israeli communities nearby, coupled with a barrage of rockets. The attack spurred an intense bombing campaign by Israel across the Gaza Strip, where hundreds have died, according to Palestinian authorities. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

October 19, 2023 16:46

I won’t start with: how are you? I know the answer all too well. You are broken-hearted, you are feeling the pain of those around you so very deeply, you are still in disbelief that such horror has occurred. You can physically feel it in your chest and in your stomach.

You have been shaken to the core by the stories of unimaginable brutality and seen images and clips you wish you never had. It feels personal.

The world feels so cruel. You have thought of people you have lost in the past and been thankful they are not here to witness our world at such a dark moment in our Jewish story. And of course some of us are grieving for a loved one or hoping for their release. There is just so much sadness.

This week, I find myself writing a letter, instead of a column, because I wanted to reach out more personally. I’ve written enough articles of late explaining and interpreting and trying to put forward the Jewish perspective.

I am drained from trying to make us heard and understood. But there’s nothing I know that you don’t. There’s no emotion I’ve felt that hasn’t also entered your mind, filled your dreams, or stopped you in your tracks as you go about your day.

I have nothing I want to explain or argue, just an urge to reach out to you. To say, we are all in this together. To say, whatever you are feeling, there are others feeling it too.

Right now, I’ve found I want to be close to people I care about, to embrace those around me, physically and emotionally.

This embrace is one of words. You are not alone. Whether you are reading this in the heart of a Jewish community or online far from a Jewish hub and feeling isolated, we are feeling this together.

Friends have described struggling to put one foot in front of the other as they go about their day, of their heads feeling foggy, of the simplest tasks feeling insurmountable. I have felt all these things at various moments too.

We are hooked on the news and are perhaps scrolling through social media as well, feeling every emotion so strongly — anger, disbelief, grief.

But also, faith in the human spirit: soldiers on the front line sending messages to lift OUR spirits, weddings in the midst of despair, volunteers donating, cooking dedicating themselves to others and stories of unthinkable courage and wit. (Like the woman, who fed five terrorists cookies and kept them talking for 15 hours with a gun to her head until she and her husband were rescued.)

We have never felt so much so deeply all in one hit just by scrolling through our Instagram feed or clicking on a news site.

We are also trying to process the world’s reaction around us. Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer, Joe Biden, King Charles and too many others to mention have restored our faith in world order.

But for all of us there will also have been pockets of silence that have echoed around us — whether from individuals we know, organisations we work for, or schools we send our children to. And of course there’s been the noise too, of celebrations, of venom, of aggression, that has sent shivers right through us.

We hear it and feel it all too. And all the while, of course, many of us are thinking of our children, wanting desperately to shield them from the tragic, brutal stories around them. Telling them enough to understand but not too much to traumatise.

Protecting them from antisemitism on our own streets as well. Here too we find ourselves in a constant balancing act, not wanting to pass on any fear or anxiety, while making sure they are aware enough to be smart.

Does tucking in a Magen David necklace or covering up a kippah suppress their Jewish pride? We wish someone could give us the answers, but we are all just trying to make the best decisions we can in unchartered parenting territory.

I also don’t have to explain to you that the thought of what lies ahead fills me with dread and fear on so many levels.

But no one in our Jewish community is feeling that dread more than those with children serving in Israel, the anxiety now constantly etched on their faces and robbing them of sleep. Our hearts are aching for you all.

We are feeling so much of everything. But we have to find moments that lift us, too, moments that fill our hearts with love and pride rather than grief and foreboding.

For me, one came last Friday with a video from soldiers on the front line. Their message: we won’t be able to celebrate Shabbat this week, so celebrate it for us.

And so, on Friday night, my husband and I headed to shul. We weren’t the only ones with that idea. Up and down the country, Shabbat services were heaving. Some people may have had an urge to pray, others just to be together. For me, that sense of togetherness was therapeutic.

Those voices in unison felt life-affirming and as we sang the Hatikvah I found myself choking on the words. I’d shed many a tear over the last week, but this felt different — tinged with sadness, but also buoyed with hope.

Seventy-five years on, those words of the Hatikvah felt as relevant as ever: “As long as the Jewish spirit is deep in the heart then our 2,000- year-old hope will not be lost…”

Our Jewish nation is built on hope. And never in my lifetime have we needed it more, the need to believe that there will be better, safer, more peaceful times ahead.

For now, sending hope, love and strength to you all.

October 19, 2023 16:46

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