Josh Kaplan

When Jews in London hide their faith, we let the terrorists win

Now more than ever, Jews shouldn't shy away

October 18, 2023 16:50

Last week, was a dark one in the long history of Jews. As news slowly broke on Saturday morning, I found out from texts from friends and family in Israel. My first thought was that it was just another flare-up in an infinite cycle of flare-ups. But as it became clear that the horror in Israel was on a level not seen by Jews since the Holocaust, it might sound strange but I immediately thought of how this would hurt not just Jews in Israel, but across the diaspora.

It’s a cycle that’s as grimly predictable as the violence in Israel. Whenever there’s a war between Hamas and the IDF, without fail, tensions boil over to Jews all over the world. And as the full scale of the violence began to unfold, everything repeated as it always does. In Sydney, pro-Palestinian protestors were filmed chanting ‘gas the Jews’, in London a woman was filmed mocking the deaths of innocent Jews as police arrested protestors outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington.

And then, after a week of unimaginable horror, came the reactions of British Jews. I wouldn’t judge any Jew for feeling unsafe for taking precautions, removing any Magen Davids on things they wear. I saw a tweet from Dov Forman, Holocaust education activist and great-grandson of Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert. He said he was considering not wearing his kippah, hesitating before donning something that would mark him as Jewish.

I’m not observant, no one can tell I’m Jewish unless I volunteer it, so I can’t pretend to empathise with the fear he might feel, but I think something dies whenever Jews shy away from who they are. There’s often a phrase bandied around after a terror attack anywhere in the world, ‘We can’t let the terrorists win’. I’ve used it loads. When I went to the pub in Borough Market after the attacks there, I drank there because you can’t let the terrorists win. When I put on an Ariana Grande song, it’s not letting the terrorists win. It’s glib, But I think for Jews it means something deeper.

The fact is, throughout Jewish history, there have been times when terror won. In the 1800s, terror won in the shtetls of the east. In the 1940s, terror took six million Jewish lives. For Jews, the terror is always there, threatening a comeback.

When you convert to Judaism, the rabbi will often ask you if you’re prepared to take on the pressure and the stress of being hated. In a way that no one asks Catholic converts or Buddhist sign-ups, there’s this implicit assumption that to be Jewish is to have a target on your back, that people will hate you for existing. It’s a fact of Jewish life.

Being a Jew at its core, is to survive, to endure the cruellest times and the unfathomable hatred of our enemies. ‘They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat’ we say at every Jewish holiday. Survival and endurance are as Jewish as fishballs and lockshen.

I understand the desire to retreat from being Jewish in public, when walking to synagogue when going about day-to-day life. The world is tough enough without putting yourself in the crosshairs of the vocal minority that wish us ill. It’s just another thing on a long list of things to worry about in a world full of them.

But in the quiet and dignified rejection of the impulse to shrink away is courage. Jews love to talk about their misfortunes, the terror, the hate. But we never talk about the bravery.

Quiet acts of bravery are everywhere. When a parent sends their child to a Jewish school in the face of barbaric hate, when an observant Jew wears a kippah on the tube, not hiding it with a cap, when dozens of lapsed members come back to shul, these are small acts of defiance against a sea of terror.

And isn’t that what being Jewish really is? Persisting, enduring, living.

October 18, 2023 16:50

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