Letter to the Editor: Being Visibly Israeli

Due to The Mossy Log’s publishing cycle, this Letter to the Editor was originally written on Oct.17 2023 and published in print on Oct. 20,2023. 

Letters to the Editor exist to give voice to all members of the LC community. The Mossy Log’s aim is to provide a platform for as many perspectives as possible, on an ongoing basis. Opinions stated do not necessarily represent the views of the Mossy Log, its staff, or the administration of Lewis & Clark College. Readers are invited to submit Letters to the Editor at mossylog@lclark.edu.

An open letter, a poem, a plea.

You, reader, have certainly heard of raging violence in Israel and Palestine. You, for whom the Middle East is synonymous with conflict, are passingly familiar with the details, relying on your values and ideals to contextualize the headlines of stories you do not read. The past two weeks may have been emotional or confusing, a discomfort you have the privilege to opt out of as soon as you like.

Last week, I went to synagogue for the first time in my adult life. I sobbed and sang and skinned my knee on the way out. Bleeding onto my favorite pants, I opened my phone to a reminder that I am not welcome in my entirety, an Israeli-American-Jewish-multihyphanate. Posts, comments, texts, enmasse declaring the worth of my personhood, the morality of my nationality, the injustice of my grief.

At a performatively liberal, uncompromisingly secular, overwhelmingly white institution, antisemitism is the last acceptable form of discrimination—the left embraces its caricatures, dog whistles and scapegoats, denouncing it only when convenient, only when someone forces their hand. 

At an illustrious ivory tower of higher education, I have found a community with immense capacity for critical thought of complexity, except when it comes to The Conflict. This is beyond frustrating because I am beyond frustration. I am mourning, I am terrified and I feel abandoned by this community. 

Behind politics, opinions, beliefs, is a Jewish community that is suffering. Fearing for our loved ones, for a country some of us call home. Scared to speak up on campus, for fear of retaliation. Immobilized by grief for a far-away land, exacerbated by antipathy in our classes, residence halls and online. To untrained eyes, each infraction appears small, incidental or obscured by gray area. I can feel your untrained eyes on me, because my eyes have been trained by years of careful tiptoeing, around my identities and politics and feigning neutrality for my safety. I refuse to be small.

This week, my grandmother told me, “Be careful.” She said not to tell people I am Israeli or Jewish, because of stories she has been reading of antisemitism on college campuses in the States. Antisemitic writing and action that is being recirculated and emulated at Lewis & Clark, because yes, dear reader, it happens here, too. I could not make this promise to her, because my predecessors fought for my freedom from fear.

Not a day in my life has passed when I did not have to make the choice to be Jewish, visibly. Generations removed from what the uninvolved view as the last threat to global Judaism, to be a visible Jew is still an act of courage. I am desperately using what these weeks have left of my courage to plead with you, reader, to be kind. 

Jews and non-Jews alike must, for the sake of us all, choose kindness and tact, two things I have been shocked to see in deficit as a war is raging. Violence abroad is horrific and unacceptable, and yet still does not justify bias and hatred in our community. Jews on campus are in pain. We deserve and demand the respect and humanity that is enjoyed by all our fellow students, without asterisk, caveat or exception. Anything less is unacceptable.

עם ישראל עוד חי.

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