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How October 7th changed American Jews?

In the past week a massive effort to support Israel was conducted in Jewish communities around the globe. Prayers were held at full packed synagogues, some even had to hold another outdoor prayer outside due to lack of space. In other communities, such as New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Toronto, and more, mass street rallies took place.

Additionally, the Jewish establishment, organizations and individuals self-organized to help with voicing the Israeli narrative among the general public and local politicians, and sending equipment and donations to the IDF and suffering Israelis.  

Troubled Jewish American

Many, including myself, are surprised at the broad and depth of empathy and involvement displayed by American Jews in the last week, especially in light of the ongoing gap between Israel and American Jewry. The "Israel" issue  has changed from being an issue that was once a unifying factor in American Jewry to one that many people prefer not to discuss so as not to spark controversy.

So why are we seeing this broad support for Israel within American Jewry at this moment? Here are two reasons why I think this is happening:

  • The Images of pogroms, murders of families, and kidnappings of Jews are tragically embedded in the Jewish collective memory much more than the “usual” threats Israel is facing such as rockets and bombing. An expression of this can be seen in the statements of Jewish-American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who related the recent tragedy to his grandfather's story of surviving the extermination camps.

  • The betrayal of the radical progressive left of its principles: Indeed, as seen through neutral or even pro-Palestinian statements in prominent universities and actions taken by certain elements of the radical progressive left in the United States, there has been a failure to denounce the tragedy. Instead, some have gone as far as assigning blame to the victims and Israel for the suffering endure

The events of October 7th are also reshaping Jewish-American identity. The discourse in the United States has been marked by polarization, leaving many Jews feeling as though their identity is being overshadowed in this binary framework. This binary framework has failed to capture the Jewish experience. Additionally, the unique Jewish identity has shifted towards a more universalistic perspective, sometimes at the expense of its particularistic aspects. This and much more has been contributing to the current identity challenge among American Jews. As the Jewish community rallies behind Israel in its support, we witness a rejuvenation of its particularistic identity.

The events of October 7th may have reawakened a particular Jewish identity that allows us to look at the Jewish-American experience more broadly. On the one hand a thriving privileged group with great power and influence. And on the other hand a minority group who suffers from prejudice, hatred and threats from both extreme sides of the spectrum, and its difficulties and struggles are transparent or ridiculed by those who were supposed to stand with it in solidarity.


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