Why you might have lost all your Jewish friends this week and didn’t even know it

Question mark over a Star of David

By Josh Gilman – October 13, 2023

Note: My whole family has been deeply affected by the current crisis in Israel that began on Saturday, October 7. We have all been interacting with all sorts of reactions, comments, and silence. In the following, my eldest son Josh captures something deep in the heart of all Jewish people everywhere. If you are Jewish, this may help you understand what you are feeling. If you are not, well…Just read it. – Alan Gilman

I do not want to be writing this article. I’ve been waiting for someone else to write it. But nobody else has, and somebody needs to say this. You might have lost every last one of your Jewish friends this week, and you have no idea why. Please be patient with me as I try to explain. I’m going to be explaining things that are totally foreign to you. I didn’t even know I felt and thought this way until a couple of days ago myself.

When you are Jewish, you are always aware that there is a large population in the world that wants to kill you.

Even if they aren’t trying now, you read history and you see that every few generations, at the very least, some group tries to kill all or at least a lot of Jewish people. We may like your posts that say, “Never again,” but we never fully believe it. On Saturday, October 7th, we were reminded that we were right not to.

More Jews died in one day than any day since the Holocaust. And the reality is that while we felt shock, we didn’t necessarily feel surprise.

When my sisters were quite young, they used to play “hiding from the Nazis.” This wasn’t hide and seek; they would just pick a place to hide, under a couch, behind a freezer, and just lie still for hours. Once, they hid in our van for way too long, and my parents couldn’t find them, and they got in a lot of trouble.

They were genuinely “playing;” it was truly a game to them. But it’s just to hammer home the point that Jewish children grow up with the Holocaust being a part of our history and an intrinsic understanding that at some point, we may need to hide again.

Over the past few years, as the world in general has just gotten crazier than ever, it has become popular to post things like “If you think you would have been one of the ones who hid Jews in WWII but are afraid of speaking up about _, you wouldn’t have been.” It’s honestly a generally fair assessment because if you aren’t the kind of person who can handle criticism for a non-conventional belief of any sort, you surely aren’t the kind of person who would risk the Gestapo knocking on your door for hiding people. I’ve seen so many posts like this over the past two years.

But… here is what your Jewish friends are wondering right now. So, why didn’t you post… this time? And that’s not an accusatory, WHY DIDN’T YOU POST!? It’s a genuine question. Because they need to know the answer.

Maybe you didn’t post something because you are ignorant about what took place.

Maybe you didn’t say something to your Jewish friends, because you truly don’t understand that they consider every slaughtered baby, raped girl, and murdered man to be their own family.

Maybe you are so horrified by it all that you truly don’t know what words to say.

Maybe you are still wondering what to say.

Well, it breaks my heart to tell you what your Jewish friends are wondering.

They are wondering if you are safe.

They are seeing many others cave to the propaganda, the vitriol from the Hamas apologists; they are seeing the pro-Hamas protests and the threats to the world, and they are wondering if you are too afraid to speak. And they know that if you are too afraid to speak, then you would be too afraid to hide them.

Did you know that that is a category of friend that every Jewish person has in their mind? Who would I run to? Who would hide me? We don’t wonder if; we wonder when. Because we know that whether it is indeed us, or whether it is our brothers and sisters in Israel, or in France, or in Pittsburgh, it will happen again somewhere.

It wasn’t until this last weekend that I realized that I have lived my whole life treating the world as guilty until proven innocent. That until you are proven safe to me, I hold you in mild suspicion. I didn’t even realize that I’ve always done this. When an Arabic barber is trimming my beard with a sharp blade and comments on my complexion and says “are you Arabic?” I don’t answer truthfully. I say that my grandfather was from Lithuania (he was; it’s not a lie. It’s just not the truth). When a stranger says, “What is your family background,” I almost always change the subject.

Dear friends, who may feel this blog is written to you, I am not saying I fear you or that I don’t love you. I’m just trying to let you know that unless you have proven that you will stand with me, I will not run to your home if they come for me and my family. I am also not saying that silence is necessarily support for Israel’s enemies. I do not believe that everyone who hasn’t posted support for the Jewish people and for Israel is complicit. But… I am not totally sure if you are safe. And none of your other Jewish friends are sure either.

I’m sure this offends you. How unfair to fail an audition you didn’t know you were having.

And yes, it is unfair.

But I’m sorry to say your Jewish friends aren’t wondering about fairness right now. They are only wondering about safety.

This post might seem angry; I’m not. I’m just sad. Sad for everything that has happened, sad for the friends I’ve heard from who haven’t heard from a single non-Jewish friend with a message of love and support. But here’s the other thing: it just takes one. One message, one post. The greatest soothing to my soul this past week has been seeing friends and old colleagues post notes of support. It truly means the world. It’s not too late.

But consider this carefully because it is not a game. If you read this and choose to reach out, choose to take a stand publicly. Choose to put your own reputation on the line and maybe even take some of the hatred toward the Jewish people and Israel for yourself. If you do this, we may believe you.

Do not take this lightly. The history of the Jewish people is not a light one. But it is filled with joy. Our victories have always risen above our tragedies. It is a history of suffering but overcoming suffering.

And throughout history, there have always been those who stand with us. From the Egyptians who joined the Israelites following the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud, to the hundreds of thousands of gentiles who put their lives on the line to hide Jews in Europe during the Second World War.

There is a song we like to sing: Am Yisrael Chai. “The people of Israel live.” We always will. Many have tried to wipe us out. And yet we live.

I started this article explaining our pain, but I end it with a simple invitation to join us in our life. It means the world when you do.

Originally published on Josh’s Blog, October 13, 2023

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