As the world wrapped its hate around Jews world–wide, I saw an email from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation offering a flight to D.C to attend the March for Israel on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Without any hesitation, the decision was made.
In my lifetime, Jews have not been called up on a national level to stand together in the face of antisemitism. The globe recently lost its mind over five divers who died in a submarine attempting to see the Titanic, but we watch as Israel’s +200 hostages are met with indifference and Hamas’ brutality met with justification. The alienation from people we considered friends is found in the form of devastating silence. As time goes on, it gets harder to explain this strange Jewish existence to those that don’t understand, an existence that many abhor for reasons I will never know. Nonetheless, it’s an existence. And this one, weathered by hate and world weariness, booked its ticket to D.C.
The truth was, I didn’t want to go. I’m a terrible flyer and hate large crowds. I have a natural tendency to shy away from all groups, as my need for individuality is easily threatened. Then came the part where I told my loved ones of my plans. The chorus of, “be careful,” “be vigilant”, and “stay alert” skidded my enthusiasm to a stop – what had I signed up for? I was doing away with the safety and security of a life that I love, to be vulnerable, to be proudly Jewish, publicly Jewish. My mind and soul battled, and at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I awoke to get ready to head to the airport. I didn’t want to go, but my soul is apparently rudely bossy, and before I knew it, I was on the plane.
As I stood amongst hundreds of thousands of Jews at the march, Israeli flags blowing in every direction around me, I felt a sense of awe, an awareness of history, and an understanding of the present. In this crowd of people, there was no exhausting need to placate anyone. We didn’t need to contextualize anything, beg for nuance, steer deflections, or bring up history to validate our existence. We didn’t need to implore anyone to see our humanity, or our justification for wanting to live free from fear, violence, and hatred. We didn’t have to be spoken over, minimized, gaslit, subject to double standards, informed that we aren’t the authority on antisemitism. We didn’t have to laboriously expound on the horror of our ongoing trauma and beg for it to matter. We didn’t have to apologize for just not having it in us to reach out when someone asked how we were doing. We didn’t need to sugarcoat our thoughts and feelings, make things more positive than how we actually feel, or pretend that we aren’t mourning some of our faith in humanity. We didn’t need to exist in the sound bites of hatred, reduced to fear, shrunk into defensiveness. We could exist as we were;, we could exist as Jews.
On the walk to the rally, we headed towards the National Mall with pro-Israel signs and large stickers on our sweaters. My breath ran more shallow than normal as I realized how vulnerable this made me. In Milwaukee, I have hung an Israeli flag across the street on public land and watched over the last month how often it is taken and removed. My husband once found it burnt – I remember the hollow feeling I felt afterwards, and the dissociative fog that overtook my brain.
As Jews, I think that due to our history, we have learned how to hide parts of ourselves. We offer the parts of ourselves that are palatable – jokes about bagels and admissions of neuroticism – anything that lightens who we are. We splinter ourselves into appropriate parts. It’s like walking a losing tightrope, aware that tides turn at any minute, and lifelong friendships can cease in a moment because we stood up for ourselves and violated the conditional terms set for us. It’s a game of blackmail in which we are always extorted out of our experiences and full selves. As people villainize us and turn us around and around into whatever is evil in their narrative, we have often come to realize that our suffering does not matter. The basis of our support is always contingent on whether we follow society’s rules for us – as it turns out, self-defense is a breach of those rules.
As I left the rally, I saw something mesmerizing – these very Jews, often apprehensive of hate, were no longer. Thousands of Jews poured onto the streets of D.C., similar to releasing endangered birds who had been brought back to health with kindness and patience. Israeli flags hugged bodies, Hebrew visible on sweatshirts, signs under arms, kippahs firmly on heads, stickers showing Israel solidarity, and face paint. Hundreds of Jews headed down to the metro. Jews from all over the country had come together and walked away knowing that our existence mattered. All 290,000 Jews and allies who made it to the march, and all 16.1 million Jews that exist on earth. As I walked through the streets of D.C., I found myself indifferent to hate, unbothered by fear. While I was aware that hate still existed for Jews that day (as we always are), it no longer held the same importance or relevance to my life. Love seeped in, safety swept me up, and I was a whole person.
For those who organized and helped with this trip, I thank you dearly. For everyone who came along on this adventure, it was an honor to be with you. I had such meaningful conversations throughout the day. Thank you for being part of such a meaningful moment, a historic day. As I stood in the sunshine surrounded by Jews, I tried to honor every Jewish life that had ever lived in fear. Every Jewish life that had ended too abruptly. Every Jewish life that had lost a friend when tides turned against them. Every Jewish life that felt isolated or ashamed or humiliated. Every Jewish life that watched no one stand up for them. Love to those in mourning and for those in anguish while their loved ones are held hostage. Kindness to the shattering of ourselves. To our grief in the world. And to the future, in which we tried to give a blueprint.
Hate shatters us and splinters us;, love puts us back together. I didn’t realize how fragmented I had become in the rise of antisemitism, despite my best attempts. Trying to operate in a world in which I juggled indifference and hate nonstop on a daily basis through appeasement, defensiveness, and rage had allowed me to lose some of my favorite parts of myself. I was afraid to allow myself to feel sadness because there never seemed to be a good time, a resting point in which more hatred didn’t accumulate.
As I leaned into my headrest on the flight back to Milwaukee surrounded by those who had endured an incredibly long day, I felt so proud of us. We deserve to feel whole because we are whole. We deserve to feel safe and that is unconditional. Our suffering matters. Our lives are meaningful. Our people have fought through it all for us to be here, and here we are. Now it’s our turn.
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Writer Simone Bruch was raised in Milwaukee, and after living in London, Munich, and Chicago, returned in 2019. She lives with her husband and two dogs, and enjoys writing, making art, and gardening.