The atrocities waged against Israel on Oct. 7, the bloodiest day for the Jewish people in decades, will be etched in our collective memory.
But even as we still process the horror and its aftermath, and even with hostages still held in Gaza, this period can also be viewed as a galvanizing moment for the Jewish community, and to reaffirm the meaning and importance of Zionism, according Noa Tishby, an accomplished actress and activist. Tishby was the keynote speaker at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s recent 2024 campaign kick-off event.
“One of the things that became very clear for the Jewish community is that connection to Israel,” said Tishby, the former special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel, during the Dec. 13 event. On Oct. 7, “every single Jewish person around the world felt the exact same thing … you felt a knot in your stomach, you wanted to vomit.”
During the Shine a Light on Antisemitism event at the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC, in Whitefish Bay, Tishby said the key to combatting antisemitism is to instill Jewish pride with younger generations by educating them on how Jews have been able to survive and thrive over centuries despite extermination efforts against them.
“Here we are. The fact that every single one of us is even alive is a miracle,” she said. “We are all survivors.”
The two-hour program began with a welcome message from event co-chairs David and Monica Arnstein and Yoni and Julie Zvi, and remarks by Susan Angel Miller, campaign co-chair.
Funds generated by the annual campaign provide “essential financial resources for our community, partners here in Milwaukee and Israel and around the world,” Yoni Zvi said. The Federation works year-round “to strengthen and support the wellbeing of our local and global Jewish community and plays an instrumental role in our fight against antisemitism.”
The event also featured a Chanukah candle lighting by Hillel Milwaukee students and the singing of America’s National Anthem and Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel.
Make a difference
Tishby sat on stage taking questions from moderator Nancy Kennedy Barnett, whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Barnett told about the time when she was speaking at a school and an eighth grader told her that their mother said the Holocaust never happened, but it should have. Barnett then asked Tishby for her recommendation on how to deal with such horrendous rhetoric.
“The only way to go about this is to insist on education in schools,” Tishby said. (After advocacy efforts from the local Jewish community, Wisconsin passed Act 30 in 2021 requiring Holocaust and genocide education in middle and high schools. The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation trains teachers statewide on how to teach about the Holocaust, genocide and antisemitism, and it offers resources, speakers, and lesson plans for school classrooms.)
Tishby experienced a similar incident when she was 17, which she detailed in her book, “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.”
“Jew hatred is a very popular sport around the world,” she said. “As a community, we should be okay with it while fighting it. If you wake up in the morning, saying (you) have to end this, you’re going to lose your mind … knowing that it will never be resolved is a very liberating thought that should give us strength.
“We have 3,000 years of experience of how to deal with that. This is not our first rodeo,” she added.
She suggested that people should attempt to make a difference with just one person a day. She also recommended, if possible, to invite people to Shabbat at your home. The Jewish people must be proud of our heritage and how much we value family, education and our openness to questioning, she said.
“Something about the Jewish way of life works. It produces incredible results,” she said, noting that Jews have won more than one-fifth of Nobel Prizes. “The proof is in the pudding.”
Israelis have a superpower
Before Tishby took the stage, Capt. (Res.) Shimon Levy, former COO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, shared his story about traveling to Israel in response to the Oct. 7 massacre and encountering other like-minded Jews who were returning to their country to fight in the war.
“Israelis … have a superpower, an alter ego …it is in our DNA, it is our military ethos,” he said. “We wear our caps under our clothes.”
The volunteerism and unity that he witnessed amongst the destruction and carnage was immensely inspiring, he told the audience. But when he returned to the United States in November, he witnessed an immense amount of antisemitism.
“To this, we need to collectively say, ‘Hell no,’” he said. “Unacceptable. We will not be victimized. We stand tall. We stand proud. Do not back down. Do not look away. Our haters have forgotten that we have over 3,000 years of surviving Jewish oppression.”
Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, also spoke during the event, saying that the miracle of Chanukah is not that the jug of oil lasted eight days, but the utter fact that the Jews went looking for oil among the ruins during the Maccabean Revolt.
“For this Chanukah, that is a very grounding moment, that hope in itself can be a miracle, to be able to see beyond where we are,” she said. “What gives me hope is how united our Jewish community is, how united our global Jewish community is and how united we are in standing with Israel.”
Rosenzweig implored the Jewish community to not only keep Israel in mind when contributing to the Federation’s annual campaign this year, but also the agencies and organizations that continue to provide educational, social and economic support to Milwaukee’s vibrant Jewish community.
“That’s what being Jewish is about. That’s the job of Federation and all of us every day,” she said. “Jewish is a team sport.”