Pride. Fear. Ambivalence. Hope. Solidarity. Last week, I asked members of Greater Boston’s Jewish community to reflect on their sense of identity. People responded honestly, and in droves, with a mixture of anxiety, stoicism and fearlessness. Some are more vocal than ever. Others are thinking twice, nervous—maybe for the first time. Mostly, though, there was a sense of unyielding centeredness and soothing through activism and rituals.

Here’s how many of you are connecting with your Jewishness during this turbulent time.

On symbolism

“I’m using my knowledge of loaded language and bigoted language in this issue. There are lots of opportunities to teach people that language matters and, especially now, the words we choose, especially in front of our kids, are so important. I am also staying in touch with my Israeli cousins more than ever before. [I’m] tying my blue ribbon [and] wearing my Star of David, chai, mezuzzah—I bought my mom and dad each one when I was in Israel in 1973. Now, I wear all three on one chain, outside my clothing at all times. I will not hide who I am. I do, in the back of my mind, fear for my grandson, son and husband who are at area day schools. I pray this all ends soon.”
—Shelly, Needham

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(Courtesy Yelena, Lexington)

“I am wearing my hamsa on my neck. I prepared my front yard for Halloween. Am Yisrael Chai.”
—Yelena, Lexington

“I’m leaning in 100%. I post like crazy on Facebook, light candles and display my Israeli flag. I also put up blue and white lights.”
—Susan, Worcester

(Courtesy Susan, Worcester)

“I am wearing my Jewish star. I’ve also been really involved in our school district, lobbying them to make a statement, which they finally did, as well as further steps to support Jewish and other students. I also became more involved in volunteering at our temple.”
—Jeanie, Boston

“I’ve added my Star of David to my chai necklace, and I started lighting Shabbat candles for the first time in my life two weeks ago, with my children. I’m hoping to slowly do more, like find a Chabad center. Maybe I’ll bake a challah this week! I’m nervous about being truthful in person and online, but I also feel it’s extremely important. I’m the daughter of Holocaust survivors—my grandma was a prisoner, and my mom was born in Auschwitz—and I always thought the nervousness and distrust was crazy, but now I understand it.”
—Rachael, Upton

On combating fear

“I’m in the boat of wanting to lean in but being a little nervous to do so. I have been wearing my Star of David but have tucked it under my shirt at times. Our temple gave out free ‘We Stand With Israel’ yard signs. I took one but haven’t yet put it out because I can’t decide if it’s safe or a very bad idea. I’d like to think that in Arlington it’s safe, but with the neo-Nazi march in town recently, who knows. I did, however, carve a Star of David into a pumpkin yesterday, and it’s on our front steps. I hate to be nervous about these things, and it makes me so sad, but I am.”
—Robyn, Arlington

“My first-year college student is afraid to speak out. I’m a college professor, and I absolutely relate. But I do speak out. I wear my Star of David everywhere and have a Star of David bumper sticker on the car. The kids are afraid. My 13-year-old feels like the only Jewish kid in her eighth grade. She might be right. I want a ‘Hamas Out of Israel – I Stand With Israel’ sign for the front yard. I ordered it on multiple platforms, but it never showed up. The kids don’t want me to put it up when it does [show up], and if it does, I will. I’m trying to help them process the fear. A local business shared an Israel support sign. I went there for dinner that week and let them know that was why I was there both in person and on social media. I think it’s important to be visible. Even if it can be scary.”
—Annalyssa, Salisbury

“I’m leaning in and fighting the urge to hide. The urge to hide has conveniently immigrated with me from the former USSR and is always in the back of my mind. It is there when I see my U.S.-born children proudly wear Magen David, participate in Jewish-related activities and be very vocal on social networks. I am so proud of them, support them and will not let them see my fear.”
—Svetlana, Newton

“I’ve thought about wearing my Star of David and have definitely been leaning into traditions. But we have also been long-time on the fence regarding joining a temple and were just about to do it. Now I’m not sure I’m in such a hurry any longer for a few different reasons. My kids are 10 and 7.”
—Julie, Wayland

On rituals and community

“I started going to Chabad and baking challah on Thursday nights, just in time for Shabbat. I’m not very religious, but this makes me feel connected to being Jewish.”
—Emily, Needham

“I have always celebrated Shabbat and the related rituals. I am also someone who bakes challah. Usually I bake a half batch of challah, which makes three loaves, eat one and freeze two so that I don’t have to bake every week. Since the war broke out, I have been leaning into my challah-baking. Tradition states that if you bake challah, or bread, with a large quantity of flour, you must ‘take’ challah, which entails removing a bit of the dough before baking while saying a blessing. This dough gets burnt and rendered inedible, reminiscent of burnt offerings from the time of the Temple. There is a spiritual connection and opportunity for prayer at the moment of taking challah. It is more than just a time of intentionality, but a special connection between the baker and God. So, every Thursday night, I have been making a full batch of challah, which makes six loaves, using around 12 or 13 cups of flour. It’s way too much challah for my family, so I have been gifting the challah to others as a way of sharing glimmers of joy and light. Some weeks I have been offering it up to friends on Facebook and asking them to make a donation to an Israel organization of their choice. It’s been a concrete way for me to do something through prayer and acts of kindness.”
—Karen, Needham

“I’ve definitely been leaning into my Jewish community. It’s the only place I feel I can truly express how I feel right now. I don’t typically celebrate Shabbat, and I’m planning to start some type of tradition. I find myself making Jewish comfort foods. I’ve been very loud and proud … and scared.”
—Lauren, Natick

“I am an older person and find myself drawn to my temple, Temple Sinai in Brookline. My rabbis are very caring. It’s good to be with community during bad and good times.”
—Mike, Brookline

“I never take off my Star of David. I have flags and ‘I Stand With Israel’ signs outside. I am wearing ‘I Stand With Israel’ bracelets and have flags on our cars. I am making sure my kids know exactly what’s going on and am planning a community rally in support of Israel. I refuse to hide.”
—Lana, Brookline

“[I’m doing] Shabbat dinners, Israeli support sign on my house, engaging actively with Jewish friends and colleagues and checking in daily.”
—Sara, Roslindale

“Speaking as a ‘Jew in process,’ currently converting, with a Jewish husband about to welcome a new baby girl in December, we are both terrified and heartened. We have leaned into our synagogue community proudly and with Honeymoon Israel Boston, with whom we traveled to Israel last December for two weeks. We are terrified but proud and filled with community and a sense of belonging despite the severe ‘otherness’ of right now, and perhaps always. I proudly wear my chai, and other Jews see it and comment. It’s brought us together. My husband, who has experienced multiple antisemitic events in his life and who used to live in Israel, is extremely proud of being Jewish but keeps his Magen David under his shirt. We’ve both been pulling back from social media after initial attempts to engage with friends, which led to sad results. I am so grateful we live here and now, and I am hopeful for our daughter to grow up and develop her own sense of pride in her people.”
—Lauren, Boston

“I just wrote and read a 10-minute speech in front of my congregation about my Jewish journey. I never grew up religious, but after my son’s bar mitzvah in May 2022 and my family visiting Israel this past December, we have become extremely connected to our synagogue. I recently also started an adult bar mitzvah class to redo what I did as a 13-year-old and am scheduled to have the bar mitzvah next May with seven others. The situation in Israel has really made us so much more aware of the pride of being Jewish.”
—Andrew, Needham

On raising awareness

“I’ve never felt more Jewish and prouder to be a Jew in my life. Attending temple more than ever, over-posting on social media, advocating, educating, comforting, organizing, hosting a displaced family, you name it. Am Yisrael Chai!”
—Marcela, Newton

“I was scheduled to fly to Israel on Oct. 19 for the 2023 Israel Ride. The ride supports the peace-building and environmental leadership programs of the Arava Institute. This would have been my 18th time doing the ride. Due to the terrorist attacks, the 2023 Israel Ride was canceled. On Oct. 8, I was able to join with about 30 other members of Temple Aliyah to discuss our community response and how we could help. Since then, the temple hosted a community event focused on humanitarian and resilience initiatives in Israel, the Blue Ribbon campaign was initiated by members of our community and our Temple Aliyah Israel Kesher group has raised and distributed funds primarily to support Israeli organizations that help provide for the needs of Israeli victims of terrorism. While I would have preferred to be in Israel, cycling for peace and environmental leadership, my focus and activities for now have turned to raising awareness and helping to support initiatives to help with Israeli resilience and serving victims of terrorism.”
—David, Needham

“I brought a copy of the prayer for Israel Defense Forces soldiers to our synagogue the day everything started and read it from the bimah—and our congregation now does it regularly. I’ve been lighting an extra Shabbat candle to bring more light into the world and for the hostages who can’t light while in captivity. I tied a blue ribbon around a tree in our front yard as a reminder of the 200-plus hostages … I’ve been talking to neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, about the Blue Ribbon campaign and have passed extra ribbons along to others as well. The blue ribbons around trees are not the same as a ‘We Stand With Israel’ sign since it’s solely about the hostages, which are actually from [roughly] 30 countries.”
—Aliza, Needham

“I am leaning all the way in. Advocating, Shabbat, organizing meetups, meeting with administrators to try to encourage change, Star of David, you name it.”
—Jacqueline, Wayland

(Courtesy Robert, Dover)

“Thursday was international night at our boy’s elementary school. My husband is Israeli, and we have hosted the Israel table for the last four years and planned to do it again this year. I was very concerned with what the response would be—not from kids but from adults. A number of other Jewish parents reached out to make sure I was feeling OK about the table because they, too, were concerned. A non-Jewish friend could tell I was nervous, so she and her son, who is one of my son’s best friends, came to help us set up because she felt the symbolism was important. Even before that, I felt like I needed more than ever to represent for my kids to feel proud and for others not to see fear. I am friends with the Iranian family who hosts that table each year and asked for us to be side by side—again, for the symbolism. In the end, there was an overwhelmingly positive response. Many people came to the table to learn something and enjoy our exhibit, but many also offered quiet words of support and prayers. The PTO even played my submission for Ofra Haza’s “Chai” as the opening song on the evening’s playlist. I wore my Magen David with pride that night, and when one little girl who I didn’t know came over to the table and squealed, ‘Oh! I’m Jewish and this is the Jewish country!’ my heart melted.”
Robert, Dover