A Jewish friend recently said that his parents (one a Holocaust survivor) often told him that when things get bad, Jews get lonely. It’s a feeling that many in the Jewish community have experienced over the years but more acutely in the last few weeks. However, in the last 24 hours, it has struck me in a clearer way.

On Thursday, when I woke up to the news about the shootings and lockdowns in Maine, I thought about my friends and colleagues who have family there or children in college there. When I arrived at work, I checked in with a few of those people. I saw messages all over social media to friends who live in Maine with thoughtful messages of “thinking of you” and “hope you are well” and other kind words, letting them know that they cared. This ability to reach out to others when horror strikes is positive and shows deep humanity: the ability to empathize with others and verbally express that empathy. 

It has been exactly three weeks since the attacks of Oct. 7. In the first few days following the attacks in Israel, I reached out to friends and family in Israel and others in the Israeli and Jewish community here in the U.S. and Europe. I wanted to let them know that I was sending them strength and love, that I didn’t know what to say or do in those moments, but that I cared. From many politicians and community leaders there was also a vocal outpouring of support and a denunciation of the terror in Israel.

Yet, very quickly, I knew two things: First, I knew that before the bodies and hostages had even been counted and named, many would be excusing and defending the terrorist attacks as somehow understandable because the perpetrators had their reasons. Second, I knew that as soon as Israel began to fight back, public opinion would turn. (This phenomenon is well-expressed in Dara Horn’s book, “People Love Dead Jews.”) The thing that I didn’t think about in the days after the Oct. 7 attacks—but I and many others in the Jewish community quickly learned—is how few non-Jews would reach out, would check in, would say, “I’m thinking about you,” or, “I don’t know what to say but this must be really awful and difficult,” or anything else that communicated that they could empathize with the fear and horror that Jews all over the world were and are feeling. 

It is somehow programmed into our Jewish DNA that no matter how secure, successful, at-home we may feel in any given country or time period, we never know when we might have to make that unimaginable decision. To pack our bags. To put our children on a train to another country. To take that boat. Our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents have done it many times. Some went from Spain to Morocco. Some went from Iran to Israel. Some went from the Pale of Settlement to the United States. Some went from Germany to Mexico. Most Jewish Americans can trace their families back to a variety of countries and nationalities. A number of Jews in Israel are Mizrahi Jews, Arab Jews who went to Israel when Algeria or Iraq or Syria or other Arab countries no longer allowed them to live in those places.

We understand innately that we are a minority, an “other,” everywhere in the world except Israel. Even Jews who have never been to Israel or do not feel connected by family and friends know that Israel is there in case Jewish people need that safe haven. We watched it on the news as planes filled with Ethiopian Jewish refugees arrived into Israel in the 1980s. More recently, we read articles about the Russian Jews fleeing conscription in the war against Ukraine, gathering their families and going to Israel. In the United States, as secure as we may feel, we know that there was once no haven when our parents and grandparents were trying to escape the Nazis or the pograms, but now Israel exists. 

As I looked at the messages on social media from my friends in Maine thanking their friends all over the world for reaching out and checking on them these last couple of days, I thought about how many non-Jewish friends I’d heard from, whether in person or by a text or message. I’d love to be able to say that the outpouring from friends and colleagues warmed my heart and made me feel supported. Unfortunately, it has been the opposite.

I haven’t seen anything in the mainstream media or on college campuses about how we can understand the mass murders in Maine because the shooter had his reasons, which I am sure he thought he did. It is terror, murder, and inexcusable. The Maine shooter was one terrorist, not an entire culture or community dedicated to violence like Hamas. Palestinians need hope and Israel must exist. Both can be true. Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in peace with the possibility of a future for both peoples. The many community members from both groups who believe that and work toward that will hopefully prevail. 

I have felt more isolated and more surprised by how scared I feel in my gut. Intellectually, I understood this idea that maybe, someday, other Jewish communities, maybe even mine or my children’s and grandchildren’s, would be escaping again and need Israel to welcome them. But now I feel it viscerally. I don’t wish that my friends in Maine had not been contacted and supported by those in their lives who are not Mainers. But I do wish that non-Jews had the same instincts to reach out to their Jewish friends. 

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