Hi, my name is Leila, I’m from Long Island, NY, and this past summer I had the incredible opportunity to do the Onward Young Professionals Track. I lived in Tel Aviv for 2 months and worked at Reichman University in Herzliya, doing research in the Center for Internet Psychology on empirically-supported ways to counter extremism online.  It was a huge growth experience and I miss Israel more than I can express. It was my fifth time there which I am so blessed to say. Israel is my home, my family’s home, and this country – the only Jewish state – holds the most special place in my heart. I take immense pride in my identity as a Persian Jew and Zionist, and am so grateful to come from a family and community that has only ever instilled in me a love for Judaism and our beautiful holy land. 

  1. How am I feeling about the Israel-Hamas war and subsequent rise of antisemitism? 

My mind has what feels like a million thoughts and I will do my best to concisely answer. 

To start, I truly believe that many people – particularly non-Jews – are choosing to overlook the terrorism of October 7th. Many people have chosen not to condemn Hamas. I see many people particularly in the media and on college campuses who are celebrating Hamas, justifying terrorism, and I feel physically unwell to know people are so heartless and morally broken. It is truly appalling to see just how many people are justifying and/or denying the atrocities of that day and are asking for proof – it is dehumanizing, absolutely disgusting, and I cannot believe I live in a world where people are that evil. As someone who had such a strong Jewish education, has learned extensively about the Holocaust, and had the absolute honor of building personal relationships with survivors, it really scares me and physically sickens me in every way when I see disgraceful people chanting “death to Jews,” “gas the Jews,” and “Israel is worse than Nazi, Germany.” I am truly at a loss for words. I don’t know how people like that can even sleep at night.

October 7th, the day when ISRAEL was attacked by Hamas – internationally recognized terrorists whose goal is to eradicate Israel and annihilate all Jews – has turned into a worldwide celebration for hatred toward Jews and Israel in all its forms. That day, Israel was ATTACKED WITH NO WARNING by terrorists who murdered, raped, beheaded, burnt babies and families alive. Terrorists took over 200 people hostage and we are STILL awaiting their release. It is absolutely horrifying how many people we live among who outwardly support terrorism.

I observe that a lot of “progressives” and “liberals” who claim to care about social justice issues and human rights have perpetuated horrific hate against Jews, a minority group. While many of us know that this war is Israel vs Hamas and Hamas vs all Jews, a lot of the propaganda labels Jews everywhere and Israel as the ‘bad guy.’ Many of the people who speak with such inflammatory words also have zero connection to what is happening, learned about it over social media reels, do not know what Zionism is, and/or think they will be disowned by “woke” America if they stand with Israel. “Woke” people also seem to not understand that they would be killed within seconds if they went to Gaza.

People have been absolutely brainwashed by psychological warfare and it is horribly adding to and exacerbating the already prevalent disease of antisemitism that exists. People are choosing to believe that Hamas helps Palestinians, and no matter how much Jews advocate for peace for Palestinians and Israelis and emphasize the measures that need to be taken for peace to come, people stay ignorant and choose to keep hating and antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric grows. People are choosing to ‘get educated’ via Tik Tok videos and Instagram reels and infographics; it’s biased, inflammatory, and spreads misinformation and hate. 

I believe many people in Gen Z are choosing to misunderstand that Hamas is beyond affluent and has chosen not to put their wealth toward their people’s livelihood. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Hamas was elected to government in Gaza in 2007 and has been in power ever since; there has not been an election since. Hamas could choose to put their money toward safe water, infrastructure, and an overall safer and healthier life for every Palestinian living there. Hamas instead spends significant amounts of money on rockets and weaponry to support their terrorism. As the quote says: they care more about killing Jews than they care about their own children. Kids are used as human shields and there is so much information out there that with proof. Hamas has completely oppressed their own people, but Israel receives full blame. We want innocent Palestinian civilians to survive and have a good life, and it is quite literally not possible to if Hamas continues to exist. Israel’s mission is to kill Hamas so that they cease to exist.

Moreover, I am extremely disappointed – though not surprised – by the lack of support from the non-Jewish community. The least we expect at a time where our homeland was just terrorized, where people are chanting death to Israel and Jews, is to have minority groups’ support and solidarity. Propaganda and silence are complicit, and collectivity add to the hate that already exists; they enable more atrocities to occur against the Jewish people, and this applies to other minority groups as well. 

One of my concluding thoughts is regarding hypocrisy and irony. I think it is quite insane that people are choosing whose lives are more valuable. No one wants innocent Palestinians to die, and no one wants innocent Israelis to die. We also want our hostages RELEASED in a humanitarian way; our brothers and sisters – some of whom are babies, children, women, and the elderly – have been captive in Gaza under Hamas since October 7. Their lives matter! Woke America dismisses their existence, and it is truly repulsive. Every single person’s life matters. Why pick and choose?  

Though I could truly talk about my strong emotions for days, I will conclude with these final thoughts: (1) Israel has absolutely EVERY RIGHT to defend herself. There should be zero question. (2) The hostages need to be RELEASED.  (3) If Israel stops defending herself, our homeland is completely eradicated, and Jews will quite literally be killed just because they are Jewish. (4) Stop spreading propaganda.

On a positive note, the Jewish community truly amazes me. We are strong, so resilient, so full of love, and our unity and support for each other surpasses all hate that we encounter on an everyday basis. I am so proud to be Jewish and I am so grateful for Israel and I hope to return soon, B’ezrat Hashem.  

  • If in college, what college are you at and how are you feeling about/handling the rise of antisemitism on campuses?

I am in graduate school at Hofstra University. I saw that after our university’s president made a statement and it was posted to the official Instagram page, a lot of Pro Palestinian people flooded the comments with a lot of hate. I have done my best to ignore the comment section for mental health reasons. Beyond that, on the Day of Jihad, I had to go to campus. I felt nervous and chose to call the Public Safety department at my school and he seemed fairly dismissive on the phone when I inquired about any additional security measures. That is not to say he is antisemitic because it is unfair to draw that conclusion; I was simply expected a less rough response. 

  • What I have personally done to help

I have tried my best to donate to different charities, extend help to my Israeli friends and call them, and I am advocating a lot on social media. I went to college with a lot of non-Jews, so as I see really controversial, misinformed posts, I try my best to respectfully say something and take the time to have respectful discourse. Hostility goes nowhere. Sometimes these conversations go well, and other times less well. 

  • My experience in Israel

While in Israel, our program’s coordinators organized educational experiences where we could meet people of different religious backgrounds, political backgrounds, and regional backgrounds. We had really informative dialogue about their experiences in Israel, and in my own mind I was able to critically think about whose opinions I respected and disagreed with, and whose opinions I supported and resonated with. I learned a lot more about my identity as well as all the different kinds of people who reside in Israel. 

Jewish and so proud! Am Yisrael Chai!!

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