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November 6, 2023

How I Feel Being Jewish Right Now

Post By:
Romi Wallach
In-House Contributor
The Daily Drip
Guest Contributor:

I am Jewish. And no, I am not ok. 

I am the girl who gets up at 5:30 am, has her coffee, does the laundry, cleans the kitchen, exercises, and gets to work. Not anymore. I can’t focus, I can’t sleep, and I can’t seem to get any momentum in my day. I find myself struggling to get anything done. The emotional roller coaster over the last month has been overwhelming.

I went from the exciting professional honor of being recognized as a South Florida Business & Wealth Up and Comer, to getting on a plane the following day to be with my husband in Toronto because his mother was in the ICU. That Saturday morning, I woke up to the news that Israel was under attack, and that hundreds of Jews had been kidnapped and murdered-- and that number was climbing. It could only be described as a massacre. 

As a Jew in the Diaspora (we who live outside the state of Israel), I am no stranger to hearing of attacks on Israel. My family still living there always downplays these things-- as if it were just another Tuesday. But this time it was different. This was a massacre and a level of terror that we had not seen since the Holocaust. And for the first time, my family in Israel was facing something they had never faced before. For the first time… they were afraid.

I have been speaking with my Israeli family every day. This has taken a toll on me in ways I have never experienced or even imagined. Like many of my Jewish friends and family, I took to social media to get information and share what I was seeing. I have been consumed with watching the events unfold on every platform; I have never been more affected by my consumption of content than I have over this recent month. 

I felt compelled to do something more. 

With The Daily Drip being a media platform, naturally, I reached out to my friend and co-founder, Nicole, to discuss how we were going to show up on this subject. Her answer to me shifted everything. 

“I don’t want to just jump on the bandwagon of throwing up a graphic that says ‘we stand with’. That is a big part of the problem social media presents. I think that we have a responsibility- and a bigger and better opportunity here- to contribute to the conversation in a more powerful and meaningful way. And I think you need to write about what you are going through and how this is affecting you. That is what will have an impact.” 

She went on to say, “As a Thought Leadership platform, we share experiences, ideas, perspectives, solutions, and actionable advice. That’s who we are. And through this, we help people feel less isolated, more connected, and more inspired. That has never been more important than right now.” 

And I agreed with her. We could throw up some virtue-signaling graphic, but what an empty gesture. Sure, it “checks the box,” but does it really do anything? Does it really impact anything? 

Then and there I realised impact would require more. It would require me to think through my feelings and articulate them. So I stopped trying to maintain normalcy amidst the chaos, and I paused. I sat down and tried to figure out what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. I started-- and restarted, and struggled to articulate-- this piece. I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts. 

Ordinarily, writing is my cathartic vehicle of choice. (Seriously, just ask my therapist. I have been sending him emails since we started working together, and he has printed out over 400 of them.) It has always been my preferred way to articulate my most complicated thoughts and feelings. I remember writing avidly after my father passed away. But for some reason, I struggled with expressing my current emotions into something clear.  Until I finally didn’t- and then the words poured out of me.

This is how I feel being Jewish right now.

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I am the very proud Jewish granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors. My Bubbie survived Auschwitz! My entire upbringing was shaped by the fact that I was only one generation removed from the Holocaust. I was incredibly fortunate to have my grandparents so present in my life and such an example of strength, resilience, and love… love of their Judaism, love for their families, and an example of values that put family first. 

There was no victimhood mentality. They moved to Canada from Belgium and Austria; they started from nothing. I have photographs of my Mom Luba (my mom’s mom) with Golda Meir. She was the gold standard of giving back in a meaningful way, and a passionate advocate for Israel and supporting Jews around the world.

The first time I went to Israel was unforgettable. I was 18 years old, and my parents sent me on a teen tour. I was nervous and excited; I had heard so much about this magical place known to me as our homeland. I stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv and had a physical and emotional experience I wasn’t prepared for. This place that I was visiting for the first time in my life felt like home. It felt more like home than my native country of Canada. Maybe you can relate if you ever had the opportunity to visit the country of your heritage- the feeling is truly tangible.

I spent two weeks on a Kibbutz, where I got to experience the unique way some Israelis lived. We travelled the country learning about the history, seeing the beauty of the land itself, and learning about all of the other cultures and religious groups that lived there. I visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. Seeing the images there, I was flooded with emotion as it fully hit me what my grandparents had miraculously survived. Hearing the Hebrew language was like comfort food for my soul. I loved the sights, the sounds, and the undeniable pride that the Jewish people had for their country and their people. Israelis were totally my vibe. Their direct nature was so up my alley, and I loved it. I could literally imagine myself living there one day.

To be honest, being Canadian had no real meaning for me. Being Jewish has always been more important to my identity. Shabbat dinners were the best! Bubbie made everything from scratch; she didn’t waste a thing. Having known what it was like to be literally starving, you bet that they were going to use every single part of that chicken that went into the soup. I remember watching my grandmothers light the candles on Shabbat and my grandfathers leading the blessings over the wine and challah. High holidays were spent in Shul, sitting by my father and braiding the strings of his tallis. We danced the horah at weddings and bar mitzvahs. 

It was not so much about religion; it was more about traditions. It was about family values and love-- so much love. There was this strange thing about Jews… when you met one another, there was this unspoken connection. When I lived in Switzerland, and I was away from my family for the first time for the Jewish New Year, a local Jewish family took us in and hosted us so we could join them to celebrate. It was incredible to me- and yet totally unsurprising.  

However, I am also acutely aware of the existence of anti-semitism and that there are people in the world that hate Jews for no reason other than the fact that they were…. Jews. I never understood it. How can anyone hate people they don’t know simply because of their religion or heritage? I had experienced instances of it growing up, but for the most part, I was fortunate to be raised in a very strong and connected Jewish community in Toronto. Having family in Israel, I was always touched very personally by the conflicts there. But our family in Israel would always reassure us that it was not as bad as the news was reporting; that this was their way of life, and they were ok. This only adds to the part of my belief system that has the absolute highest gratitude and appreciation for Jews in Israel. It was because of those that lived in Israel and fought to defend her, that myself and my fellow Jews living in the Diaspora could live so freely. 

This situation has brought up so many emotions for me. But the most difficult thing to wrap my head around is the degree of hate that I am witnessing. What is so hard for me to process is watching people around the world, in different cities, celebrate the murder and massacre of children, women, and innocent citizens. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the conflict in Israel. No one should find any joy over the loss of innocent life-- Jewish or Palestinian. It is the overall lack of humanity that is hitting me so hard and deep that I can’t process it. 

What I landed on as I processed what I’m feeling, is the following: we are living in a f---ed up world right now. 

I can’t believe that 75 years after the Holocaust, my little nephew told us he’s scared to tell people he is Jewish. I can’t believe that my kids have to be vigilant and hyper-aware of their surroundings on their college campuses. I can’t believe that my nieces have stayed home from school because of the threat of violence towards Jews all over the world. 

But most of all, my heart hurts so deeply that there are people who find joy in this. The total absence of humanity is the most soul-crushing, and the hardest part for me to deal with. How do I reconcile this kind of hatred and lack of basic human decency? How does anyone? This shouldn’t divide us; the power of basic humanity should unite us. We should all be united in wanting a better world for our children and for ourselves.   

With all of that being said: I do also see love and light. Thank you to everyone who has reached out with messages of love and support. Thank you for showing me that there is humanity, hope, and love, and people who care about other people. Thank you for checking on me and my family. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

I hope we continue to check up on eachother, long after this crisis. If nothing else comes from it, I hope we learn the power of a simple phone call or text to let the people we care for know that we are thinking of them, that we love them, that we are here for them. And may we all strive to demonstrate the beauty of humanity towards one another each and every day.