by: David Harris-Gershon on August 4th, 2014 | 5 Comments »
I can’t keep up with my inbox.
This is an entirely new and foreign experience – over 100 messages have been streaming in each day for the past week, and there is little sign of this pace slowing. All of these messages are being sent by strangers, the vast majority of them are coming from American Jews, and most contain a singular message:
“I feel like you are my voice right now.” – 27-year-old from Philadelphia
As a writer and author, I’ve been humbled by occasional notes from strangers, from people both praising me or cursing me for my words, opinions and political positions. However, what’s happening right now is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It is a stunning anecdotal phenomenon which reveals the way American Jews in particular, and Americans in general, are being affected by the incredible suffering in Gaza.
This all began when the actor Mark Ruffalo shared an article I recently wrote:
The article started circulating widely, and from that article, a meme was created by someone I don’t know which has apparently circulated even more widely.
Since then, I have received a steady stream of messages which have been both overwhelming and humbling. They have also been sustaining me during a very difficult time – unbeknownst to most who are sending them. As one who works in the Jewish community as an educator, and one who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s Gaza operations as a two-state Jew, I have had pushback from certain voices in my community. It has been a tense time, to say the least.
Despite this, I have been speaking out on the page. Because, as a writer, that’s what I do. From the messages I’m receiving, it’s clear some of that writing on Gaza and Israel is reverberating strongly, particularly amongst some who don’t feel comfortable having their voices heard:
“This makes me feel so much less alone.” – a woman in Massachusetts”
Thank you for speaking out … this is everything I feel I want to say but just can’t. But maybe I’m going to start.” – anonymous”
I also love Israel and I also want speak out against what is happening. I think you’re my support group I don’t have…it’s why I’m writing.” – a “young” Jew in Miami
A few days ago, I had dinner with several friends with whom I had not spoken since all of this madness began in July. It was a dinner I was admittedly scared to attend, unable to discern whether I would be ostracized for my views, unsure whether these friends would express anger at my not taking a zero-sum stance to the conflict.
Like me, they are all Jews. Like me, they are all invested in the Jewish community and Israel. Like me, they have young children. To my surprise, like me, they all felt similar.
At one point, one of them looked toward me and said, “I know you probably don’t want to talk politics, but I just want to say that I feel like you are representing me right now. And I just wanted to thank you for being out there and writing what you are writing. You might not know, but it’s helping and inspiring a lot of people.”
Everyone gathered began nodding. Then began talking of forming a support group of sorts, a safe space where those like us could gather and reveal our conflicted feelings.
From the messages I’m receiving, I wonder whether such a group wouldn’t represent a majority of young, American Jews. I wonder whether the institutional voices alienating so many with their monolithic messages of support for Israel’s military actions, without any nuance or publicly-stated compassion for the intense suffering in Gaza, don’t represent a loud and powerful minority.
While the recent Pew study on the American Jewish community might offer hints as to what the answers to such questions might be, it certainly doesn’t answer them. Nor do the messages I’m receiving.
However, I know one thing: Gaza is transforming how Jews in America, who support Israel, view the importance and legitimacy of critiquing Israel. It’s compelling people to internalize the notion that criticism and true support, rather than being mutually exclusive, may actually be congruent.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.