Then why are we living here anymore?

I have a friend who, when we left the pro-Israel rally together a couple of months ago, he was carrying a small Israeli flag that they’d given out at the doors.

It was pretty late at night by the time we left. We took the bus together and then when it was time for him to continue on his way home, which included taking the Skytrain, I asked him if he could put the flag away, saying that maybe it was better if he wasn’t so Jewishly conspicuous. He said that the day he couldn’t walk around holding an Israeli flag in Vancouver, he didn’t want to live here anymore.

Either because we’d just come from a pro-Israel rally or because I saw how true that was, I did not argue with him.

I was on the bus the other day and a man a few seats behind me got on the phone with someone who he started cursing out and threatening violently. My immediate reaction was to slide my magen David (star of David) necklace inside my t-shirt. In my mind, if someone is angry, violent and hateful, this will almost definitely be an indication of him also being a Jew hater and because he sounded so crazy, I was worried he would act out against the passengers and I felt especially threatened by him if he saw that I am Jewish.

I also looked around at the people on the bus and wondered, if God forbid someone became threatening towards me, as a Jew, would they stand up for me?

When I read what’s going on in the Ukraine right now, I just don’t get how Jews can live in places where they are very obviously not welcome anymore (if they ever were). Maybe we really should decide if a place is still Jew-friendly by asking ourselves, “Do I feel safe walking around with my magen David necklace showing?” and, “Would I feel safe if I were to carry an Israeli flag on the street/train?” and once the answer becomes a pretty convincing, “No,” then it’s time to leave.

I know it’s easier said than done. I lived in Israel for many years so I can relatively very easily imagine myself living there yet again. For people who haven’t lived there, it could be a much more difficult decision. I also know from talking to people here that there are many reasons people feel the need to stay. Family reasons often being a biggy.

But Jews are asking for it when they stay in a place where they have to hide their identity and where they feel increasingly unwelcome. Don’t you think?

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3 thoughts on “Then why are we living here anymore?

  1. Danya

    Deena-

    I think these exact thoughts on a regular basis. Especially the one about making the magen david inconspicuous when you sense a crazy person in your midst. My default thought is that the guy is likely an anti-Semite. Paranoid, neurotic- whatever it is- the feeling is very real. When we walk to synagogue on Shabbat morning, with kipah, etc., a million thoughts race through my head. As a ‘conspicuous’ Jew, I am so aware of my own presense and the kind of image I am presenting to everyone around. To a large extent, I feel I am an ambassador and defender of the Jewish people, while I’m here, living in the Diaspora, living as a minority people who have a million stigmas and fraught identities attached to us- both from outside, and in.

    Personally, I feel that either of those ‘tests’ (the magen david, the Israeli flag, etc.) as to whether a place will tolerate me and my people are actually very good and useful ones. They speak to our gut feelings of ourselves and the way that we think others perceive us, and they also imply our perception of how others may very well instinctively respond to us.

    So, yes, in a very real way, why are we here?

    This is a question I ask myself all the time.

    One thing with living as an outsider is that you are just so aware of your identity, of being different. And this can be a creative force,this angst can be productive and enriching, in so many ways. During my master’s research, I remember coming across the idea of “Babylon as a site of creativity”- that in ‘exile’, we flourish, because we must struggle to remain strong, united, solid- we have to be aware of who we are, defend ourselves in order to preserve ourselves; we need to fight in order to perservere.

    Of course, extending this recalls the whole question of whether anti-Semitism is one of the keys to Jewish survival/continuity… It is a bit of a disturbing concept, though fascinating and worthy of examination…

    These are my thoughts.

    Thanks for putting these questions out there. These are things I think of on a daily basis… yikes!

    1. Deena

      Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to share your thoughts and feelings about this subject and, like you said, so many topics that are so closely related to this. It’s always so interesting to hear what other people are thinking. Thanks!

  2. Deena

    Someone wrote me an email about this post and he said:

    “I think it’s sad that Jews go to Israel as a last resort or as an escape. I think that they should make Aliya because they want to, or maybe because they feel that they should FOR Israel, not because they have to or because they feel that there is nothing left for them in France or wherever.

    “I think that one of the biggest problems with Jews in the Diaspora — at least in North America — is that they become complacent. The world is a nasty place and at the end of the day I think that Jews will always have to stand up for themselves because nobody else will. So, I think that it is especially terrible that a complacent Jewish Vancouverite would feel that s/he had to hide looking Jewish on the street.”

    I agree with what he said and I think it’s important it’s understood that I’m not saying that that is the only time Jews should move to Israel. But I’m saying that the LATEST one should move to Israel is when they realize that they cannot even live an open Jewish life in their country anymore. And I’m saying that I don’t get how Jews stay in a place that doesn’t want them anymore, for so long.

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