THE AUDACITY OF JEWISH STRENGTH: a call to personal power By Daphna Rowe
The days of the cowering Jew are over. We have been told for generations to keep our head down, don’t get into fights, fly under the radar, and to hide that we are Jewish in certain company. We have been told to always have a suitcase packed in case we need to escape. We have been dimming our light for millennia – and for what? To placate those who hate us anyway. No more.
If we plead for understanding, it can no longer be on trembling knees. If we want empathy, we should no longer beg for it. We must stop defending ourselves for defending ourselves.
We are always on the backfoot playing defense. It’s time to play offence. Turn the tables around. Start asking others to prove themselves to us.
We are not the ones who have invaded countless countries with the sole purpose of converting the inhabitants or killing them if they don’t. We are not the ones knocking on doors telling others to believe like us or they’ll burn in hell.
We are the ones who have contributed to every country we have lived in. We are the ones who have stood alongside every other marginalized group because we know how it feels.
No group is a monolith of course. We too have the wicked among us. But no longer can we allow the wicked few to be projected onto the whole.
We will rise with chests out and love in our hearts. We will not be bullied into submission.
How did I find my audacity of strength?
When pursuing my undergraduate degree at Syracuse University, my parents came to campus and sat in on a class. I was studying International Relations with a focus on the Middle East. My parents joined me in a philosophy class called Jewish Identity and Christianity.
The discussion that day was about self-hating Jews. One Jewish girl in the class admitted she was ashamed to be Jewish because ‘everyone hates us.’ The professor, knowing my mother was from Israel, asked if she felt differently to this American student.
Without hesitation, my mother replied, ‘the way I see it, I must be something pretty special if the whole world is so concerned with what I’m doing all the time.’
It was funny, but also quite powerful how she turned that hatred around. Those words have remained tattooed on my soul.
It also taught me that there is a difference between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. The former is surrounded by enemies that want to drive them ‘into the sea’, and yet they have a lust for life with an unabashed strength like I have never seen anywhere else. In some ways, it’s because they have no other choice. As the saying goes ‘you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.’ It’s also because it is the only place in the world where Jews are a majority and there is a sense of strength in numbers. Numbers is important, and I will elaborate more later.
My mother was Israeli, and I have an Israeli passport, but I am a diaspora Jew. I never lived in Israel. I grew up in NYC, married a Brit and lived in London for 10 years, and now live in a seaside town 90 minutes from London called Margate where I can count the Jews I know on both hands – if that.
When the massacres happened two weeks ago, I was at a wedding in Scotland. I spent most of the day avoiding the news so I could be present for my friends on their day. As soon as I went back to the room, I looked at the news, and like most diaspora Jews, I felt sad, angry, and numb all at once. Shocked and broken I knew I was in for many sleepless nights and bouts of depression.
A couple days later something awoke in me. A love, a rage, a passion that far surpassed the ‘enough is enough’ slogans. It was my mother’s audacity for strength. For every Goliath we encounter, we must embody David. And I found mine. She is a cross between the Bear Jew from Inglorious Bastards and the Jewish Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement. Harsh yet educated.
I decided to share my inner David, my truest Daphna, on social media. I did it on video, with puffy, teary eyes, and a whole lot of chutzpah dripping off my tongue. There was no fancy lighting, no make-up, no revisions, no edits. I yelled. I cried. I cursed (a lot!) I was sardonic. And I called out the utter hypocrisy I was witnessing. I said everything I would normally be too scared to say, worried I wouldn’t be understood and that I’d lose everyone around me.
It was a primal scream I was no longer going to suppress. I recorded, I uploaded. I awaited the aftermath.
I said to my husband, ‘that’s it, I’m going to get goose marched out of Margate, branded as an evil Zionist and colonizer.’ I braced myself for the scarlet aleph to be branded upon my chest.
But it never came. In fact, what did come surprised me.
I received an outpouring of LOVE. Not hate. Pure, magical, maybe-humanity-isn’t-doomed, kind of love. I couldn’t believe it.
I have since posted eight more videos and a ton of stories. I have received countless ‘thank you’ messages from those who don’t know anything about the conflict and found what I was saying helpful.
We are living in a time when people are petrified that they will say the wrong thing – particularly on the left – so they will always side with whomever shouts their victimhood loudest. I’m not interested in winning the ‘I have it worst’ game. But one thing I learned from having the courage to put up that first post is that people will always respond positively to a mix of strength and love.
Before we get into ways to find your strength a quick point that will save you a lot of aggravation: Some people are simply antisemites and there is no point in arguing with them. Don’t bother. Don’t waste your energy. But for those who seem ignorant or misinformed, if you choose to engage in a debate, have the knowledge to stand your ground.
REMEMBER WHERE YOU’RE FROM
I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to know your history so you can feel confident in conversations. Understand how the diaspora started. Look into the stories of Israel and Judea before the Romans exiled us in 70 AD and renamed the land Syria Palaestina. Read about the different Jews of the diaspora: the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, the Mizrahim, the Beta Jews of Africa. Look into how the Brits played the Jews and Arabs against each other in 1948.
Understand that the majority of Jews in Israel today are not white. They are brown and black. If you are a white passing Jew in the UK, Europe, or the US, you have had decades of privilege where you didn’t have to think about safety. That safety no longer exists. So, learn our history.
Some good books: Jerusalem: A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore; The Secret War Against the Jews by John Loftus; and Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
Some good IG accounts to follow: @Rudy_Israel @Rootsmetals @henmazzig @that_semite @evebarlow
A little bit of historical knowledge can be very useful when you encounter an anti-Israel activist. A few examples of how to respond concisely and confidently:
Israel is a white supremacy state.
The majority of the Israeli population is brown and black Jews.
Israel is committing genocide on the Palestinians.
The Palestinian population has tripled since 1948.
Israel is a colonial state.
We are de-colonizing. Jews are indigenous and have had a presence in the land for over 3,000 years.
Israel is an apartheid state.
Arab citizens have full rights in Israel. They hold some of the highest positions in the government and courts.
Israel is occupying Gaza.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Hamas rules Gaza. They are solely responsible for the well-being of their people.
No one will admit they are wrong. But if they truly want peace for all civilians like they claim to, they will listen to what you said and research on their own from sources that have no connection to either ‘side’.
Knowing our history is very important, but when I say remember where you come from, I also mean, remember how you got here.
You are alive today because someone in your family survived. Not only from the Holocaust, but from millennia of exiles, pogroms, the crusades, the Inquisition, the Farhud. The fact that we stand and breathe today is a testament of our strength and resilience. Remember that. Be proud of that. Millions have fought, sacrificed, and fallen for us to be alive today. It is our duty to honor our ancestors by carrying the torch of survival.
Knowing we have a right to survive is why we must also advocate for our cousins, the Palestinians, to have that same right. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Call out the enemies of the Palestinians. In this war, it is Hamas who uses them as human shields to further their death count, so they can receive more financial aid to pocket. That is their business model. Call it out.
Don’t let anyone drag you into a binary narrative making you feel as if you must choose a side to be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’. People annoyingly love a sound bite, so here are a few:
No group is a monolith. Do you think all Jews or Israelis are the same? I don’t think all Arabs or Palestinians are the same.
Does X (the President or Prime Minister of their country) represent you? Then why do you think Netanyahu represents all Israelis let alone Jews worldwide?
This isn’t a war of Israel v Palestine or Muslim v Jew. This is a war of moderates v extremists.
If you are anti either side, you are pro conflict.
People like to put things into neat little boxes. Don’t let them. Challenge their need for division.
LET’S DO SOME MATH
You may not like this bit, but you need to hear it.
As of this year there is an estimated 16.1 million Jews globally. That is only 0.2% of the world population. There is roughly 7.1 million Jews in Israel (-1,400 after 7th October).
To put that into perspective, Kim Kardashian has 364 million followers. That means she has 21x more followers than there are Jews on the planet.
Bella Hadid who actively promotes anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric has 60.4 million followers. For every Jew alive today, roughly 44 million more are being fed antisemitic propaganda. And that’s only one profile let alone all the others.
Antisemitism is so deeply institutionalized that many refuse to believe they are promoting it. They genuinely think they are supporting freedom fighting and peace. But the 460% rise in antisemitism since 7th October proves otherwise.
We are the only minority in the world not trusted to say what hatred against us means. Imagine telling someone from the Afro-Caribbean community that they don’t know what racism means, or that those outside the LGBTQ+ community have a right to define homophobia, or that Muslims don’t understand what Islamophobia means.
Oh yes, and people love to tokenize us! There is a tiny fringe minority of 1-5% of Jews who are anti-Israel. There is a conscious, or even subconscious feeling that if they believe like those who hate us it will somehow save them. It won’t. That tactic never worked in the past, and it won’t now. In the same way African Americans or Mexican Americans voting for Trump didn’t make him less racist or make them safer in the US. If anyone says, ‘but I have a friend who is Jewish and anti-Israel’, remind them that they are tokenizing Jews and that is antisemitism.
These numbers make something very clear. You can no longer remain silent. You must speak up! Even if you come up against one brick wall after another, even if you are heartbroken by some of the responses, you will feel a million times better knowing that you stood up for yourself, your tribe, and good, decent people everywhere.
I’d like to leave you with a final uplifting thought. Hate cannot be fought with hate; and destruction cannot be fought with more destruction.
We must combat carnage with creation.
To lift yourself out of the abyss, do things you enjoy. If you are a singer, sing. If you are a painter, paint. If you are a baker, bake. This doesn’t mean you don’t care for those we have lost; it means that you defiantly choose not to let it break your humanity.
Hamas has released the agonizing videos of their torture and brutality to wage psychological warfare. They want us to feel emotionally and spiritually depleted. We must not let them succeed in doing that. Replenish yourself through creation.
This writing is one of my ways of doing that.
Sending you all so much love during these dark days. Remember who we are, understand we cannot afford to remain silent, and create in defiance.
We WILL get through this.
Daphna Rowe received an MSc in International Relations from the University of Bristol in 2011 and is a member of The International Society of Political Psychology. Daphna was born in Hamburg, Germany, raised in New York City and currently resides in Margate, UK.