I recently discovered the term “war-torn” doesn’t just apply to countries; it applies to hearts. I’ve never spent more than two weeks apart from my boyfriend in the eight years we’ve been together—but after a week of war in Israel, I left, he stayed, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. The pain of leaving has left me raw. I battle a dwindling appetite and burning eyes. “This is war,” I was told. “Life is rarely fair,” I was told. But I didn’t need to be told anything, because war is not new to my family.

My grandfather survived the Holocaust. While the rest of his immediate and extended family was murdered in Auschwitz, he hid in the hotel attic owned by a Christian family. He was only five years old, and he hid for years, freezing and starving above the heads of those who sought to exterminate him. As the Nazis quartered themselves in the hotel, he’d slip down into the kitchen in the small hours like a ghost, edge his tiny fingers along the blade of the meat slicer, and subsist on any scraps he could find.

He was 10 when the war was finally over, and he trekked to the train station to welcome his family home. No one knows how long he waited before he accepted their fate.

When the European Jewish population had been thinned to a third of its size, and Israel emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, a promise was made: never again. Never again would Jews be victims of genocide. Never again would we be nationless without the means of defending ourselves. Never again would we—a people who have been massacred, exiled, enslaved, and dehumanized—rely on anyone else to save us.

Saturday, October 7, 2023 marked the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. The promise we made to ourselves 78 years ago rose from the blood of our people once more. It was clear: “Never again” is now, and as the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, that promise is my direct responsibility.

I woke up that Saturday to news of the savage slaughtering and torturing of my people occurring just a short distance away from where I sat, and it wasn’t long before my boyfriend’s best friend—someone I’d been friends with for over seven years—was sent to stop the Hamas terrorists. He went immediately to the middle of the fighting while we clutched our hearts for the next grueling hours.

That same evening, I stood with my boyfriend and his family as we now prepared to ship his brother off to war. His brother was just weeks away from graduating law school after three years of nonstop work, but both that and the celebratory trip to New Zealand he’d planned afterward will be put on hold indefinitely.

As we were saying goodbye, praying for the best, no one daring to utter the worst of our fears for this person we love, I was struck by how much reality can change in the span of 24 hours. Just the night before, we had all been in the same room, lounging on the couch after Shabbat dinner and laughing at a goofy movie. The same walls and floor now contained us. The couch was still there. But the TV showed devastation and cortisol surged through our veins. It wasn’t long before war was officially declared, and I found myself square in the center of a story familiar to most Jews throughout history.

The following days were characterized by a complete warping of time. It was agonizingly slow as we waited to hear the fate of those we loved and to see if, and to what extent, the war would escalate. At the same time, the mounting pressure from my family in the U.S. came to a head. They genuinely feared for my life—that I would become one of the women Hamas raped, mutilated, executed, paraded, and took hostage dead or alive—if I didn’t get out before it was too late and the airport shut down. I had a decision to make. To stay with my boyfriend, Ben, the most important person in my life, or to leave and give my family peace of mind.

I desperately wanted to stay. I was concerned, but I wasn’t scared. I was prepared to survive. Ben and I stocked our bomb shelter with food and water that would last multiple people days. We made plans to barricade the door and considered worst-case scenarios. I gathered antibiotics, bandages, antiseptics, and supplies to make a tourniquet. I bought an ax since I didn’t have the right to bear arms. We wouldn’t be sitting ducks should the worst, G-d forbid, come to be. We would fight to the death. I was ready. This is what I’m made of, I thought.

But as I faced the deadline to make the American evacuation flights, the emotional warfare with my family raged on in their last-ditch efforts to convince me to come home. I received endless messages, phone calls, and letters from my family that revealed to me not only the depth of their love but the depth of their suffering. My father thought his only daughter might die at the hands of these terrorists, and he told me what he would be forced to do if that happened. My brother told me he won’t be around long due to his rare disease, and that I can’t leave my father alone in this life. My friends in the U.S. military told me that as an American and as a woman, I am at heightened risk, which catapulted my family’s fear to new heights. Their suffering was written into their expressions. My dad, the picture of health at 60 years old, suddenly looked older when he appeared on my phone’s screen.

How do you explain to the people you love, who love you more than anything, that you are willing to die for this? That you are willing to die beside your friends and family battling on the front lines, risking their lives so that Jews worldwide have a safe haven?

I still don’t know how you explain that feeling. And with all that, I faced what is likely to be the most significant and agonizing decision of my life. To stay with Ben and my people or to leave.

In the end, I left.

Whatever transpires in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, I will have to live with the fact that I left the most important person in my life behind in war.

At the beginning of this article, I wrote that I said goodbye to Ben without knowing when I’d see him again. That was only partially true. The reality is that I don’t know if I’ll see him again. I don’t know if I’ll see his brother again. Or his family. Or any of our friends. To describe the feeling of saying goodbye under these circumstances is a task too burdensome. My chest aches with the thought that my great-grandmother, who was my age now when she was murdered by the Nazis, had to do the same thing. She had to say goodbye to her five-year-old son and pray he would live. She had to say goodbye to her husband when she was ripped away from him. And they did face the unthinkable. Will I?

This is the reality Jews have always faced. We’re torn apart by people who want us dead. We suffer and grieve and send our children off to war. We watch while too many people in the rest of the world celebrate the savagery and barbarism perpetrated against us.

After Saturday, October 7, thousands of students and faculty on college campuses across the U.S. didn’t hesitate to align themselves with terrorists who beheaded and burned Jewish infants, raped and mutilated women, kidnapped Holocaust survivors and mothers holding their babies, murdered parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents, and gunned down hundreds of young adults at a peace party in the desert. Of course, this alignment is, they claim, in the name of human rights. While those students and faculty run to their safe spaces so they can avoid any possibility of being offended by “trigger words,” we run to our safe rooms, also known as bomb shelters, so we can avoid being murdered by rockets and terrorists. Across the world, pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas rallies filled the streets, the protesters’ signs reading “by any means necessary,” “from the river to the sea,” “Zionism is genocide,” and, in a dark sort of comical way, “queers for Palestine.”

What do you tell a person who thinks any means necessary are justified to get what they want? If Israel abided by the same principle, what would the Middle East look like? How do you explain to a radicalized queer person the unspeakable things that would be done to them if they went into the territories they so ardently defend? Why isn’t it enough to show the growing population numbers of both Arab-Israelis and Palestinians as proof that genocide is not occuring in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank? Data from Census.gov shows the population of Gaza went from 645,133 in 1990 to 2.3 million today. Likewise, in the West Bank, the population went from 1,252,834 in 1990 to over 3 million today. How do you explain that “from the river to the sea,” which is a call-to-arms with the goal of erasing Israel and all its Jews, is the very genocidal evil they believe they’re combatting?

“From the river to the sea.” “By any means necessary.” The entire Hamas charter. We Jews grow wearisome of trying to convince the world what these terrorists stand for. No convincing is needed. They are telling the world themselves what it is they stand for, and far too much of the world stands with them.

And now that same part of the world is demanding a “proportionate” response in Gaza. The idea of proportionality in war is, in itself, a largely misunderstood concept (as Michael Brendan Doughtery delineated), but whether or not it’s accurate, the media is nonetheless speaking about proportionality in terms of Israel striking Gaza in a similar manner and at a comparable scale. And I think that it’s important to consider this demand of Israel, even if it stems from an egregiously misinterpreted just war theory, because it’s a horrifying concept. Is it not clear what a “proportionate” response in this sense would entail? The rape, torture, kidnapping, and massacre of over 1,400 innocent Palestinian women, children, and men—that’s what it would entail. Anyone who cares an ounce about humanity should thank whatever god(s) they pray to that Israel shares and maintains the same moral values as the Western world in spite of the unspeakable acts committed against its people and isn’t currently unleashing a “proportionate” response.

But while much of the media unwittingly busies itself with that unconscionable demand of Israel, and everyday people are so afraid of getting “canceled” that all they do is recognize there are good people on both sides (sound familiar?), Israel has bigger issues to deal with: the threat of Iran.

I’d like to make something abundantly clear to my fellow Americans: We have a moral obligation to develop informed, educated opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and indeed the Israel-Hamas war, because our voting power on these issues counts and has worldwide rippling effects. It is irresponsible not to understand the geopolitical situation involving Iran and its proxies in the Middle East as it seeks to destroy Israel for being both the Jewish nation and the Western world’s strongest ally in the region. Consider the implications of Iran’s relationships with Russia and China and their mutual goal of undermining Western powers, and it quickly becomes evident that American lives are directly impacted by what happens in this Israel-Hamas war. This issue is not so far away as we Americans may allow ourselves to believe. It’s knocking at our door, making isolationist aspirations fully unviable. We tried that approach in World War II, which led not only to German submarines stalking our shores but the attack on Pearl Harbor. Germany made their goals clear with “The Thousand-Year Reich.” Hamas’s and Iran’s goals are clear, too: establishing a global Islamist state. We’re lucky to have learned from history; let us not forget it now.

We can monitor the American people’s reaction to the Israel-Hamas war in relation to the Russia-Ukraine war. Over most of the past two years, Russia’s war in Ukraine struck a chord in American hearts. But far too many Americans condemn Russia’s assault while simultaneously bolstering socialist, if not outright communist, ideals. They haven’t the slightest clue that those ideals, which they fight to implement in the United States, are what make Russia’s authoritarian regime possible and thus fuel the war in Ukraine and its proxy war against the West. The same people holding signs that say “stop Russian fascism,” “send NATO to Ukraine,” and “stop bombing Ukraine,” are too often the same people holding signs that say “end all U.S. aid to Israel” and “when people are occupied, resistance is justified.” I have news for my fellow Americans condemning Russia while celebrating Hamas’s attacks and lamenting for Ukraine but blaming the Israelis for what’s been done to them: You cannot have it both ways. Iran has supplied Russia with hundreds of drones in its war against Ukraine. Hamas is Iran’s proxy. The Kremlin welcomed Hamas delegates in May 2022. If you are against Russia, you must be for Israel. If you are against Israel, you are inherently against America and all of the Western world.

The puzzle pieces are all laid out for the American people to see that these larger, threatening powers on the other side of the world are built upon and operate on beliefs that far too many Americans laud—so what is it that they’re missing?

Well, to be clear, they seem to be missing a basic grasp on capitalist and socialist systems and their profound abilities to grant and oppress individual freedoms, plus how that’s inextricably connected to the worldwide travesties we’ve been seeing and continue to witness. As a direct result, they’re also blind to their own hypocrisies and idealistic incongruencies.

But what are people really missing? Simple. Skin in the game.

If the tyrannical powers of this world converge and threaten the lives or even lifestyles of the average privileged Westerner—and most would agree the average Westerner is privileged compared to the rest of the world—then maybe they would see their current actions as folly. The incompatibilities of their ideals. Unfortunately, when people live lives of such extraordinary privilege that we have the time to decide what words trigger us and how we can create safe spaces for stunted adults who can’t bear hurt feelings, we become blind to true evil in the world. We become inexperienced. We become weak. And ultimately, we become dangerous unto ourselves.

If you have skin in the game, the time for these trivial matters is nonexistent. The reality of the potential for good and evil in socio-economic systems becomes clear. Value systems are solidified. And the fact of what’s right and wrong, what must be done and who must join in the fight for ultimate good, becomes undeniable.

Such is the case for Jews.

As a Jew with family and friends stuck in the war zone I fled, I feel like my inside is dying, like I’ve lost sight of who I am and what’s most important to me. But I can’t allow myself to be paralyzed. Because as I said before, this is what it means to be a Jew. We’re subjected to misery and constant grief. We get killed. But we also have a secret weapon (and no, it’s not space lasers).

It’s the Jewish spirit. The Israeli spirit. And it is so alive and powerful in Israel right now. Everyone is ready. Everyone is coming together. Everyone knows that this will pass and we’ll not only survive but come out stronger. Because steel forms in your bones when thousands of years of this hell is coiled into your DNA. And because that is what happens when you only have one choice: to survive. It’s one thing the media cannot convey—that dynamic, vigorous spirit—either in images or videos. It’s something that must be felt. So trust me when I tell you, because I’ve been there, I have lived it, and it lives within me: The Israeli spirit is unbreakable. And Israel is about to show the world, once again, what the Jews are made of.

When the time comes, I will go back to Israel, back, I pray, into the arms of the man I love. We will rebuild and heal and celebrate and pray. And we will continue to stand as the outpost of democracy in the Middle East, bolstering Western values and standing as a stalwart shield for the Western world against those who seek to destroy it, whether people realize and are grateful for it or not. Because when we said, “never again,” we meant it.

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