As Jewish parents, I think it’s fair to say a lot of us are torn right now. Aside from our political responses to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, which I know differ and divide us, we’re also torn in our daily lives. After the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the reverberations of the conflict and rising antisemitism (and islamophobia) around the world, we’ve been wondering about the right response:
Is this a time to share our Jewish pride? Or to hide our Jewish identity out of self preservation?
As a Jewish parent, I too have been struggling with this question. I feel more worried about speaking Hebrew in public than ever and stressed out watching the heightened security in the Jewish spaces my family inhabits. But I also feel the need to celebrate Jewish joy — more than ever.
This October, we polled the Kveller audience about their pride and fear around being Jewish after October 7. We got responses from all over the country and the world, and even a couple of answers from Israel. And while I’m sure these responses are not cleanly representative of the Jewish population at large, I do find them illuminating.
Out of 85 responses, over 50% (43) said they were scared about displaying their and their kids’ Jewishness in public. Only 21 of the parents said they weren’t scared, while the rest said they were sometimes fearful.
A lot of parents wrote about telling their kids to hide their Jewishness (tuck in their Stars of David, don’t tell strangers that they’re Jewish or go to Jewish day schools, wear baseball caps over kippahs). A few parents talked about campaigning for extra security. One parent from LA said that she removed the mezuzah from her door for Halloween, and even changed her name on Uber. Another parent of a college student from Miami said they told their child to move her mezuzah to inside their door.
“I told my college student to be more aware of his surroundings and not outwardly display his Star of David necklace in certain areas around campus,” Lisa Cohen Lottermann, a Jewish mom of two grown kids from New Jersey wrote. “Helping my college student process everything and hoping they stay safe on campus is exhausting. It’s a very different type of ‘parenting’ from a distance.”
“The other day my daughter wanted her Star of David because her school was doing a ‘Free Palestine Vigil,'” Minda, a mother of a 13 and 16 year old from Seattle told us. “She took a four-leaf clover necklace I got at the DC Holocaust Museum instead. She didn’t want confrontation, so this was our compromise. A student yelled “Heil Hitler” at the “educational vigil.” (There were no consequences.) She was glad she minimized attention on herself.”
Still, many parents wrote about how much they wanted to share their Jewish pride. Some are putting up signs of solidarity with Israel; some continue to wear Judaica with pride — some are even taking Jewish necklaces out of storage. Many parents wrote about putting up Hanukkah decorations this year. “I know it may be vandalized, and it’s important for other people to see that, should it happen,” one parent of four young kids from California wrote. Samara Perez, who has two young kids and lives in Montreal, even put up a mezuzah at work at a local hospital after the attack.
“[I] wore my “I Stand with Israel” shirt walking to pick the big kids up from school; many people noticed but no one spoke to me about it,” Rachel, a mom of three from Southern California told us.
One parent from Boston wrote that they’re sharing their Jewish pride by continuing “to fight for peace and humanity by standing together against continued pain and trauma in the region. We stand with our Jewish community in begging for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and a return of all hostages.
“I’ve decided to explain how my expression of faith might be unique to me; and it includes compassion and respect for Palestinian families struggling to find safety, as well as Israeli families who have been targeted and murdered in their home and communities,” Leah C. Lavalla, a mother of three from Rhode Island. “I feel it is the highest expression of faith to hold space for mercy and love amidst the complete enragement I feel at the events of October 7th, 2023.”
A lot of parents wrote about finding comfort in Shabbat, even when they didn’t before. “[I’m] celebrating Shabbat for the 3rd week in a row when we very rarely ever did before,” wrote one parent of a baby and a toddler from New York.
“[It’s a] constant struggle on wanting to be more outwardly proud but also being aware of where we are,” a Jewish mother from San Diego, California, wrote.