Since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, I have experienced a dual agony: On the one hand, shock at Hamas’s hideous atrocities. On the other, the dreadful sensation of living in a new reality, afraid of what Israel must face and of the wave of antisemitism that has engulfed the world.
As the leader of the young adults’ movement of Italian Reform Judaism, I have been working nonstop with Jewish colleagues and friends in Israel, Italy and throughout Europe to aid the Jewish state. Our conversations have been marked by acute anxiety. We are afraid to leave our homes or to openly display our Judaism. We have realized that even longtime non-Jewish friends can turn a blind eye or, worse, embrace the vilest antisemitism.
There can be a terrible subtlety to European antisemitism. For example, descendants of those who committed and collaborated in the Holocaust now presume to lecture us on antisemitism, even in the face of a massacre that evokes terrible memories of the Holocaust itself.
I have also seen hordes of journalists pose as experts in geopolitics and the Middle East, babbling about Israel’s wrongdoings as the bodies of the massacred were still warm.
I have heard people justify the attack and others advise Israel not to take “revenge.” None of them, so far as I know, have advised Ukraine, the Kurds, the Uyghurs or any other oppressed people in this fashion. Do these people believe that any Jewish response to those who want us dead is nothing but revenge? Do they believe that we are that perfidious and cruel?
Unfortunately, the reactions to the massacre reflect Europe’s semi-deranged political scene. There is one faction that condemned the Hamas massacre with ritual phrases and crocodile tears only to immediately demand Israeli “restraint.” One wonders what they would say if genocidal terrorists were lurking on their borders.
The reactionary right, which chooses—like most Europeans—to ignore its past, isn’t much better. At best, it sees the defense of European Jews as a political tool rather than a moral end.
For its part, the progressive left—which constantly reproaches the right for its historical role in the Holocaust—has gone all in on Hamas. It now sounds the genocidal chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” alongside radical Islamists who shout in Arabic for the extermination of Jews.
Even I, like other young Jewish progressives, have had numerous friends clearly align themselves with leftist positions that now deem me a “Zionist monster,” a “colonizer” or a “new Nazi.”
Such leftists claim to support self-determination, indigenous rights and the empowerment of minorities, but tosses all those values aside when it comes to the Jews. I would like to ask them: Were your lamentations over the Holocaust genuine or sheer political opportunism, due to the fact that it was committed by your Nazi enemies? Is your obsession with the Palestinian cause at whatever cost to your moral integrity based on your desire for peace or on your distaste for Jews?
While many European leaders have supported Israel’s right to defend itself, I am forced to wonder: Do their people agree? It seems clear that many don’t.
I am disheartened by what I have witnessed in recent weeks. It seems to prove that the idea of a European Jewry reborn from the darkness of the death camps was actually a ghost—a very vivid ghost, but always and only a ghost. It feels as if there was no new spark of Jewish life on the continent. It was flickering embers amid the ashes of the six million. I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
A few days ago, I realized that European Jews are reasonably safe only in our homes and synagogues. An acquaintance told me, “It would be better to still be in the ghettos, because at least beyond homes and synagogues we would also have some streets.”
Indeed, if you look at our synagogues and other Jewish institutions, you will see armed guards, locked doors, gates and security checks. The stark reality of our isolation is painfully apparent. This is the new ghetto. We have been forced into it not by antisemitic authorities but by an antisemitic society. A morally apathetic society that is prepared to accept the new ghetto as normal.
It seems that, to a large number of Europeans, the essence of Jewish life is suffering. It is as if we must atone for an atavistic guilt; as if we are not simply good or bad people, intelligent or stupid, happy or sad; people who have dreams, ambitions, hopes and emotions.
Perhaps that’s how I should have responded to a young person in my organization a few days ago when he asked me, “Why don’t they see us as human beings?” But I couldn’t answer. It was beyond me. Worse still, he wasn’t referring to those who support Hamas, but to all the people around us who claim to act in the name of humanity but can’t see the humanity of Jews.
We are faced with an undeniable truth: European Jews are standing on a precipice. There is something rotten and sick on this continent, an ancient evil that cannot be erased. This may well be the dusk of the new European Judaism. It is possible that nothing will be set against antisemitism but the self-satisfaction of European leaders claiming to “defend the Jews” or an epitaph on the tombstone of a dying Diaspora.
The most frightening thing is that I have always known that there was antisemitism in our midst. It is part and parcel of European culture. Despite our attempts to assimilate, the “us and them” dichotomy persists. We remain an abstract idea to be sacrificed on the altar of amorphous ideologies or diplomatic appeasement. We are marginalized as individuals and isolated in the community of nations in the form of Israel.
A dear friend of mine, whose family fled Nazi barbarism in Germany for the U.S., told me the other day that she now understands what her family lived through. It does feel like that. I now understand that history. The tales of ancestral suffering, once distant echoes of a bygone era, now resonate.
To a Europe that demanded our forgiveness for the Holocaust but never forgave us for surviving it, I say this much: Remember that what Hamas did to us, you also did to us. You did it during the Crusades, the Inquisition, in the darkness and filth of the ghettos, in the forests of Eastern Europe and the camps of Treblinka, Auschwitz and Sobibor. You did it by allowing antisemitism to permeate European culture to the extent that it became a fundamental expression of that culture.
But this time, we have the State of Israel, and I won’t apologize for the fact that my people live. Even if I wanted to, you have isolated us so much that there is no one left to apologize to.
I tell you this: We are not victims. We are survivors. European society may once again bow before the devil, but Israel, the homeland we’ve built and fought for, stands tall. We will follow its example. We won’t be silenced or subdued. We are Jews. Our resilience shines brighter than any darkness cast upon us. This, in the end, has been, is and always will be our greatest strength and your greatest weakness.