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The five forms of Jewish resistance

Run, hide, advocate, pray or prioritize the celebration of Jewish rituals and human dignity.

An estimated 15,000 gather in London’s Trafalgar Square in solidarity with and to demand the release of hostages held prisoner in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 22, 2023. Source: YouTube/Board of Deputies of British Jews.
An estimated 15,000 gather in London’s Trafalgar Square in solidarity with and to demand the release of hostages held prisoner in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 22, 2023. Source: YouTube/Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Emma Sklar
Emma Sklar is a pre-law student at the University of Michigan and a Geller International Fellow at the Israel on Campus Coalition.

After the war in Israel began on Oct. 7, we, the Jewish people, were all reminded of how quickly the world can turn its back on us.

Right now, we live in a world in which many of us tuck our Magen David necklaces under our shirts. We live in a world in which Jewish students are afraid to defend their identities in their respective classrooms. We live in a world we thought had progressed, but now, the antisemitic monsters of yesterday have crawled out from under our beds. While some of the Jewish community’s older members may recall the horrors of the Holocaust, we, the Jewish youth, are more or less petrified.

But please, allow me to stand before you, one 20-year-old to others: I promise you that, as we have time and time again, we will overcome this plague of Jew-hatred. We will learn from our elders. We will assimilate their lessons. We will study their historical resistance. And we will do just the same as they once did.

When facing a world tainted by antisemitism and bloodshed on the basis of identity, Jewish people have a singular choice to make: to succumb or to resist. While that choice may seem simple, it is actually very nuanced, and oftentimes the consequences of the latter are perilous.

Putting our differences and beliefs aside, I know there is one thing we can all agree on: Jewish resistance is astounding. Without fail, we have united with incomprehensible force time and time again. We impress the world around us. We take care of our Israeli brothers and sisters like they are our own. It is crucial for us, the Jewish generation of today, to educate and inform ourselves on the various forms of resistance we can carry out.

Each form of Jewish resistance will manifest its unknown destiny. The five most common are to run, hide, advocate, pray and prioritize the celebration of Jewish rituals and human dignity.

A pragmatic and life-saving form of resistance for Jewish people has always been, in the absolute worst of cases, to run and hide. The two are not mutually exclusive and, oftentimes, they occur in an orderly fashion.

If you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation due to your Jewish identity, leave. If you do not have the privilege of just leaving, then tap into your gut. You know that little voice tucked away in your abdomen that has saved your life a couple of times? Listen to it. My mom always taught me to listen to that voice—because it is Hashem. Hashem is communicating and steering us in the right direction.

So, if you’re in a crisis or grave danger, do not panic. Remain calm, save your tears and tap into that little voice. If it tells you to run for your life, run. If it tells you to hide for your life, find the best hiding place you can. Listen to Hashem and most importantly yourself. You are his child and his most divine creation.

However, thanks to the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates and so many other allies of Israel, it is highly unlikely that we will ever personally experience an extreme act of antisemitism that warrants this form of resistance. Baruch Hashem.

Social and political activism is one of the most common forms of Jewish resistance today. Thanks to the widespread availability and use of technology and social media, the Jewish people have incredible means to keep in close contact with both their friends and enemies. In turn, social media has become a vehicle for the perpetuation of both tolerant and antisemitic ideals.

For many Jewish people, especially our youth, activism has turned into a new form of spiritual resistance and spiritual retaliation against the antisemitism surrounding us. While our activism may be limited by our oppressors’ intimidation strategies, we must always remember that resistance and its importance lie in the assertion of human dignity in the face of oppression.

As past generations have shown us, one of the most crucial forms of resistance is prayer. True power lies in our prayer. When we pray, when we ask Hashem for things, it is in that moment that we are most connected and closest to God. If we internally practice prayer and daven especially during times of war, like we face today, we will pave the way for a peaceful future.

Prayer doesn’t require a prayer book. Simply open up your heart and cry out to Hashem. Express gratitude to Him for the everyday joys in your life. The act of prayer has forever been a poignant and deeply personal response to moments of terror or uncertainty. Prayer provides us with the faith, confidence and solace necessary to face the horrors of systematic ostracization and persecution.

Especially for our ancestors, prayer was the last resort, a form of resistance embodied by millions of helpless Holocaust victims. Many Holocaust survivors attribute their survival to the power of prayer and holding on to faith in the light even amid profound darkness. Prayer is the most powerful form of spiritual resistance we can use against the evils of our world.

The last form of resistance is the one I hope you carry closest to your hearts and minds. Both historically and just this week, we have faced great loss, unspeakable suffering and unprecedented devastation. Despite this abundance of tragedy, it may be surprising to hear that I hope you all begin to practice self-care and prioritize human dignity. Do not feel guilty for doing so. The prioritization of pleasure has always been a central Jewish form of resistance, even to the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.

Given the fact that our ancestors were primarily focused on survival, this led to an existentialist mindset that encouraged many Jews to indulge in pleasurable distractions that would help them endure until the next day. Whether it was participation in prayer or celebrating Passover in the sewers of the Terezin ghetto, Jewish people sought out pleasure even in the midst of horror.

There is great value in our ability to persevere and compartmentalize the tragedies of our oppression. Our ancestors have taught us the value of finding light in absolute darkness, and we must pass that torch on to future generations. Our long-standing commitment to celebrating life—l’chaim!—has been and always will be a testament to the strong will of the Jewish people.

From seeking refuge in the subterranean depths of city sewers to finding solace in prayer, each response undertaken by the Jewish people represented a uniquely agonizing journey towards an uncertain fate.

The five forms of Jewish resistance I have identified are a testimony to the resilience and resourcefulness of a community that has perpetually faced unimaginable horrors.

Now, take the tragedies waged against our community and grieve. But you must also remember that your existence is a miracle, just like every Jewish life on this planet. Our ancestors successfully navigated treacherous landscapes of survival and they have left an indelible mark on the legacy of human endurance, which we can learn from and honor in action.

Am Yisrael Chai.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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