The unintended ‘victims’ of Hamas’s war on Israel

In the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, thousands of unaffiliated Jews are seeking meaning and inspiration after anti-Semitic attacks.

Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg addresses a gathering of Jewish leaders from around the globe at the Aish World Center in Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy of Aish.
Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg addresses a gathering of Jewish leaders from around the globe at the Aish World Center in Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy of Aish.

While Israelis yearn to be reunited with the more than 130 hostages who are still being held captive by Hamas and heal from the wounds inflicted upon the country during the terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, a different kind of collateral damage has emerged further afield. From Paris to Montreal, and from Sydney to Philadelphia, the latest eruption of violence has emboldened antisemites to target Jews across the globe, often violently.

In the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, tens of thousands of unaffiliated Jews worldwide have reached out to Aish, seeking meaning and inspiration after suffering antisemitic attacks for the first time.

“Many people are contacting us in shock, unable to comprehend the visceral hatred directed their way,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, CEO of Aish. “They come to our website, approach us on social media and ask us all sorts of questions. Many people are simply looking for a connection as they feel a sense of loneliness in the face of hatred, which many are experiencing for the first time in their lives.”

Since the war began nearly five months ago, the staff of the organization has taken on the unceasing challenge of answering each individual who asks, “Why me? Why am I suddenly being targeted when before the war, I didn’t even identify as Jewish?”

“By connecting with each person on an individual basis via our online presence, we aim to provide them with a sense of belonging, community and meaning,” Burg added.

Aish.com has an active live chat on its website, where, for 12 hours a day (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time), anyone can reach out and ask its team of rabbis for advice, encouragement or questions relating to religious practices and observance.

“We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in inquiries and interest from people who never before connected to their Jewish roots, via the website and social media,” the rabbi said. “One person wrote an article on Aish.com about how the rise of antisemitism, which was intended to sow hatred, had the unintended effect of awakening Jewish identity across the globe. What we are seeing is kind of a renaissance in Jewish interest and Jewish identity.”

Providing Inspiration, Belonging, and Support Online

The online outreach by the organization emphasizes Jewish ethics, philosophy, and identity. “We introduce the depth, beauty, and relevance of Judaism as a moral compass and a source of inspiration,” Burg explained.

Aish’s website as well as its social-media platforms have provided solace and strength to Franca S., an unaffiliated Jew from Rome who wrote in a letter to Aish, “I was like a ghost before Oct. 7! Now I know better than ever that I want to pray, to remember better my identity and to be proud of it. The Jewish people now are only like one family.”

Another woman named Kim told Aish, “Since the war, I also have returned to my synagogue, and I feel an unusual sense of strength and am now an outspoken advocate of my faith instead of hiding in the shadows. I feel the strong presence of G-d around me now than ever before. Thank you.”

More than 200 people responded to a post by the organization on social media asking whether people are “doing more Jewish things lately.” Among the responses was one from an individual who was afraid to show any Hebrew or Jewish items in public. Twenty other users responded to that poster and created a virtual support group for the individual.

Healing Through Education

Beyond fostering Jewish identity and practice, Aish prioritizes explaining the humanity, ethics and restraint of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Many unaffiliated Jews have been hit by antisemitism for the first time, and some have even taken to protesting Israel and the actions of the IDF in Gaza calling the actions of the Israeli army acts of genocide,” added Burg. “This is a problem that we are dealing with after hearing from numerous people about their Jewish relatives taking part in marches against Israel.

“Our team has spoken to hundreds of young people who have reached out or been referred to us, and have personally answered their questions, providing them with clarity on what exactly is taking place in Israel,” the rabbi continued. “We often explain how the IDF is taking remarkable care to avoid civilian casualties while confronting terrorists who use their people as human shields. We’ve dispelled a lot of rumors and gossip as well as false claims made on social media. Education and understanding of the realities on the ground serve to heal the open wounds that eruptions of violence inevitably cause worldwide.”

Burg went on to say that “we must empower each Jew with pride, knowledge and inspiration to educate them about what is taking place in Israel, why antisemitism exists and to let them know that they are not alone in this fight.”

Hamas may wish for Israel’s destruction, but their attacks have awakened and united Jews across the globe. As Burg declared: “The Jewish people have faced such hatred for millennia and emerged stronger each time, this moment will be no exception.”

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With a singular focus of imparting timeless Jewish wisdom, Aish uplifts and inspires people to live more thoughtful, spiritual, and impactful lives. Aish connects with people from all backgrounds through digital content, in-person discovery and exploration at the Dan Family Aish World Center in Jerusalem, and enlightening experiences in over 100 cities in 11 countries on 6 continents around the globe.
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