A woman holds a a broken, crying heart during a rally demanding Hamas release hostages at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
A woman holds a a broken, crying heart during a rally demanding Hamas release hostages at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

To be a Jew right now means to feel deeply connected — and deeply alone

To be a member of the Jewish people in 2023 is to live in multiple realities. 

We are fully of the world. We’re out and about like everyone else, running errands, getting into the swing of the school year, weighing in with unsolicited opinions on Taylor Swift’s love life. 

At the same time, we are living in an alternative reality. No matter where we are — at the supermarket, at drop-off and pick-up, at work — we are only half present. The other half, for so many of us, is consumed by the collective story of Am Yisrael and the existential pain, fear and anger as we bear witness to the atrocities that have unfolded.

We have been in a collective fog since the Oct. 7 massacre of over 1,400 people in Israel, the days of war that have followed and the uncertainty over the fate of the estimated 220 hostages whose names and stories have filled the echo chambers of our social media feeds.

Life continues. There are tasks to complete, joys to experience — and tears to shed.

To be a member of the Jewish people at this moment is to be deeply connected — and deeply alone. Many Jews have felt the silence of our wider communities over the last few weeks. Friends, colleagues, businesses, celebrities — people and voices we expected to show up and to check in or at least we hoped would do so — have been silent. 

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To be part of the Jewish people has, in those cases, been lonely and othering. Yet there have also been connections forged and strengthened by allies who have shown up and stood alongside Am Yisrael at this moment of pain and vulnerability. There have been relationships deepened within the Jewish community and an awakening of Jewish consciousnesses for so many. There is a craving to connect and to contribute.

In the world of Jewish education, there are certain things that we had previously assumed to be in the realm of Jewish history: pogroms, massacres, discarded remnants of whole lives snuffed out due to hatred of Jews. A 2023 Jewish audience was not meant to find this trauma relatable.

We’re not meant to see ourselves and our circumstances in these words, images and narratives. But that is our new reality. We have seen in real time, beamed into our phones, the images and heard the cries. We have wept, as have loved ones and strangers. We have heard countless stories of loss, heroism and pain that are far too close to our literal and spiritual homes.

To be a Jew in 2023 is to be uncertain of what today holds or what tomorrow may bring. But for those of us who have answered the sacred call of Jewish education, we are also wholly committed to ensuring this: While Oct. 7 will be a date that marks a before and after for the Jewish people, it will not define everything about our Jewish journeys. 

The world is different now, and yet so many of our existential questions are the same. How do we make meaning of the world? What does Jewish joy look like against a backdrop of hate? What added value does a life infused by Jewish values and experiences bring, and how can we foster that in our learners? And yes, what do we do in a world that has shown us hatred and inhumanity?

The Jewish way is often to answer questions with more questions and with multiple opinions. As an educator, I am committed to creating a space for the questions and for the plurality of experiences. I am also committed to seeking answers and to partnering with Am Yisrael on the journey to reaching them.

This piece is presented in partnership with the Z3 Conference on Nov. 5 in Palo Alto. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of J.

Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath

Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, Ed.D., is senior director of knowledge, ideas and learning at The Jewish Education Project.