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The feelings of this moment
The last ten days have been brutal for humanity. I do believe we’re being tested as a species and, more or less, failing.
The last time I felt such profound sorrow and fear was in 2015 during and in the weeks following the November 13 attacks in Paris. There’s a before version of me and an after. It unfolded in my neighborhood, after all, and targeted the very lifestyle Parisians lead. It took time but the fear dissipated and its place is some sort of scab that still tugs on occasion but no longer interferes with my daily life.
But since Oct 7, many of those feelings returned. I have felt simultaneously unglued, emotionally, and glued, physically, to the news. Glued to social media, the internet’s soapbox, where analysis runs on repeat and too many uninformed opinions on an unspeakably vicious atrocity against Jews— as well as the innocent Palestinian lives that are perishing now as a result— flood our feeds. There is little nuance. In the race to react or show signs of support to Israel and Palestine, Jewish people everywhere and the Palestinian cause, there is little capacity among most to parse fact from fiction. As one of my friend’s reporting on the crisis texted me midweek, people are literally losing their minds. This conflict makes people lose their moral compass. Being glued to this hasn’t helped my stress and anxiety, obviously, but I worry about looking away.
In this moment of observing the anguish and despair, barely on the periphery of tragedy, I find myself questioning what I thought I knew about homelands, conflict, religious affiliation, bias, and what it means to be an ally for others. I’m in text chains and DM groups with friends who have lost loved ones or are anxiously waiting to hear about the missing. I’m reading a lot of do people even care? sentiments. I’m engaging in very uncomfortable debates with fellow Jewish friends that may mark the end to our friendships. I’m hearing from others that it doesn’t impact their lives which is perhaps the greatest ignorance of all because not only are our French, American and British governments (to name only three) involved diplomatically and economically, hate crimes motivated by this moment “over there” are already occurring on our turf. That was, sadly, an inevitability that terror groups take sadistic pleasure in inspiring.
I know many of you subscribe to this newsletter and follow me online strictly for Paris-focused stories, recommendations, and news. But this has a direct impact on the city, its population, as well as countless other cities around the world and I couldn’t go on writing as if these events haven’t been painful. France is home to both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe. Police presence has increased in front of synagogues and Jewish schools across Greater Paris. And like clockwork, the Macron administration has banned pro-Palestine solidarity gatherings across the country as a way of preempting antisemitism. Not only is this not great for free speech, which France so fervently claims to defend, but it also smacks of weaponizing antisemitism to fight against extremists which the government has done before.
I’d like to leave you with a brief passage from a beautiful piece I read a few days ago that resonated deeply:
On the left, I hope we do not mistake the inevitability of the violence for an inescapable limit on our work or the quality of our thought. Even if our dreams for better have failed, they must accompany us through this moment to the other side. We need to imagine a movement for liberation better even than the Exodus—an exodus where neither people has to leave. Where people stay to pick up the pieces, rearranging themselves not just as Jews or Palestinians but as antifascists and workers and artists. I want what Puerto Rican Jewish poet and activist Aurora Levins Morales describes in her poem “Red Sea”:
We cannot cross until we carry each other,
all of us refugees, all of us prophets.
No more taking turns on history’s wheel,
trying to collect old debts no-one can pay.
The sea will not open that way.
This time that country
is what we promise each other,
our rage pressed cheek to cheek
until tears flood the space between,
until there are no enemies left,
because this time no one will be left to drown
and all of us must be chosen.
This time it’s all of us or none.
Times are unimaginably grim. There is plenty in this moment to challenge what we assumed we understood about this conflict, about establishing peace, and about coexisting. May we find a way.