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Time to stand up

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Our “call-up papers” didn’t arrive by mail. They didn’t reach us in a phone call, or by way of a community announcement. Nor did we receive them at the same time. Some of us were notified early, and for others, it has taken a little longer. But by April 2024, every connected Jew knew that they were responsible. Our grandparents, great-grandparents, children, and grandchildren have reached out to us. With a clear and urgent message.

Letting us know that we’re all on shift.

I’ve changed my mind. On 8 and 9 October, I was asked by a few people if they should stand up publicly for Israel. The answer I gave was a qualified one. I said that “this week”, when sympathy is with Israel and with Jews, to stand up is relatively easy. But “next week”, when Israel retaliates, it will be a lot less simple. I suggested that if their livelihood would be impacted, they should support in other, less public, ways. I thought that this situation, like others, would pass in a matter of weeks, and that they needed to consider the impact it would have on them and their families.

I might have been right then. But I’m dead wrong today.

We couldn’t have anticipated it, we might not want to acknowledge it, but the reality is that Jews in 2024 know in their souls that we’re on the frontline. Our generation has been “called up” to defend our people and others who might not yet realise they’re next. Camouflage might have worked in the past, but won’t serve us now.

If 7 October illuminated anything, it’s that the world was already a tinder box of antisemitic hatred in need of a spark. And that if an invasion of Israel by 3 000 Hamas terrorists who filmed and celebrated their brutality wasn’t enough to illustrate who wants who dead, then sadly nothing ever will. No amount of reasoning will bridge the gap of cognitive dissonance when the rationale is the loathing of our people.

And nothing will protect us from that.

It’s far from simple. Jewish chief executives are responsible to their staff, their shareholders, and their customers. Public personalities have painstakingly built brands that might not have a Jewish or Israel element, and academics and sportsman might have little interest in Middle Eastern politics or even their own religion. But just as the residents of the Gaza Envelope didn’t choose to become victims of the Hamas attack, so there’s no longer an option but to stand up and speak up.

Because it’s no longer a choice.

One of my favourite biblical stories takes place at the edge of the Red Sea. The Children of Israel have left Egypt, only to hear that the army is pursuing them. In front of them is the sea, behind them, closing fast, are those who will slaughter them. The traumatised nation is horrified. Moses instructs them to walk forward into the water. But they’re afraid. Until one guy, Nachshon ben Aminadav, takes the brave steps forward. And only then when he’s in up to his neck does the sea finally split.

Nachshon had faith. Not just in G-d, but in himself. It took courage and belief to understand that he had been called up. And the certainty of knowing that he could make a difference. Now was his turn.

I felt confident about the advice that I gave on 8 and 9 October as it was based on what I considered to be a rational response to a complex situation. Only it never was complex. And it certainly isn’t rational. It’s simple hatred for Jews based on one of the oldest prejudices in the world, which means now it’s our shift. Because each of us, like the Nachshons before us, can split the sea.

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