I had a disturbing conversation with my daughter. On the surface, it was about the untenable situation between Israel and Hamas. My daughter was calling for a humanitarian cease-fire. I said Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction, had to be eliminated.

The discussion became more personal. Shira is alarmed at the rise in antisemitism around the world and especially in the United States since Hamas invaded the settlements in southern Israel on October 7th, brutally slaughtering 1200 men, women and children as well as taking 240 hostages. The strong Israeli response has generated hatred of Jews around the world.

My daughter said, “My name, Shira, is Hebrew, I can’t escape notice on campus. I am proud of being Jewish but also embarrassed about all the death and destruction in Gaza.” Shira equates Judaism with justice–a value that makes Israel a light among the nations. When Israel is perceived as unjust by Jewish youth, their affinity for Israel wanes. It is a prevalent dilemma. I never thought my daughter would be in danger from having a Hebrew name in the United States in the 21st century. Shira said that she is having trouble focusing on her schoolwork. The weight of the situation is overwhelming for her.

A recent Hillel International poll surveyed 300 Jewish college students and found that the Israel-Hamas war is influencing students in several ways. More than four out of five (84%) said that the situation is affecting them, more than two-thirds (68%) said they were sad, and most (54%) said they were scared. One in 3 Jewish students (35%) said there have been acts of hate or violence against Jews on campus. A majority of those surveyed said they are unsatisfied with their university’s response to those incidents.

My children call me an “Israeli wannabe”. I embarrass them. I gave them Israeli names, Amiel and Shira. I played Israeli rock & hip-hop music, loudly, while driving them to school. And what’s worse, I sang along. In my youth, I combed the Queens libraries for books about the birth of Israel. I was captivated with “Exodus” by Leon Uris and “The Source” by James Michener. I found books by Yael Dayan, Yehuda Amichai and Benjamin Tammuz – any author with a Hebrew name. I thought being Israeli was the coolest thing. For me, it gave life meaning beyond my limited personal experience – it connected me to the history of the Jewish people.

I had some Israelis in my elementary and middle school classes – Leah, Varda, Michal and Yaron. As a teenager, I couldn’t imagine why they had come to the United States. I had no idea about the pressures and struggles of life in the “Holy Land”.

 A close friend of mine dated an Israeli at Queens College. He introduced me to the music of Shalom Hanoch, Arik Einstein, Matti Caspi and David Broza. I was hooked. This was rock and roll with soul. It had a message. I even fell for Israeli hip hop by HaDag Nachash (The Fish Snake). I dated Israelis, attempted to learn Hebrew, and flew to Israel on my first vacation from work. I visited Israel nine times, mostly staying with Israeli friends or friends who married Israelis.

I studied both conversational and Biblical Hebrew over the course of forty years. Now, I can have limited conversations. I never lived in Israel. Although I love Israel, I didn’t feel completely comfortable there. With blonde hair and blue eyes, I didn’t fit the Middle Eastern mold. More than that, I am an American Jew, shy and polite. Traits unlikely to help me survive in the tough sabra culture where army service is the great equalizer.

As an adult I taught Hebrew school – I learned the prayers, basic Hebrew grammar, history of Israel and Jewish holidays only a step ahead of my students. I didn’t attend Hebrew school. I was probably the only kid who wanted to go to religious school. My parents told me that if I had been a boy, I would have to go, but as a girl they could save the money. I remember a sixth-grade assignment comparing Greek mythology to Bible stories. I had never read the Bible. I felt crushed. I promised myself that I would study the Hebrew Bible – in English and Hebrew.

When I turned 48, I became a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Since I learned conversational Hebrew in Ulpan, there were huge holes in my grammar. Most students at JTS went to Day School and could read, write and converse in Hebrew. In a class to teach prayer, I found that not only was I unfamiliar with the prayers, but I had to teach them to myself before I could begin teaching prayer creatively. I was at a distinct disadvantage. I didn’t give up. I wrote my thesis on how to teach Israel to diaspora students through the arts – novels for young adults, Israeli rock and roll, hip hop and visual arts. At JTS I learned how to read critically and ask open-ended questions to facilitate discussion.

After many years of study, I finally learned how to participate in a Shabbat service. I can read Torah and understand what I am reading. I can have basic conversations in Hebrew. I still search for the latest Hebrew novels in translation.

I am of the Diaspora. Although I didn’t find my place in Israel, I’m still in love with her and committed to making Israel a land of tolerance and equality for all its people. I no longer see Israel as a land of “heroes and miracles”, but rather one of contradictions whose decisions and actions are sometimes at odds with the values on which it was founded.

It’s time to learn how to live together, not destroy one another. It’s time to talk – to hear each other’s grievances and move on from a place of understanding. But first the killing must stop – on both sides. The hostages must be released. We need to talk with true representatives of the Palestinian people. This is the only way the cycle of hatred and violence will end.  My daughter Shira says she will talk to someone at the university.

My prayer is for Israel to find a way to be both a Jewish and democratic state.

Article by Author/s
Barbara Saunders-Adams
Barbara is an Israel educator with a Masters degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She has taught in several religious schools in Westchester County and currently writes and edits The PJC HaKol magazine for the Pelham Jewish Center in Pelham, New York. She lives in New Paltz, New York.


  1. Barbara Saunders-Adams Reply

    Shalom Tzivia,
    I agree that Hamas and the other satellites of Iran don’t want a peaceful solution, they want all the territory from the river to the sea. However, I disagree that this thinking is pervasive among
    all Palestinians. I think that many just want to live their lives. However, we need leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian side who are willing to make the tough decisions to allow Israelis and
    Palestinians to live side by side.


  2. Tzivia Wolf Reply

    Hi Barbara,
    I very much relate to what you wrote but take exception with one part: when you say that the killing has to end on both sides?????? Israel never wanted to kill. Israel’s killing was in retaliation to being attacked, There was no choice for Israel but to defend itself. And, now, the truth is in front of all Jews to see that the Arabs will never accept our existence. They don’t want a two state solution. They don’t want Jews to exist in this world and Hashem will never let that happen. There is a place for peaceful Palestine in this world but there are unfortunately a large number of Arabs who do not want peace and many of those living in Gaza were aligned with Hamas. I refer you to listen on PODCAST to The Israel Guys and The Weekly Squeeze,
    Thank You,
    Tzivia Wolf

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