It’s 2:00 am. Lior is struggling to find a comfortable position for her legs. The sheets are sweaty. Something is nagging at her, but she doesn’t know what it is. The darkness feels eerie, inky black. She shudders in fear.

Lior jolts awake murmuring to herself, “Lies, lies”. Out of her fog she remembers that she broke her promise to herself. She watched the news before going to bed. A big mistake. The segment highlighted the story of antisemitism spreading like wildfire across American college campuses.

That morning, on her way to class, Lior passed a group of kaffiyeh-clad students putting up tents in the leafy-green courtyard of Columbia University. Instinctively, she tucked her Star of David under her shirt. The protesters were hanging black, white and green striped Palestinian flags overlaid by red triangles on the walls of the unsightly tent encampment. They were chanting “From the River to the Sea” “Stop the Genocide in Gaza” and “Death to the Jews”. Strangely, Lior noted that the keffiyehs had fringes on the ends like a Jewish prayer shawl. The group emitted anger like fireflies emit flashes of light. Lior shuddered. This could be dangerous.

Lior is troubled by the incessant chants of, “From the River to the Sea”. Thinking about it, she realizes this means eliminating Israel from the world map. Israel is situated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “How many protesters know what this means?” Lior asks herself.

Lior, blonde pony-tail swinging, walked past the protest wearing a jean jacket, tight jeans and a backpack A dark-complexioned, scruffy young man with curly black ringlets called out to her. She felt uncomfortable, but he did look cute.

 “Hey, you with the sexy legs. Join us to stop the Gaza genocide. From the River to the Sea.”

“I . . . um . . . I don’t agree. “Israel is fighting for the right to exist in the Middle East. It’s not genocide, it’s self-defense.” I can’t believe I’m saying this, she thinks to herself.

“Bullshit”, he yells menacingly. Don’t you follow social media? Don’t you see all the death and destruction in Gaza? Women, children and the elderly are starving, dying or being chased from their homes by rockets, tanks and indiscriminate artillery. Israel is the aggressor.”

Lior replies angrily, “What about all the young people slaughtered at the Nova music festival on October 7th. For what? Dancing on the beach? And the families in the kibbutzim on the Gaza border, slaughtered while sleeping in their own homes. Children beheaded while their family watched in horror. Young women raped in the street. This is inhuman behavior, not a protest to free the Palestinian people.  Your slogan, “From the River to the Sea”.  Which River? What Sea? Do you know what you’re talking about?”

“What I know is that the people of Gaza are being killed mercilessly – while their infrastructure for survival – schools, hospitals, food distribution are being destroyed. Children are starving while food aid is blocked by Israeli troops.

The chanting increases in volume as more protesters chime in, “Stop the genocide, from the river to the sea. Israel is a white supremacist state! Death to the Jews”. Lior covers her ears with her hands. Her face turns red. Hot tears are about to spring from her eyes. She feels violated.

Tearfully, she retorts, “I don’t believe that’s the fault of the Jewish people; it’s the fault of the current unpopular right-wing Netanyahu government, not world Jewry”.

“They are one and the same”, the protesters shout.

“Lies, lies” she screams. My mom gave me a Hebrew name. Am I now an open target for blind hatred? I had nothing to do with the occupation of Palestinians. As a Jew, the idea of enslaving another people is anathema. The occupation goes against my Jewish values. I believe in treating others the way you want to be treated. If there is one take away from the Passover seder, it is “treat others – the hungry, the displaced, the impoverished, the widows – with compassion – for we were once slaves in Egypt”.

Lior feels powerless as she runs from the scene. She wonders how supposedly intelligent people can be so obtuse; so wrong-headed. She needs to share this experience with somebody, but who would understand? The Gaza War is such a divisive subject. Most people can’t see the grey areas. There is truth on both sides, but little common ground.

Safe in her dorm room, Lior raids the fridge for ice cream and chocolate. She is shaking. Too anxious to start her assignments, she turns on the news. Lior muses, “What does it mean to be Jewish? Why do we elicit such hatred? Why are our values so misunderstood? How can I reconcile what I believe with how others see me? If only I could find a way to communicate that each of us, no matter what race or religion has something unique to offer the world. I need to find like-minded people to share my fears and concerns. I must work to let others know that what is taking place in Israel today contradicts Jewish values.

There must be an advisor or professor I can share this experience with. Maybe I should join Hillel or Chabad on campus, she says to herself. I need a community of Jewish friends.

With that thought in mind, Lior falls asleep.

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.

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