A Collection for Conversation

An anthology of essays from the Clayton community on the Middle East conflict
A collection of objects chosen by the essayists which represent an aspect of their identity or the content of their essay
A collection of objects chosen by the essayists which represent an aspect of their identity or the content of their essay
JiaLi Deck
Intro

Most cover stories begin with history. Some background. Maybe it gives a definition of a key phrase or humanizes the issue with a quote. But this cover story isn’t like most.

These are not articles. There were no formal interviews. An impartial, matter-of-fact tone was not used. There is bias.

This cover story includes seven essays written by students in their junior and senior years and one by Social Studies teacher Daniel Glossenger. Writers were instructed to share their thoughts and experiences regarding the conflict in the Middle East and its impact on them and their families. They were given instructions to not exceed 2000 words and to avoid information that is better left to national news outlets. What they wrote was entirely up to them.

This cover story is about impact. It’s about how young people view the state of our world. It’s about how hard it is to speak out while seeking college admission prospects and good social standing. How communities unite and friends are pushed apart. This is about identity. And doubt. And fear. And the constant stream of social media muddying the waters. This is about how a conflict 6,462 miles away impacts our community. 

Considering the deeply complex and contentious nature of this issue, it is important to remember that these essays do not imply an endorsement from the Globe, but rather portray the individual experiences and perspectives of the authors. We had an ongoing commitment to provide a balanced picture with as many perspectives as possible, but recognize that this was not entirely achieved. This collection does not represent all perspectives and is only part of a larger, more intricate conversation. We encourage readers to seek additional information to become better informed on this issue.

So, we invite you to read with an open mind, consider a perspective perhaps different from your own, and realize we are all humans – hurt, angry, scared, confused – hoping for a better future.

Selected Definitions

Reform Judaism – A movement of Judaism that began in central Germany in the early 1800s. It used the local language and encouraged some degree of assimilation. Today, it is the largest, fastest-growing sect of American Judaism. (Alex Cohen)

Diaspora (Jewish) – dispersion of Jews, formerly Israelites, from their ancestral homeland in the Middle East to where they now live all over the world. (Alex Cohen)

Shinshinim – (plural) Israeli teenagers who spend a year in the US working in synagogue and other Jewish organizations (Alex Cohen)

Ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate – Main religious authority in Israel (Alex Cohen)

Aliyah – A Jewish person from the Diaspora immigrating to Israel (Alex Cohen)

From the River to the Sea – A slogan calling for peace and freedom from Israeli occupation from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, the area of historic Palestine (Yehia Said)

Ethnic cleansing – the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity (Merriam-Webster)

Displacement – The process, either official or unofficial, of people being involuntarily moved from their homes because of war, government policies, or other societal actions, requiring groups of people to find new places to live. (Florida Center for Instructional Technology)

Occupation – the effective control of a power over a territory to which that power has no sovereign title, without the volition of the sovereign of that territory (Transitional Justice for Israel/Palestine: Truth-Telling and Empathy in Ongoing Conflict)

Alex Cohen holds a silver necklace with her Hebrew name, הנוי. The necklace was a gift from family friends for her bat mitzvah She wears the necklace every day.
The Hope is Still Real

I am not simply a Jew or an American, but an American Jew. 

Since Oct. 7, I worry about the hostages and the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I worry about civilians in Israel and Gaza, especially those being used as human shields by Hamas in its pursuit of the elimination of Israel and Jews everywhere. I worry about those in my life who are highly impacted emotionally due to strong ties to Israel. People like my grandparents, who spend too much time watching cable news, and my friends from temple and camp on potentially hostile college campuses. People like my friends from Jewish overnight camp with Israeli relatives who go to sleep every night in fear of waking up to horrific news. I worry about all of them.

For many that I know, this conflict has become all-consuming. When the news first broke, I knew that could and would happen. Initially, I divested as much as possible from the conflict, at least online. People constantly asked my opinion, and I didn’t have a clear answer. I was scared that the conflict would consume me and take me away from the other important aspects of my life. However, as the days of violence drew to weeks, information on social media, articles online and real-life conversations about the conflict became unavoidable. I believe in Israel’s right to defend itself. But not without limits.

 I started to feel like I was drowning in all the bad news. Thinking about this piece made me feel simultaneously nauseous and like I could breathe a little bit again. The conversations prompted by this piece have been constructive and illuminating, giving me moments of connection and learning with loved ones and friends in a dark time. 

What follows is a combination of conversations I had with my maternal grandfather, a retired Reform rabbi and community leader, affectionately known as Papa, and my uncle Jeff, a lawyer and lay leader, and of my learnings, opinions and realizations from this time:

The first thing I realized during these conversations was how much background information and historical understanding I lacked. I grew up around Israelis despite the relatively small Israeli community in St. Louis. There were always Shinshinim—Israeli teens taking a service learning gap year in the US—teaching at religious schools and day camps. There are a significant number of Israelis who work and attend my overnight camp. As I grew up, they were my friends and counselors; this past summer, they became my co-workers and campers. I sat through many lessons on Israeli history and culture in my 11 years of religious school. I was encouraged by rabbis and teachers to visit Israel to try to feel a connection to the Jewish homeland. My parents spent years trying to organize a family trip to Israel. I learned of the many cultural, religious and social ties between the American Jewish community and Israel. 

But there was also a great deal that I didn’t know.

There is a significant financial connection between American Jews and Israel. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis financially supports a variety of constituent agencies, including the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, the Covenant Place—housing for at-risk elderly community members, Hillels and Chabads at local universities, the St. Louis Jewish Light—a local Jewish community newspaper, among many others. But the Federation also donates millions of dollars annually to Israeli organizations. The US government also underwrites Israeli organizations and the government financially. 

Money that American Jews donate to support Israel is money that is not going to support local Jewish and secular organizations and institutions. Some argue that the financial support of Israel should be the responsibility of the American government, not the Jewish community itself. Others argue that Jews must support their homeland and their people. 

But whose responsibility is it to help Israel now? Does Israel truly belong to all Jews?

The American Jewish community is not a monolith. Different towns, cities, organizations and families will make their own choices about how to support Israel. Some American Jews support Netanyahu and, in my opinion, his deplorable treatment of Palestinian citizens. Some support Israel’s right to engage in a defensive war but not to occupy Gaza, whatever that means practically. Some believe there should be an immediate ceasefire. But despite the opinions of individuals, families and communities, due to our Judaism, we are all inextricably linked to the state of Israel and its concept as the Jewish homeland. 

Israel has filled a historic need for Jews. Jews were a stateless group for nearly 1900 years after they were expelled from the ancient land of Israel by the Romans. The political state of Israel is now regarded as the Jewish homeland. Israel is a Jewish state created by Jews for Jews. We know we will be safe there and could receive citizenship under the Law of Return, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to receive Israeli citizenship. Yet Jews are not a race but a religion. That makes our needs for safety and statehood no less valid but complex and unique.

Many American Jews see Israel as the pinnacle, the fulfillment of their Jewish identity, whether they realize it or not. Children are taught that Israel is the place of return, the ultimate homeland and place of refuge for Jews. They are encouraged to visit Israel, to support the state and to consider making aliyah. 

Yet, many American Jews will never physically set foot in Israel, and even fewer will ever live there. Many of us are not even considered Jewish by the standards of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who command religious life in Israel. Under Israeli religious law, one must have a Jewish mother or undergo an Orthodox conversion to be considered Jewish. Thousands of American Jews are disqualified under this definition. 

There is a question of reciprocity between American Jews and Israel: 

Why do we give so much emotionally and financially to a place that may not give back to us? 

We don’t need Israel in order to be American Jews. 

I hope my argument is not misconstrued to mean that I believe Israel should not exist or that American Jews should stop caring about Israel and what happens there. Both our community and the state of Israel are important. I argue for balance; we should support Israel in ways that bolster our community as well. There are many opportunities to do this during the current crisis.

Both Papa and Uncle Jeff expressed to me in detail the shock and horror that they felt on Oct. 7 at the horrific loss of Jewish and human life that occurred and also the fear that it could lead to the end of Israel as we know it. They expressed anger at how many media outlets failed to acknowledge the horrendous massacre that was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. I spent the days after Oct. 7 sick to my stomach, avoiding social media for fear I would see a gruesome photo of a hostage or victim. These emotions of anger, pain and grief were nearly universal for the Jews that I know. 

Yet, in this time, there are opportunities for hope and connection even during this time of suffering. Papa lauded the humanity-centric nature and healing potential of several community events that occurred in the month after the initial attacks. Gatherings at local synagogues and the Jewish Community Center (JCC) focused on sharing grief, togetherness and comfort —reminding people of the plight of the hostages. Uncle Jeff reminded me of how healthy it is for people to process their emotions together, sharing in each other’s strength.

But there is a sad danger in many of these gatherings. A rise in anti-semitism has accompanied the current conflict, and protests or large gatherings of Jews are often the targets of violence and hateful comments. Papa urged particular caution in associating ourselves too closely with the actions of any particular government in Israel. Age-old anti-semitic ideas emphasize that Diaspora Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own countries. While he believes it is the responsibility of American Jewish clergy and lay leaders to build support for Israel, he worries that actions such as the use of the Israeli flag at protests could lead onlookers to believe that we are separated from or disloyal to America. This is exactly the opposite of what we want in a time when anti-semitism is on the rise, and we need more communal support than ever. 

American Jews’ efforts to support Israel will increase our visibility and potentially invite hateful responses. We may become targets. What happens when the world turns its back on Israel, and if we are so closely associated, by extension, on the Jews? Could signed letters or public statements of support for Israel be used against us in a darker future? Who would be there to protect us if that were to happen? 

This is a dark vision of the future, one I hope will never come to fruition. I hope and pray that our friends and neighbors will support and protect us, but history tells us that is not always true. Jewish history is a history of triumph and renewal, of overcoming the obstacles of isolation, discrimination and hate. We, as American Jews, are currently in the best position in millennia to form a strong, stable community. 

There is one fact that Papa told me during our initial conversation that I can’t stop thinking about. I mentioned it again to him while we were in the car on the way home from listening to Former US Representative Adam Kinzinger deliver a hopeful message about how America is a shining beacon of liberty. He told me that early leaders in the American Reform movement, nearly 100 years before the establishment of the state of Israel, such as Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, believed that the United States could be the adopted homeland of the Jews. This country could be our Jerusalem, our safe haven, and the place where our community could settle and live in peace for eternity. Jews have enjoyed unprecedented religious freedom in the US, greater even, arguably, than they receive in Israel. Here, we can form assimilated and stand-alone communities. We prosper in various fields, can attend universities and live in relative peace and harmony. We are safer than we have ever been. 

This freedom has allowed us to build incredible structures, institutions, and organizations, many of which have shaped my life and helped us maintain community. We have synagogues, day and overnight camps, religious schools, JCCs, homes for the elderly, charitable organizations and so much more. In many cases, these organizations serve both local Jewish and secular communities. 

We are currently at an inflection point. We have an incredible chance to create a vibrant community in both the US and Israel for generations to come. A healthy Jewish community in the US helps support the health of Israel and Jews everywhere. That is impossible if we neglect the structures and organizations that form our American Jewish community and collective identity.

Alex Cohen holds a silver necklace with her Hebrew name, הנוי. The necklace was a gift from family friends for her bat mitzvah She wears the necklace every day. (AnMei Deck)
Micah Lotsoff holds his kippah, or yamaka, from his Bar Mitzvah. He wears it every time he attends services.
Togetherness in Trying Times

Antisemitism means to have a prejudice against the Jewish people simply because they are Jewish. However, a speaker I was lucky enough to hear recently explained that he prefers the phrase “Jew-hater.” The speaker was Sami Steigmann, a Holocaust survivor who shared his story with an auditorium filled with students. Listening to Sami was beyond insightful, but I specifically took away that phrase and put a lot of thought into it. I agree with Sami here, especially in times like today, where hate seems to be everywhere. 

I attended a Jewish private school from kindergarten through eighth grade where I learned Hebrew and Jewish history every day. We opened each morning with a prayer session called T’fillah, and I had the privilege of reading from the Torah on multiple occasions. At the end of my eighth-grade year, I was supposed to go on a two-week trip to Israel with my school and other Jewish schools around the country; however, due to the pandemic, I had to settle for a campsite in Illinois, a small downgrade. 

Before I was even in middle school, I witnessed eye-opening threats to my life simply due to my Judaism. There were several instances where someone would call, threatening to bomb the school, causing panicked evacuations that left students without any understanding of the unfolding situation.

When I transitioned to CHS, I feared that my Jewish identity might weaken. I found just the opposite to be true. Seeing countless fellow Jews in my classes filled me with safety and aided my eventual adjustment. 

I can now without a doubt say, I do not feel this way anymore. 

After the events of Oct. 7, there was a gathering at the Jewish Community Center that my mom, grandma and I attended. There were so many people, we had to get there early to make sure we could get a decent seat. On the stage at the front, members of the Jewish community spoke and illustrated that it is important for us as a community to mourn together. 

Since that day I have mourned. I mourn not just for the civilian grandparents, some of whom are Holocaust survivors, mothers, fathers and babies who were taken as hostages, not just for those who were raped, massacred, and paraded around Gaza on that Shabbat morning and not just for those whose bodies have turned up over a month later. I mourn for everyone who suffers under the awful situation that the Middle East finds itself in. 

As a human being, I recognize that any loss of life is a travesty. I do not even necessarily wish for those responsible for the massacre in October to die. I would prefer for them to be captured and imprisoned for years and years.

Since the escalation of this conflict began, I have found that the most dangerous weapon has been one that our country knows all too well: Misinformation. I have heard more than I ever thought I would hear and read more than I ever thought I would read, for example: 

“Jewish people are not native to that region. If they’re native, why do they have one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world?”

“[Hamas’ attack] is not justifiable, but I understand why they did it.”

“Why are we prioritizing the lives of 200 white people over 2.2 million in Gaza?”

“This is the first time in 75 years that the resistance has actually worked.”

People spread hateful propaganda without even realizing they are doing so. I see it on Instagram stories, TikTok posts and even said around school. Fact checking has become the Iron Dome of information in times like these.

I write this hoping that one might try to understand the perspective of someone who wants safety for their people. However, I also write this to illustrate that someone who is pro-Israel does not automatically make them anti-Palestinian. If we can have compassion for each other even as we disagree, then all hope is not lost.

Micah Lotsoff holds his kippah, or yamaka, from his Bar Mitzvah. He wears it every time he attends services. (AnMei Deck)
Social Studies teacher Daniel Glossenger looks down at a Tibetan singing bowl that he keeps in his classroom.
Mindful Engagement: Navigating Social Media and Strong Emotions During Conflict

My mind kept returning to what my friend and a teacher at this school had lately told me. She said that recently, when she had been scrolling along in her latest social media daydream, she suddenly was shocked to see gruesome photos and videos of the violence in Israel. 

She had not followed any accounts reporting from the region, nor had any of her friends posted about the violence. The company’s algorithm had simply shown her the images, just as the perpetrators of the violence had hoped for. More violence, more outrage, more eyeballs, more revenue for the firm. Economics really is the dismal science.

When she told me all this, my heart sank. If she had seen these awful things, we agreed, then no doubt our students had seen them and worse. Social media had been weaponized to further the suffering of the war, far beyond Israel. And this was particularly true of visual social media such as Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. 

Please don’t mistake me– I don’t advocate you put your head in the sand and stop reading the news. But the power of social media should not be underestimated, and you can get your news elsewhere. Its power to spread suffering rapidly lies in its ability to provoke equally powerful emotions among its users. 

As I’ve read the latest news from Israel, I have often felt the powerful emotions of anger and grief rising inside me. And then I remember to breathe and to be mindful of these feelings. 

Emotions such as anger and grief are strong. Focusing on our breathing allows us to identify them, name them and connect with them without allowing them to overwhelm us. 

I cannot imagine how overwhelming those feelings would be if I subjected myself to Reels and Snap stories from the front lines of a war zone. I can be informed about the war without carrying videos of its carnage around in my pocket. 

Even without social media’s pernicious striving to spread sorrow among us, you’ll still live through plenty of things that will prompt your anger and grief. Learning how these feelings grow can help us process them.

These feelings dwell within us, just like seeds in the earth, waiting to be watered and awakened. Everything we do waters different seeds within us and makes them grow. 

When we read a book or watch a play, and when we volunteer our time or meet up with a friend, we water seeds of joy. When we watch yet another batch of TikToks instead of living in the moment, or when we devote more effort to our Snapstreak than to meaningful conversation, we water seeds as well.

Much of what we consume on social media waters seeds of selfishness and jealousy and materialism, and at its worst, our feeds and streams and stories end up watering seeds of inadequacy and anger and grief. And in times of war, social media is at its worst.

We know that social media platforms are designed to promote the most arresting, most attention-grabbing imagery, grasping for you to look awhile longer. So the algorithms feed you the most violent and awful imagery from Israel they can find, hoping you can’t look away. And these images water seeds of hatred and division.

As with all seeds watered well, in time, they germinate and grow and become our inclinations. They become what we tend to do and feel and think without even realizing.

So let me tell you something I have learned the hard way. When you water certain seeds for a very long time, you grow a forest, an absolute jungle. 

When you have spent too long watering seeds of rage and grief, when you have watched a thousand videos of suffering, then you will grow a forest of furious wrath.

Such a dark forest will be a very difficult thicket for you to find your way out. You will find yourself quick to anger, without patience, and you will tend toward vengeance and sadness. I hope you can avoid these inclinations, put down your phone, and make a real connection instead. You don’t have to end up overwhelmed by your feelings.

But I also have a little advice if you are already feeling that way, overwhelmed and even hopeless. The conflict in Israel has been long, so I understand if you worry it will never end.

Many years ago, a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh lived in Vietnam. He and many others had suffered greatly during the terrible war there, which had involved many nations from near and far away. 

The war had lasted for a very long time, and desperate people would ask Thich Nhat Hanh if the war would end soon. 

He didn’t know. But he knew that if he said that, their suffering would multiply. 

So he replied, “Everything is impermanent, even war. It will end someday.” And it did.

When overwhelming, powerful emotions emerge, when you think about Gaza and Israel and only feel hatred or hopelessness, remember that it will end. Not soon enough, but one day, this entire conflict will be over.

I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, which he wrote as a reminder to young people during that awful, seemingly never-ending conflict in his country. I think it’s a good reminder to us today:

Even as they

strike you down

with a mountain of hatred and violence;

even as they step on you and crush you

like a worm,

even as they dismember and disembowel you,

remember brother, remember:

man is not our enemy.

Social Studies teacher Daniel Glossenger looks down at a Tibetan singing bowl that he keeps in his classroom. (AnMei Deck)
Yehia Said holds the box given to him by his Arabic teacher.
Yehia Said holds the box given to him by his Arabic teacher. (AnMei Deck)
Stuck.

In the eighth grade, my final year of Arabic school, I was given a gift. Ms. Ebtisam, the teacher I had had for the past few years, handed me a box. On the outside was a geometric design delicately carved around a picture of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, surrounded by flowing Arabic writing. On the inside was a copy of the Quran, itself embellished with images of the city.

Growing up, I never understood Palestine. Dreading the boredom of Islamic school on Saturdays, I couldn’t comprehend why my Palestinian teachers felt so passionate about not calling it Israel. The politics seemed so large and uninteresting. I was growing up in a democracy, far away from any of that danger. Where I lived, anyone could express their opinion. Anyone could change and shape the world through only their voice. 

As I entered middle school, my voice developed. I began seeking knowledge and became more aware of the situation my old teachers used to talk about. Seeing me as more mature, my parents began to include me in talks about the issue. Finally getting a phone, I had yet another way to access information. I found others who related—friends at school, family members, and even figures like Representative Rashida Tlaib.

I learned of the decades of decimation, the Nakba of 1948, the Naksa of 1967 and the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982. These thousands of lives, killed and displaced from their land, had never directly intersected mine, but they struck me with grief.

I could not understand how history could unfold this way, with the world standing by. Taught that peace for humanity was the goal of world leaders, I was shocked that Palestinians were never included in this humanity. I became angry. I wanted to cry out, force the world to stop ignoring what was going on right before their eyes.

Learning of these events shaped my beliefs. As I read of the modern violence, I realized the destructive occupation of Palestine is nothing new. My phone background has proudly declared “from the river to the sea” since seventh grade. Seeing the misinformation and ignorance around this phrase, misconstrued as somehow calling for extermination when all it begs is peace, has been infuriating. Freedom should not be so controversial.

When the recent conflict erupted, I felt lost. I knew it would escalate. Everything seemed immediately uncertain.

I am overwhelmed. What is happening now is unlike before. I have witnessed Israeli aggression on the news before, trying to tear down the resistant spirit. This time, however, it has been immeasurable. We will continue to fight and advocate, but the human cost has been so grand. I am tired of watching children cry over dead parents, tired of crying with them as the force of the bombs slashing through their homes radiates through my phone screen.

Those children are not Hamas. The constant pressure to clarify is exhausting. The US classifies the military branch of Hamas as a terrorist organization, born out of decades of destructive oppression. The Israeli government may consider Hamas’ actions representative of the Palestinian people, but they are not the same. With no state or home, the people have no say in who controls them. Over half the population in Gaza was not old enough to vote for a Hamas-led government the last time it was called into question, nor can they even worry about politics when the first thing on their mind is getting water and fuel in a repressive regime. 

As I continue to educate myself, I feel one thing more than any other: fear. 

On a personal level, I am horrified. Every word I say is twisted. As politics become intertwined with religion, standing against Zionism is viewed as standing against Judaism, despite many Jews being anti-zionists themselves. Each phrase becomes controversial, the disinformation becoming grounds for silencing. 

I am scared of my peers, as everyone has suddenly become an “expert”. I am scared of backlash affecting how I do in school, teachers seeing my writing and subtly holding it against me.

At school, bias seeps into everything. Teachers use language that clearly favors a side. When Clayton administration first sent out an email, I felt the ignorance through the screen as they recognized “terrorist attacks in Israel” and the antisemitism but not the children dying in Palestine and the islamophobia. Even after weeks of indiscriminate Israeli retaliation, there was no email addressing the loss of Palestinian lives.  

Just writing this is daunting. One day, an admissions counselor could stumble upon my essay and reject me just for my beliefs. Many colleges have been no stranger to dismissing pro-Palestinian groups, silencing their opinions as they speak out. As Jewish Voices for Peace and various Palestinian solidarity organizations face disappearance, I fear the silencing of my own voice before I can even reach the campus.

Even in the government, which is meant to be impartial, representatives who speak out, like Representative Tlaib (the only Palestinian in the House), find themselves censured. I was shocked when I saw 22 of her Democratic colleagues stand to silence her voice just because she acknowledged ongoing catastrophe. If those in power cannot speak out, how am I to find that strength?

Nobody understands my deep connection with the people of Palestine. I am not Palestinian, but I understand their struggle. I see their pain, and I cannot bear to stand on the sidelines, silenced by societal pressure. It is not a matter of identity; it is simply humanity.

On a community level, I fear for all of us. Hatred continuously torments the Muslims and Arabs of this country. We are no strangers to this. I have heard stories about how paralyzed we were after 9/11, the whole world seeming to turn on us. I witnessed it firsthand after the two mosques in Christchurch were attacked in 2019. Walking into my mosque later that day, I felt the unsettling silence of a community shaken. We were all scared for our lives.

This conflict has already created danger. When I first heard of Wadea Al-Fayoume, the Palestinian boy from Chicago who was killed by his landlord in October, my mind rushed back to 2019. I felt the same terror, the potential for my community to be destroyed. The mosque I have been to since I was a child, the Arab church our friends go to, the restaurants that shaped my childhood—any of them could be devastated in a moment.

I have already seen lives demolished. One of our close family friends grew up in Palestine, forced to learn Hebrew to survive. She came to the United States for opportunity, eventually going to law school and becoming an immigration lawyer herself. Seeing the pain in her eyes has been devastating. Dedicating her life to helping others, she cannot help her relatives and friends in Palestine. Yet again, she must witness her people destroyed, but now with millions watching silently.

I fear that this is our new normal. As I watch Egypt, my own mother country, turn a blind eye to the suffering of people, choosing to prioritize their money and resources over helping anyone, I am saddened. If even Egypt no longer stands with Palestine, then what has become of our identity? Who are we anymore?

My community is furious that countries around the world continue to ignore the lives that are destroyed day after day. Institutions blindly back the Zionist state, ignoring their own colonial past. 

Our perspective cannot be heard. Every time we warn the world, pleading for mercy, a permanent ceasefire, anything, we are ignored. Still, my phone will not change, and neither will my Instagram. I have always believed in unwavering belief. I will not stop speaking out, no matter the risk. The silence is just as loud.

I want to believe that my voice matters. I want to believe that our writing—whether etched on a delicate, ornate box that declares “Al-Quds al-sharif,” the noble Jerusalem we wish to keep safe, or transcribed into news articles and memoirs—can change the world. I want to believe what I was taught as a child, that I have the power to stand up for those who cannot.

The reality, however, is that what I say will not change what is happening. This conflict has grown so much larger than anything I can affect. No matter how many stories I repost, there will still be hate. Regardless of my choice to boycott companies that support the occupation, the US will continue to send weapons to tear up Palestinian lives. This piece of journalism cannot make up for the massacre of journalists in Gaza. 

I feel useless. I feel hopeless in trying to aid others. I wish I could say that Palestine will escape this stalemate and one day become free, but the suffering feels neverending. Neither side will change its strategy, and neither can compromise when so much is on the line. 

I am powerless, stuck in a larger system. Until this system changes, hope can only do so much.

Ivy Slen holds a Plato book which includes The Allegory of The Cave. The book has been in her family for decades.
A Meditation for Peace

We need to step back.  

As dawn broke at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7, the wailing sound of air raid sirens pierced the quiet morning in Jerusalem, signaling a dire warning of an impending attack. That day would see a hailstorm of rockets and more gruesome attacks launched by Hamas, reaching all corners of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored the severity of the situation when he declared, ‘Israel is at war.’

The attacks by Hamas on Israel are, by definition, terrorism. While inexcusable, the years of dispute in Israel have led to the support and justification of these heinous crimes. Although violence should not be the solution, sometimes defending a country already under attack is necessary. The Israeli Defense Forces shouldn’t be expected to stand idle while Israeli citizens are being murdered. Some response is justified if not necessary. What is the job of a country if not to defend its citizens? Israel wants to avoid Gaza becoming a pile of rubble, so the question becomes how Israel can meet their responsibility but not overdo it. 

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave illustrates the unintentional self-delusion of human beings. Every human being is essentially the man chained to the wall, only seeing a shadow of reality because we are all shrouded in ignorance. Social media (where a large sum of people get their news from) is generated by algorithms that promote our biased ideas and lead to the polarization of the media we consume. By being digital citizens in the 21st century, we all live in our respective caves. 

Every day, just scrolling through posts by friends, celebrities and news outlets, I see comments on the war. Being a high schooler with little agency in how to voice my perspective, reposting a “pro-Israel” infographic or even an article would be a logical option. Although I want to share my solidarity and support for Israel, I am hesitant about news found on social media. I know that the media I consume is fed to me by algorithms and I wouldn’t want to fall deeper into the cave by unintentionally posting false information. Even though my Jewish friends and family have noticed my silence online, I choose to remain that way because of my deliberate pragmatism and nuanced understanding. 

The cave is comfortable. Inside the cave, even if we stumble upon a post that shows opposing views, we can reject those ideas, deem them untrue and keep scrolling. I challenge my views when I get the chance. I venture to “pro-Palestine” profiles and read the information they put out. Instead of ignoring information about the wrongful actions they say Israel has committed, I look for other sources to fact-check. I do the same with “pro-Israel” profiles as well because part of challenging my opinions and stepping out of the cave is not just looking at opposing views, but seeing if the media I am relying on is even factual.

Even just one foot out of the cave requires discomfort. It is difficult to look at contradictory news and make sense of it. 

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, koans are used to break down dichotomous thinking and binary logic. Koans are very short stories, similar to riddles that contradict their thought. They attempt to teach living with ambiguity. For example, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Zen koans are a useful tool in this regard to help us as we think about this conflict and to help us come out of the cave. The answer goes beyond A or B, yes or no, black or white, Israel or Palestine. The world has to be in shades of gray.

Both sides are deluded, caught in their ways, and can not be objective. William Blake, a romantic age poet, wrote in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” an idea which has stuck with me this time: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” If both parties stepped out of their caves and into the light, they would see a more pure reality. One that disregards opinions and is based on fact. While it is difficult to step away, it is exactly how more people should be learning to think. Stepping out of the cave for a second will not solve the conflict but will help bring light to the shadows.

Ivy Slen holds a Plato book which includes The Allegory of The Cave. The book has been in her family for decades. (AnMei Deck)
Medha Narayan looks at a mug she bought from a Palestinian artisan in Jordan.
The Numbers Game

In sixth grade, my teacher told me it was nearly impossible to grasp the concept of a million. At some point, numbers get so big we forget they are just ones added together. We lose our understanding of the number altogether. 

2.2 million Palestinians reside in the Gaza Strip. Over nine million people live in the occupied territory of Palestine as a whole. If we forget about the individual, we lose understanding of the value of these numbers. And when we focus on the numbers, we do not think about the people. But how do we communicate the gravity of the ongoing conflict without losing sight of the impact on the individual?

It feels like a game of sorts. There is a strategy for choosing the infographics and statistics and videos to repost on your Instagram story. It is a battle of which death toll is bigger, which story is more tragic because that determines who the good guys and the bad guys are. 15,000 civilians dead. 1,200 killed in a day. We do not see their faces or know their names. We do not know their fight, their struggle, their lives. Perhaps that makes it easier to weigh the numbers and play the game.

Besides, you cannot be a martyr if you are still alive. 

It is not always like this, at least within my little bubble. Usually, people are on the same page regarding the history and the power dynamics that have led to the latest call for activism. The recognition of the lives lost and those still at stake are not a matter of political debate. There is no need to boil colors of complexity down to black and white sides.

I am used to things being this way. I have never truly been in an environment where my views are controversial. My takes are mostly lukewarm at best. I stand on the same side as the majority of my classmates, friends, and family. In all honesty, I have never had to think fully for myself. Those around me have reaffirmed every moral stance I have ever had to take. 

Worse comes to worst, just agree with the Democrats. 

Now, as I tap through Instagram, each person contradicts the next. 2,900 prisoners: detained without trial. 240 hostages. I feel sympathy for every life affected, Palestinian or Israeli. How could I not? But when it comes to these posts, often, it is not truly about them. It is about the land that these lives are being sacrificed for. That is where many of my former political allies and I fundamentally disagree. 

I feel our clashing perspectives hang in the air when we smile at each other in the halls at school. It is as though we all signed a contract to keep our thoughts to ourselves and our social media. School is a designated no man’s land. To voice our opinions is mutually assured destruction. 

I miss my history table being a forum for nuanced discussions, but part of me is relieved. I am new to disputes this heavy, and I am not sure I can carry its weight outside the confines of my room. I do not want to admit that I am having trouble seeing my “school friends” as still my friends due to our opposing views. I do not think this issue is something we can converse about without solidifying these personal ramifications, and I am not one for confrontation.

It is strange not having strong support for my beliefs. The same people I marched for justice alongside in 2020 now stand on the other side of this discussion. The same liberal activists with whom I shared my decolonization, Vive la résistance mindset, are posting in support of Israel’s declared territorial bounds, empowering the legitimacy of stolen land.

Our perspectives are no longer in harmony, but I feel strongly in my views nonetheless. I see fabricated facts and twisted narratives circulating among those around me, and I cannot be silent. The ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians is being justified, and I cannot be silent. And as I watch all Palestinians being held responsible for the actions of a few, it becomes impossible to distinguish the condemnation of terrorism from the condemnation of resistance entirely. I must not be silent.

I struggle to find the right voice, however. Throwing out numerics does not amplify people’s stories. As I read of the 80,000 Palestinian casualties since 1948 or even the hundreds of Palestinian deaths since last week, I cannot see the ones adding up to these large numbers. But if not the individuals’ stories and resistance, what am I trying to empower?

I seek these stories; they exist, not in article headlines, but in the conversations we have and the words that we share. I recall my experiences and am reminded of the ones who have shared their journeys with me. In my memories, I find what matters.

Two summers ago, I studied abroad in Jordan through the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program for six weeks. I spent five hours every weekday in class studying Arabic and spent the rest of my time exploring the city of Amman. After an afternoon of visiting different sites and trying various foods and spending way too much money, I would return to my host family’s home and be greeted with a meal that could feed the entirety of Europe and simple conversation.

During my time, I was naturally exposed to the various aspects of Jordanian culture and history and to my surprise, Palestinian customs. It made sense that there would be a hefty amount of Palestinian Jordanians, given the countries’ proximity, but I did not expect them to make up around 60% of Jordan’s population. Yet, my interaction with the environment and the locals only reaffirmed the statistic.

Anytime I walked into a touristy store in downtown Amman, I saw Palestinian flags on magnets next to the Jordanian ones. Many of the houses I entered held the imagery of a key, representing their rightful ownership to their home despite Israel’s occupation. The friends I made, the teachers I had, the cab driver taking me home, they almost all had connections to Palestine, one that runs deep through time and culture. 

Prior to arriving in Jordan, the program directors warned us to avoid conversations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the risk of controversy and offense. However, with many of the people I met, Palestine was not a political or touchy subject. Rather, it was their history, their culture and their home. They would tell me about their nation and I would listen.

In all the little anecdotes and personal vignettes I heard about Palestine, one conversation in particular resonated with me. It was with a woman, an artist, who was selling her hand-painted mugs at the Friday market. As I approached her table and picked up a mug to inspect, she watched me intently. The moment I made eye contact with her, she gave me a warm smile and greeted me with every introduction in my “Al-Kitaab” Arabic textbook and more. Clearly, I had the look of a tourist, so she asked where I am from. I told her a little about me, utilizing all the vocabulary words from class, as she nodded along.

She gently took the mug I was holding from me and grazed her hands over the patterns and told me where she is from. She spoke to me about Palestine. The woman had previously lived in Palestine, in the West Bank. While much of the community dissolved during the exodus of 1948, her family remained. However, it was impossible to stay despite how much they wanted to, which is why she is now in Jordan.

Throughout our conversation, she only ever spoke highly of Palestine. She told me of its beauty and the remaining community’s livelihood. She never delved into the conditions that forced her to leave, and I did not ask her. She has not lost her home because it is still hers. Between her fragments of English and my broken Arabic, there was only so much I could understand. But I could feel her pain and see her strength. It is her resistance I aim to empower.

The woman told me whenever she paints, she thinks of Palestine. I imagine the intricate designs and vivid colors on the mug are her happy memories of home made tangible. Whenever I hold the mug and brush my fingers over the patterns, just like she had, I think of Palestine as well. 

14.3 million Palestinians worldwide. Each one lives a story of resistance, begging to be told.

 

Medha Narayan looks at a mug she bought from a Palestinian artisan in Jordan. (AnMei Deck)
Molly Siwak holds necklace she bought from a jewler in Israel.
Sukkat Shalom Sheli (My Shelter of Peace)

As my friends and I entered and exited our hotel at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) High School Summit, riots lined the sidewalk, the first weekend of December.

This terrifying experience, where adults called us, teenagers, “little terrorists” and yelled “Gas the Jews,” served as a stark reminder of the challenges Jews face in today’s climate.

What was intended to be a weekend aimed towards spreading light on the darkness of this war and reuniting with friends, turned into a terrifying encounter with antisemitism. My parents thought I was enjoying my time reconnecting with friends, but then opened their phones to videos of violence aimed at their teenage daughter.

The event required the fencing along the hotel’s perimeter, the intervention of the SWAT team, FBI, local Denver police and undercover officers in order to keep us safe.

We were instructed to not engage and to remain calm and respectful. The rioters said it was us- the innocent and silent teenagers- who were the violent ones, and I saw nothing but irony in the juxtaposition that they couldn’t see. We wanted to cross the street; they wanted us dead. I will never forget the fear of simply existing as a Jewish teenager today.

This incident, while disturbing, did not deter me from continuing my journey to understand and connect with my Jewish heritage.

Just months earlier, I blindly stepped into what would be the most incredibly moving eight weeks of my life. I left my home to begin my experience studying abroad in the beautiful country of Israel. I lived in Hod HaSharon, about 20 minutes northeast of Tel Aviv. While living in Israel was the most impactful adventure I have ever experienced, Israel’s impact on my life dates back far before my study abroad.

Typically, in Judaism, the parents give a newborn baby a Hebrew name. I was not only named “Molly Danielle”, but I had the name “מנה מלכה דודה” (read right to left as Minna-Malka Davida) as a part of my identity as well. When I was six, I visited Israel for the very first time. I instantly fell in love with it and its community. Just being in Israel provides me with such a warm and welcoming feeling that is hard to explain to someone who has never been. During a visit to Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market) in Tel Aviv, I bought a beautiful Star of David necklace from a local artist who had my Hebrew name engraved on it. This necklace became a comfort to me.

I begged my parents to return, and when I was 10, we did. Every time I return to Israel, my love for it grows stronger.
Over winter break my freshman year, I talked to friends who completed a semester abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). I was immediately interested. And eventually I decided to take this opportunity to study abroad and have a high school experience in Israel.
In the spring of 2023, I spent two months with 40 strangers from all over the U.S. Despite being strangers, our Judaism and willingness to go to AMHSI immediately connected us.
A regular school day began with a four-hour-long Israel Studies class and continued with one-hour core class periods. My friends and I left campus after school to walk around Hod HaSharon.

In Israel, where Judaism influences everyday life, the school week runs Sunday through Thursday, with a half-day Friday due to Shabbat, which begins at sundown. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was living in a Christian world.
The program did not always follow the regular bell schedule and we spent three to four days on educational trips with my Israel Studies class each week. We learned 5,000 years of Israeli history through no ordinary learning style: my experience was not limited to Hod. I spent 30 days at different locations experiencing what I could only read about in a textbook back in St. Louis.

We crawled inside the caves at Bar Kochba; we climbed Masada and spent the day at the top learning about King Herod; we walked along the Cardo in the old city of Jerusalem, and observed countless sites, all of which have a deep and meaningful history. At the Shuk HaCarmel, I was looking at some jewelry that caught my eye. I somehow came across the artist from whom I bought my engraved Star of David necklace 10 years prior. I knew I needed to buy another piece from him. Now I wear my new necklace daily to keep me close to Israel.

In addition to sightseeing, we spent most trips on hikes. One that is memorable was in Tel Gezer. We walked along a path where the East and West borders were visible;  I saw into Jordan. I also visited near the northernmost point of Israel and looked into the Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria. We traveled to Eilat, one of the most southern cities, and Sderot, a town outside of Gaza.

Over those 30 days of field trips, I have seen enough of Israel to understand the beauty of its varied landscape confidently. Both the paths that wind through the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem and the metropolis along the scenic beaches of Tel Aviv are equally encapsulating, and the dry Negev desert still holds beauty despite contrasting the blue Sea of Galilee. Israel is fascinating, and I never want to stop exploring its beauty.

To myself and many others, Israel is more than just a country; it’s a home. Israel has really become home to me. I feel strongly gravitated towards it and I want to make Aliyah for a few years after college.

The high concentration of Jewish people in Israel gives me a strong sense of community that is hard to explain. Walking around, knowing 73.5% of people who pass by me are Jewish, makes me feel a sense of belonging. Israel is the only place I have felt completely comfortable being Jewish. It is a home where people can lean into their Judaism with pride, unlike other locations where they might hide in fear, discomfort or shame. I want to be able to lean into my Judaism with pride.

The requirement of hiding my name tag at the JNF conference is evidence that I needed to hide my Judaism, rather than be comfortable with it- as I would be in the home of Israel.

As an unknown author said, “Israel isn’t why antisemitism exists. Antisemitism is why Israel must exist.” After the Holocaust, the world created Israel as a safe space for Jews. With antisemitism rising worldwide, it is essential for Israel to continue to exist. We need our sukkat shalom. We need our shelter of peace.

Understanding the differences between my two homes, America and Israel, is important. Living in Israel gave me insight into living in a place of constant conflict.
Our school familiarized us with each of our four bomb shelters, informing us that if we heard a warning siren, we had 90 seconds to reach safety.

We practiced running to the bomb shelter countless times until our madrichim (counselors) were confident we knew how to get there in less than 90 seconds.
In other areas, there is as little as 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter.

At AMHSI, we had weekends to stay with friends or family. Due to rocket attacks, we had to cancel these visits and could not leave campus.

At one point, I planned to go out to dinner with my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in four months, but the nearby rockets made it too unsafe. The norm of always needing to be on alert for rockets was foreign to me, yet that is the everyday life of Israelis.

One specific experience that impacted me emotionally was in Sderot, less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. Here, I visited a children’s bomb shelter within a typical neighborhood of young families.

Monkey bars, a bounce house, scooters and trampolines decorated the inside of the bomb shelter. In anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza, which would allow only a 15-second rush to the shelter, many parents bring their kids to this playground to help them become comfortable in the bomb shelter.

During my visit to the bomb shelter, I saw a few dozen kids having fun with their friends and families. On Oct. 9, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a post with the caption, “The JNF Indoor Playground in Sderot has sadly been hit. The fire is under control and being put out at the moment. Thankfully, it seems like there was no one injured, but this is an ongoing incident.”
My heart dropped, and I was brought to tears. I couldn’t look away from the image of this shelter in flames. Just four months prior, I had been standing in the exact spot where the rocket had hit. It was a playground of joy and safety that is now destroyed.

The families of Sderot are now living in the same dorm building as I was in Hod. They are receiving housing, food, therapy and other resources on my campus provided by JNF.

Although my classes were among other American students, I did not fail to make lifelong connections with Israelis. I cherish these relationships and cannot address these important people in my life without also addressing the horrible trauma they are enduring as a result of the recent attacks by Hamas.

There is no doubt that people all over Israel and its surrounding areas are experiencing great fear. I have so much empathy for all those in danger, and my experience in Israel only tightens the emotional tie I have to the ongoing conflict. My Israeli madrachim, teachers, family and friends are people I formed remarkable connections with. I do not know strong enough words to describe my fear for them at such a difficult and violent time.

My Israel Studies teacher, Jon, attends four to five funerals weekly.
My madrich, Yotam, was deployed as a reserve in the IDF and can only contact me once a week to let me know that he is safe.
My family friend, Clayton alumnus Myles Rosenblum, is an American defending Israel by voluntarily serving in the IDF.
My friend, Eden, hears rockets above her head daily and has little contact with her sister who is currently fighting in Gaza.
My cousins, who I don’t have contact with, have no way of telling me if they are dead or alive.
My people in Israel are all suffering. They are all my sisters and brothers.

With so few Jews worldwide, we all share a connection, personally or through acquaintances, to an Israeli for whom we fear and worry.

Jon’s next funeral could be his family member. I might not hear from Yotam next week. Myles is putting his life at risk. Eden has no way to help her sister. My young cousins are growing up learning how to be scared. It’s terrifying knowing the possibilities of what might happen to my loved ones.

I am lucky to still be able to wonder. It is all the more terrifying that there are people who don’t need to imagine. These victims of the terrorist attacks are likely people who I have brushed shoulders with on the sidewalks of Israel. They don’t have the luxury of curiosity.

They are innocent civilian hostages being held by Hamas. These people are not just headlines and statistics, but real people with families, friends and lives. I do not understand those who use politics to rationalize anyone’s death. Death cannot be justified.

Oct. 7 marked the largest number of Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust.

The people within this conflict deserve to be humanized rather than simply be a comparison of numbers. I understand that without a personal connection, humanizing this conflict may be challenging. Yet, this situation is real. By sharing my personal connection, I hope to inspire empathy and understanding.

Molly Siwak holds necklace she bought from a jewler in Israel. (AnMei Deck)
Conclusion

Most cover stories end with next steps, but this is not about solutions.

As we conclude, we want to recognize the courage it takes for writers to share their stories. As a platform for expression and dialogue, we hope these essays have impacted both writers and readers alike. Although every one of us holds a different opinion about this conflict, what can be agreed upon is the pain. Our hearts ache for the hundreds of innocent civilians who have been killed and their families who will feel the impact for the rest of their lives. We scorn the terrible rise of hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim people and never endorse violence as a cure for pain.

The future of this conflict is unclear. Attempting to predict or steer it in what one believes to be the right direction is perhaps a futile ambition. The future of our community, however, in that we might have a chance. 

By practicing courtesy and understanding, we don’t have to be torn apart. We can disagree. We can fight. We can keep sharing our views, adamantly and without equivocation, but we can also choose respect. We can choose empathy. We can choose to see each other not as governments or symbols of hate but as people, for kindness and controversy are not mutually exclusive.

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JiaLi Deck, Editor in Chief
JiaLi Deck is a senior. When she first joined the Globe her sophomore year, she couldn't have ever imagined being Editor in Chief; however, as time went on she realized how passionate she is about writing and designing for the Globe. In the past two years, she has gotten to write stories which have made an difference and design pages of a nationally distributed magazine. She is immensely proud to get to lead of such a fantastic publication and she hopes to continue Globe's important mission in her final year on staff. In addition to Globe, JiaLi participates in Speech & Debate and is a 1st company member of the pre-professional dance division at COCA. She is also a commission graphic artist who designs T-Shirts, logos, and other digital projects.
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