With dismay, I read the recent article by Emma Gometz in Teen Vogue – “This Hanukkah, How Do I Talk to My Grandparents About Israel?”—purporting to explore how to love one’s family through political disagreement. While I appreciate the author’s desire for unity and a spirited political discussion, it pains me that she pushed the unique Jewish connection to Israel to the periphery, rather than acknowledging this relationship regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This article falls in line with a series of pieces published in Teen Vogue seeking to demonize Israel and disentangle the Jewish homeland from Judaism. In March 2019, an article was published entitled “People Tweeted Their Support for Ilhan Omar With #IStandWithIlhan,” effectively dismissing the Jewish community’s concerns over Representative Omar’s use of antisemitic tropes in reference to Israel. In October 2021, Teen Vogue released a piece called “Sally Rooney Boycotts Israeli ‘Apartheid,’ Refuses Work With Publishers,” tokenizing fringe groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace to justify Rooney’s cultural boycott of the Jewish state.
I wholeheartedly reject this one-sided narrative.
Just like the author, I am a college student facing antisemitism daily. During my nearly two years at Tufts University, I have been told that I must be wealthy because I am a Jew, and I have been accused of being party to “Jewish supremacy.” As a Jewish day school alum, antisemitism was solely a matter of academic study, not a tangible form of hate that I could experience first-hand. Making the transition to college burst my Jewish bubble, forcing me to reconcile with the ignorance and intolerance of the non-Jewish world.
However, seeing the denial of fundamental aspects of Jewish identity coming from a member of the Jewish community is much more painful.
The author mentions her love of Hanukkah, L’chah Dodi, Avinu Malkeinu, and Adam Sandler connects her to her Jewish legacy. “Judaism has helped me celebrate, grieve, reason and learn,” she states in her piece. “Judaism is an ancient religion that has spread across the world.” But the Jewish homeland? Chas V’Shalom—G-d forbid. (“Spread across the world” from where, I wonder.)
She seems to treat Israel as a relic of the past, an aspect of her grandparents’ Jewish heritage, but not hers. The Jewish homeland isn’t old fashioned, as she implies. Nor is it irrelevant to Jewish legacy or Jewish life.
In addition, she uses the Hanukkah festival to contextualize her criticism of her grandparents’ support for Israel. Yet she overlooks the real message of the Hanukkah story: the Jewish people’s connection to our homeland. On this holiday, we commemorate the Maccabees’ rejection of Hellenization and the proclamation of the Hasmonean Dynasty in an act of Jewish self-determination, reclaiming sovereignty over the Land of Israel.
Today, college students experience a similar form of antisemitism, albeit to a lesser extreme. Then, Jews were forced to Hellenize or be persecuted. Jews today face a similar litmus test: Reject the Jewish homeland or face ostracization.
Don’t misunderstand me: Advocating for Jewish self-determination does not automatically mean unconditional support for Israel. And criticism of Israel isn’t necessarily antisemitic, though it may verge into it at times, as pointed out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which formed the benchmark definition used by Jewish communities and organizations around the world. I often find myself criticizing the Israeli government in conversations with my friends and family.
Yet to portray the very notion of the Jewish homeland as antiquated and to purge Israel from Jewish identity is a rejection of our Jewish legacy.
While Hanukkah may have ended, the legacy of the Maccabees continues. We can’t forget that for centuries we yearned to return to our homeland. In the face of those who seek to dismantle Judaism, we must stay proud of our Jewish identity—all of our Jewish identity.
In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.