torn up and apart

My Jewish Mom Anxiety Just Keeps Growing

Photo-Illustration: New York Magazine; Photo: Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

A group of my progressive Jewish friends and I have met every weekend since October 7 to talk and light Shabbat candles, which is something I rarely did before, unless my grandmother is reading this, in which case I do it every week. We talk about how we hold two endless griefs; it’s our attempt to feel less isolated in a duality so many Jews are feeling. We’re shattered by the 7th, and we’re horrified by Netanyahu’s response. It feels like a shiva for our own sanity.

Since the 7th, I sense a constant drumbeat of anxiety, which for a Jewish mother is nothing new. A few weeks ago the synagogue where my son goes to preschool was vandalized with graffiti. I stood with a good friend as we watched the custodians power-wash it into the gutter. “At least it wasn’t a swastika!” I joked. She laughed and said, “Is that where we are?”

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She and I talked about pulling our kids from the school and decided against it. I don’t think I’d sleep any better knowing I’d raised a kid to retreat from his identity, even if for no other reason than he’d get to rightfully tell his therapist his mother was hysterical. This is a lesson faced by all Jews, throughout history. Take the mezuzah off your door and be safe or keep it up and teach your children to be proud of who they are, as they advocate for the safety of all kids, and understand that retaliatory brutality is antithetical to everything we hold sacred as Jews.

To call attention to the very real, palpable rise in antisemitism can feel almost like it’s minimizing the suffering happening across the world — as if standing up for the protection of Jews in the Diaspora is in some way in conflict with arguing for the safety of Palestinian children. It is not. It is necessary. And when only Jewish voices are crying out for our own protection, the echo is haunting.

I have two Jewish children and a Muslim sister-in-law. I have family in Israel who still have to hide in their shelters when the sirens go off. I have friends who lived through bombings in Gaza as children. My panic crosses the wall; it’s big enough for the entire region — maybe that’s a particularly Jewish skill set. As I walk my son to school at his synagogue past a very kind guard who is armed to the teeth, and occasionally a cop car if there’s been a nonspecific threat that day, I hope he feels how outrageously lucky he is to be so safe. I hope he is learning to be proud of who he is and to never weaponize it against anyone else.

I have two Jewish children and a newborn Muslim niece and nephew. My prayer in this is that they are all spared from this rising tide of antisemitism and Islamophobia. My prayer is that sanity prevails over vengeance, the hostages are returned and there’s an end to the bloodshed in Gaza. When I walk my son to school, I am walking my brightest hope for a healed world.

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My Jewish Mom Anxiety Just Keeps Growing