Standing Together

by | May 9, 2024 | Latest News, Opinion

Third time’s the charm. You let me know if that’s the case by the time you finish this article – it’s the third one I’ve written where I feel compelled to share an experience with Jewish News. The first was after I completed the March of the Living in Poland. Second was after a volunteer trip with the JDC. And the third?

The third’s about me being in a warzone.

It started with a well-meaning email. From a coalition of mainstream Jewish organizations.

Subject: URGENT Rally Call to Action – Sunday at 11am | UCLA Campus.

The email mentioned incidents of antisemitism associated with U.S. campuses. It said, “Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we stand together to support the Jewish students and community members” and ended with “Join us for a peaceful gathering to support our UCLA students! Bring flags!” This was Friday evening.

Let me preface – I was already planning on being on UCLA’s campus that morning. I’d been volunteering with the LA support chapter for Standing Together (ST), a grassroots movement of Palestinians and Israelis working together toward peace on the ground in Israel. They’ve got support chapters all over the world like the LA one. Rather than taking the Pro-Israel or the Pro-Palestinian side, we show there is a third way, that there are actually Jews and Palestinians working together. So naturally, when we got word that there would be demonstrators outside the UCLA encampment, we agreed – that’s where we needed to be.

Cut to Sunday morning. The students of the UCLA encampment had decided they would stay inside the encampment. No one in or out. Having gotten there early, I saw how quiet the campus was. The Lulu lemon joggers were out. The wizened professors tipped their straw hats. The calm before the storm.

The organizers from the above flyer were there, setting up a stage and jumbotron worthy of a rock star. That’s when a pro-Palestinian crowd marched into the staging area. I recognized many of them from protests elsewhere in LA, including members of the Revolutionary Communists (RevComms). These were not UCLA students.

More and more people flooded onto campus. Israeli and Palestinian flags multiplied.

Then I heard the CEO of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, get introduced onto the organizer’s stage. I heard him shout (amongst all the other shouting) “Look at this scene.” He gestured to the Pro-Palestinians and the student encampment. “They hide behind signs, we wave our flags proudly. Because they know that in the end, they’re evil and their fascism will not win and we know, Am Yisrael Chai.” Those protestors waving Israeli flags started chanting with him. I was shocked.

Look back at that flyer.

They were supposed to be standing up “against hatred.” Yet here on the day were speakers chanting to “show strength before peace,” “to take back our campuses” from “the enemy.” This was the language coming from our own Jewish community. Not only was this language the opposite of the message that had been advertised, but it was also, as Rabbi Sharon Brous observed, “vitriol and moral rot manifesting right here in Los Angeles.”

It was dehumanizing.

I share these events NOT to disparage those mainstream Jewish organizations. I care about my Jewish community. I share as the latest in four generations of family involved with a myriad of Jewish organizations and one who is deeply concerned that the next generation’s support is being lost.

They see a commitment to Israel that seems to leave no room for Palestinians. An avoidance in emails and newsletters of the mention of “Gaza” except in regard to the hostages. It’s as if Palestinian and Israeli trauma is mutually exclusive.

Thus, it fuels their fire rather than siphons it. It sows division like I witnessed at UCLA.

You’ve probably heard all this on the news already. Heard of the violent clashes, saw the videos of masses absolutely screaming at one another.

You may have even heard that a few members of Standing Together and I were there too. But there’s one moment I want to share with you, as important to share with you as any moment I experienced among the survivors marching through Auschwitz or the JDC helping those in Bosnia.

Several of us from Standing Together, all dressed in purple, waded into the space between the protestors and counter-protestors. One of us began chanting, “From Gaza to Tel Aviv, all the children want to live.” Protestors on the Pro-Palestinian side began chanting it too, not realizing that several Pro-Israel protestors had also taken up the same chant. They began clapping. “It seemed that those protesters, each driven by their own grief and righteous desire for justice, did not know that such a collective call was imaginable. But then [Standing Together] handed them the life raft, big enough to hold us all,” observed Rabbi Brous.

Tikkun olam, loving thy neighbor, the stranger, etc. That’s what we do.

All Jews are responsible for one another. I would like to think that means we’re responsible for all our actions too, both the good acts and the bad. I hope we are strong enough to call out the bad and even take some responsibility for it, but at the very least to name it. If we talk about the future, we talk about the present. If we talk about our community, we talk about our neighbors. If we sign off with prayers for peace, we push for peace.

There is language, and there is a way we can be both Pro-Israelis and Pro-Palestinians. I bring attention to this for the sake of our Jewish organizations and the many young, future members who are reading and hearing their words.

Simon Fink is a Norfolk native.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Jewish News.