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Schmooze Vol. 1 Issue 3:
How The Jewish Values We Grew Up Learning In School- To Help The Oppressed, To Pursue Justice… Are Inspiring Us In This Critical Time

Zoe Bernstein

Human Development | PRYDE Scholar Cornell University ’24


“We shall overcome”, we would sing at the top of our lungs, with all the earnestness and conviction young grade school children could muster up, as we dreamt of a world where all people, regardless of race, are afforded the same respect. “Hoops for Haiti” and “Jumpshots for Japan”, we shot, as we understood our responsibility to help the struggling and needy natural disaster survivors in any way that we could, no matter how far away or unknown the individuals were. While, we cannot predict nor prevent tragedy and devastation, it is incumbent upon us as Jews to be upstanders in its face and employ our core values of pursuing justice and caring for the downtrodden to the utmost of our ability. We have deeply internalized the message Martin Neimoler, in his speech “First They Came”, was sharing with the world, that we cannot wait to become targets ourselves in order to speak out against injustice, and this is ingrained in who we are as a people. 

Yet, on October 7th, and every day since then, it has become painstakingly apparent that the same care and concern we show to any and every victim of hardship, is not returned to us. While this is a sobering moment, a loss of naivete for people of all ages, it is a critical one for the Jewish people to redouble our commitments to our core values and allow them to continue to inspire us in all that we do. Since October 7th- the single most horrific day the Jewish people have faced since the Holocaust- the unity and resilience of our people have proven to be as strong as ever. People who previously had fallen out of touch with their religious observance and those who considered themselves to be on the more secular side of the spectrum have now reconnected. Jews from all over the world are organizing fundraisers, packing duffels full of supplies, and embarking on mission trips to Israel to help the communities that have been devastated and offer their service to anyone in need, irrespective of religion, race, or background. We have collectively answered the call to action, each individual according to what they can do. 

On college campuses, students have found their voices. We have an acute understanding that “all Israel is responsible for one another” and while the war with Hamas is taking place thousands of miles away, we continue to do our part to support those fighting on the ground with our advocacy from abroad. We uphold the commandment that we “must not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” in our lobbying of congress, in the countless meetings with university administrators, and the events we tirelessly plan all in pursuit of spreading truth and dispelling harmful myths and libels about Zionism and the Jewish State. We do not forget that every person was “made in the image of g-d” and for that reason we do not fail to repeatedly state our abhorrence with the death of any innocent civilian- whether they be Jewish or Muslim, Israeli or Palestinian- and when we shout ‘Bring Them Home Now”, we do with every single hostage in mind, as it is a crime against humanity of epic proportions what is happening to Israelis and foreigners alike. 

So, while the past few months have been nothing short of shocking, confusing, and destabilizing, there is light in the darkness. Focusing on our community’s needs in a time of great peril and fear need not detract from our commitment to being forces of good for the betterment of wider society. Instead, we employ the same values that we would apply in response to any cry for help, to help anyone in need. We, the Jewish people, are not defined by tragedy but instead by our response to it. Am Yisrael Chai.

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