Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Talking to Our Families
Duration
0:00 / 50:05
Published
December 8, 2023

In late October, we received a letter: “In almost every conversation I have with young Jews on the left, I find that we are all currently struggling with the same question: What do we do with our families? How do we relate to our parents and grandparents or relatives who are supportive of and complicit in pogroms and genocide? These conversations are feeling fruitless. I’m going home this weekend to visit my family and don’t know what I’ll do.”

Around Thanksgiving, we asked listeners to call in and tell us about how they’re navigating conversations with their families, friends, and communities in this moment. What has worked in getting through to loved ones who are attached to a destructive Zionist politics, and what hasn’t? We wanted to know how people are managing these relationships or coping with their feelings about them.

On this episode—a collaboration between On the Nose and Unsettled—editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, associate editor Mari Cohen, and Unsettled producer Ilana Levinson listen to clips from callers describing the ruptures in their families, their attempts to repair relationships while sticking to their values, and their strategies for getting through to stubborn loved ones. We explore questions of when it is our obligation to keep arguing, and when it’s better to take a break—or give up completely. And we zoom out to think about what this moment says about the future of Jewish American institutional life.

Thanks to Max Freedman, Ilana Levinson, and Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Transcript

Caller: My name is Aviva. I live in Brooklyn, but most of my family is elsewhere.

Caller: My name is Rebecca. I’m an artist and an activist for peace, and I live in Hiroshima, Japan.

Caller: My name is David. I’m an American Jew who was born in 1982, which means I grew up as a teenager between the First and Second intifadas.

Caller: Hi, my name is Maya. I’m in the Bay Area. I was born in Israel, and most of my family had lived in Israel for about 50 years now. I’m calling to tell you a little bit about how this moment is impacting me and my family.

Arielle Angel: Hello, and welcome to a very special joint episode of On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast and Unsettled. I’m Arielle Angel, editor-in-chief of Jewish Currents.

Mari Cohen: I am Mari Cohen, I’m associate editor at Jewish Currents.

Ilana Levinson: And I am Ilana Levinson, I am a producer at Unsettled.

AA: A couple of weeks ago, we put out a call for stories of how you are talking to your families in this very difficult moment. We got dozens and dozens and dozens of voicemails from all over the country and all over the world. It was a really moving experience listening to these voicemails. Ilana, I don’t know about you, and how it felt to listen on your end, but for me, even though these are heartbreaking stories of rupture with family members, and friends, and community, there’s also a sense of being in this really hard moment together, even though people are, in some ways, feeling very alone. The cumulative effect of listening to these voicemails was a sense of shared experience in this moment.

IL: Yeah, for me, it really, really gave me a sense of community. I left the Zionist community a long time ago. So for me, this is a moment where I have a lot of people from a past life who are really hostile to me right now, and it’s been really humbling and nice to sort of feel like I’m in it together with these people who called in.

AA: So maybe the place to start is to play a little bit of tape, of things that people have told us about what’s going on with them at home with their families.

Caller: After hearing that I went to a pro-Palestinian rally, my mom told me that she was ashamed of me, and that she wasn’t sure if she could have a relationship with me anymore. She also asked why I don’t have any loyalty, and why I don’t just convert to Islam.

Caller: There had been yelling, silence, accusations, tears, back talking. And it felt like they refuse to actually engage with the very legitimate perspectives or sources that I bring them—even though at the core, I think (or I thought) our values are the same.

Caller: My parents keep saying they miss me, and I can’t help that they miss the version of me that’s a Zionist. It’s a version that doesn’t exist. It completely breaks me. And I think it’s hard because it feels like it runs so deep, that being anti-Zionist is something that can make them think they don’t recognize me anymore. And they say that.

Caller: My family found out that I went to a Jewish Voices for Peace rally, and now my sister won’t talk to me. I’ve had multiple, hour-long conversations with my parents where I have to repeatedly say that I denounce antisemitism.

Caller: As a Filipino person and a Jewish person, I think it’s very important that we share our opinions on this and talk about it. But I’ve basically been iced out by my family. They consistently tell me that I’m an extremist. My father has told me that I’m not Jewish.

Caller: There’s no way out because you really do not want to lose your family. So it ends up with a lot of silence. But it seems like this conflict is a breaking point of that silence—very, very hard to maintain. But everything is breaking apart that people previously believed in.

Caller: My mom has us starting family therapy, so we can communicate specifically about our political divisions. She has said really inflammatory things, like: Am I gonna join ISIS, and that I’m brainwashed for my beliefs, and that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Caller: And I think, for a lot of people, a lot of our family members and community members really went backwards after October 7, and really dug in on the Zionist talking points, and lost all of the progress that they might have made on humanizing Palestinians.

Caller: And it’s like there’s a pain of discovering that we disagree. And then there’s—at least on my part—feeling like I have a responsibility to make my case for a ceasefire, but also, at the same time, knowing that there are members of my family that are so stubborn that if I make the argument, they will never agree with it. So how do you know when you arguing for it will only make them believe it less? It’s hard to know how much to push and how much that is just making it worse.

Caller: I find myself often being dismissed as too naive, as not having all of the information, as being brainwashed, in a way to avoid actual discussion. I’m weighing which relationships I’m willing to lose over my stance on genocide. I’m figuring out how I can continue to see my parents as whole, loving, empathic people that I know them to be, while also holding a lot of compassion for the type of brainwashing based in trauma and fear that they experienced. I think these conversations feel different than conversations I had with them about anything else, I think. Coming out as gay, not going to grad school, all of those different things were accepted (perhaps with some complexity). But there is no topic that is more emotionally fraught than Zionism.

AA: We just talked about the feeling of community, but there’s a lot of pain in these messages. I want to lift up, in the last clip that we played—this was something that we heard again and again in the voicemails, this feeling of being dismissed as naive, or brainwashed, especially because so many of these arguments are taking place along generational lines and with parents and grandparents who feel like they have a longer view on the story, and on the history (whether or not they know the full history). It really contributes, it seems, from listening to these voicemails, to a sense that the younger generation feels very much ignored, cast aside, dismissed. I mean, that’s part of the generational nature of this interpersonal conflict that’s happening.

MC: I also think that there is something very deep about these beliefs. And if you are raised with a core identity of Zionism, and really seeing Israel as this miraculous underdog state that could be seen as a healing from the legacy of the Holocaust. If that’s really the narrative that you had grown up with so certainly for a long time, it’s very hard to move past that. And I’ll admit, yeah, I honestly don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what their experiences are like. I was born in the mid 90s and Israel, in my life, has never been a beacon of hope or a source of pride. I have never experienced it that way, and I have never looked at it that way, and there has never been a moment when I felt that way about it. I mean, maybe when I was 10. But even then I was like: Okay, cool, seems like a fun place to go and swim.

So I think for me to try to have a conversation with someone who felt like this was a place of hope for them to live out their identity as a Jewish person—I mean, it’s like we can’t even talk to each other, because we don’t understand that about each other. And then I can bring in all the facts that I have—and that’s what’s so frustrating about being dismissed, right? It’s like, this is my job. I do this every single day. I’ve read all of this stuff. I know about all these scholars who work on this. I’ve talked to tons of people. I’ve talked to a lot of Palestinians. I know so much about the movement and the history. I can bring in all the facts and information, but I’m not speaking that same emotional language, and I’m still dismissed as naive.

AA: Well, we’re gonna get into the question of speaking that emotional language. But first, I wanted to touch on one more dimension that this rupture is taking, which is that a number of people who called in had stories about different people—maybe people who follow them online, maybe different family members—informing on them to their families about their Palestine activism, and we wanted to share a clip about that:

Caller: I also just want to mention one thing, which is something that me and people around me have been experiencing, which is this really violent way in which family members will kind of hand you in to other family members, reveal that you’re an anti-Zionist to your grandma. Reveal that you’re attending Palestinian marches, demanding a ceasefire, the way those things are being weaponized against us within our own families. It’s like a real, bitter, bitter thing. And I know it’s happening to me. It’s happening to my partner; it’s happening to my friends. It’s almost like people are trying to out you as an anti-Zionist with the intention of it causing you harm, with the intention of making you feel ostracized, and with the intention of you being rejected by your family. It’s so malicious. I think that is the most shocking of everything—it’s the desire for anyone who does not subscribe to any form of Zionism to be completely and horrifically kicked out of their families, for want of a better word.

AA: There were a number of these examples that have come in that involve this kind of informing, either coming up to their family members and shul and talking about a post that they saw, or screenshotting things that they see and sending them to different family members. It seems like this is pretty widespread.

MC: Yeah, I have experienced some versions of this. And there’s something that feels really inappropriate about it, just in terms of a breakdown of social norms, like the idea that someone is tattling on an adult’s political behavior to their parents and then making that the parents’ problem. My position on that would be: If you don’t like what I’m saying publicly, you can come and have that conversation with me, but why are you having that conversation with my parents? That doesn’t make any sense. But there’s a way in which the social norms have so completely broken down that this is a thing that people are doing.

AA: I mean, we would think of societies where people are informing on one another, like the Gestapo or like the Stasi—these informant societies are really unhealthy. And I feel this is something that comes up again and again, the way in which this moment is revealing, very starkly, a sort of sickness in the Jewish familial or societal body. I mean, informing is not a healthy sign. It’s a way of policing the bounds of belonging and community in a way that also takes everything with it in its wake.

MC: And what our listeners are describing with this kind of language that their families are using towards them: Why don’t you just convert to Islam? Oh, don’t you just want to go join ISIS? Obviously, at its base, it’s all completely Islamophobic and revealing the way that that has just become such a core tenet of American Zionism, but also just the way that there’s this real intense paranoia.

AA: I think we’ve touched on a few things that really speak to this trauma response--like the paranoia, the very heightened emotion that people are bringing to these conversations. We definitely had a lot of people talking about trauma in these voicemails. A lot of people who called in were themselves the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. I think one of the questions here is: Can we speak to that trauma? There were many people who reached out who said that we can and that we should, so maybe we’ll play that first and then talk a little bit about that.

Caller: I was talking with my Jewish friend yesterday about talking to our beloved elders about the genocide being committed by Israel right now. And she said she tries to be compassionate with our aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, that are closer in time to our ancestral traumas of the Holocaust and pogroms, that have angry ancestors screaming in their ears more loudly. I think holding compassion is at the center of having productive conversations, and I’m still practicing this.

Caller: One person I wasn’t expecting to talk to was a Yemeni Israeli Jew. She was really upset by a post I’d made where I’d referred to Zionists as “you Zionists” because I was sharing about the evangelical Christian who came to speak at the March for Israel in DC; I was like: You Zionists couldn’t have gotten anyone better? And she said: That really upsets me because I’m not lumped in with those people. I’m a Zionist in the sense that I want a Jewish homeland. And I’m extremely critical of Israel, especially because my family was affected by Israel’s racist policies when it was first created. So I really had to take a step back off my high horse, I guess, as a white American Jew with little to no connection to Israel, and hear her out. And I think the lesson I’m learning and the lesson I hope to bring to Thanksgiving is: People really just want to be heard and listened to, and they want their pain heard. And they don’t want to feel like they’re part of a monolith just because they’re a part of a political movement. Just like I don’t want people to view the Free Palestine movement or the anti-Zionist movement as one thing. There’s diversity in every movement.

MC: I mean to that last point; I think we should just acknowledge that this is a really important way to have these conversations. And also that it feels frustrating because it doesn’t feel like that kind of compassion is being granted in the other direction. And also it feels like it’s really not being applied towards Palestinians; to understand where they’re coming from, to understand where anti-Zionist protesters in the United States are coming from, and why they might have deep anger. And so I think we should just acknowledge that it’s frustrating. That said, if we are able to use that when we’re having these conversations, it probably is the most effective way to try to get through.

AA: I have a strange experience on this because I feel like I have actually convinced my mother over a period of almost a decade of sustained argument and conversation about this. And it was really hard, and we fought a lot, and those fights did not always look civil, and they did not always look compassionate, but they were consistent. And we knew that we could come back from them; we knew that we could have the argument, and that no matter what happened and what was said, we were still having the conversation. And this is actually something that came up in these voicemails. Somebody said: You know, even if we’re fighting, we’re still talking, and that way of continuing to talk is part of affirming that relationship. So I guess, for me, the consistency and the ability of the relationship to sustain the argument speaks to the underlying love more than the ability to engage at every level with compassion. That said, I do think that there’s a way in which leading with compassion, and speaking to that trauma, could actually be a bridge to thinking about the experiences of Palestinians in this moment.

IL: You know, as we’re watching a genocide happen, it takes a lot of emotional fortitude to be able to hold compassion for someone who’s not immediately in danger. But if you can do that, I think it is a way to get there, to get to that bridge to compassion for Palestinians. I was having a conversation with my mom recently. And for her, she continues to fall back on: Well, we need a Jewish state. Jews have just never been safe; we need a Jewish state. And for me, what’s helpful is to say: What’s important about living Jewishly? Because I’m watching the Israeli Defense Forces emblazon a Star of David on a razed Palestinian park. For me, that is ruining my conception of what it means to be Jewish by doing that—by putting a symbol of Judaism on destruction and death. And so, by hearing her by hearing what her concerns were, it allowed me to get on the same page with her and bring Palestinians into the conversation.

MC: I think the question of holding compassion for someone who’s not in danger in that way is really interesting. And this is where there’s another epistemological rupture, just in terms of what different people believe about the actual threat of antisemitism and anti-Jewish sentiment in this moment. And I think, at least in my family, it does have a lot to do with people who grew up with grandparents who had fled pogroms and really felt very close to being targeted in that way, and who were much closer to living through the Holocaust. In my family’s case, in the United States, but observing it, versus my case, where I’ve really never lived through anything like that in the United States and have really mostly lived the life of a comfortable assimilated white person. So it can be pretty hard for me to have these conversations and hear someone say, “I really feel scared in the United States right now,” even though I do think that there’s ways in which antisemitism has risen and does rise while these things are going on. And I think we see that internationally even more than in the US. But it’s so clear to me that that’s not the real danger that’s happening. I mean, that’s not the people who are dying. It just feels so far from what I understand and what I feel, which is this real sense of privilege in the face of all this horrible stuff that’s going on, and a sense of safety that feels quite unfair, in a way. But you can’t tell someone that their feelings about that that are different are wrong. And that’s kind of what I’ve realized, like I can present different statistics and I can say: Well, the structure of the government is not what it was in 1933 in Nazi Germany. You can say those things, and maybe it does help to say them, but if someone really deeply feels those kinds of fear, you can’t just necessarily dismiss that. And that’s something I’m trying to think through and improve on.

AA: Yeah, I agree. That is really hard for me, to hold sympathy, particularly for older people who are kind of freaking out about, for example, antisemitism on campus or antisemitism generally, and haven’t really experienced much of it, and feel, to me, hungry to experience themselves as victims in it. And I feel that also with younger people who are expressing those things. And that is my work to do: To be able to find a place of compassion to speak to them from. Because I agree with the callers that it will be difficult to have these conversations without that baseline. But maybe let’s try to go back to the clip about empathy as a bridge to empathy with Palestinians.

Caller: My brother and his wife and their two-year-old are, in fact, moving to Haifa, so that my brother can accept the position he accepted a while ago at the University of Haifa as an academic. And that has been, of course, on my mother’s mind. I said something very simple in a complicated conversation with my mother that I think surprised the both of us. We were discussing the war. I was expressing support for a ceasefire. She couldn’t understand why I was supporting something that she saw as enabling Hamas. To her, I could tell the Jewish deaths were so close, and the Palestinian deaths were so abstract. And I said something at one point that gave her pause: Mom, if my brother and his partner and their child were moving to or living in Gaza now, instead of in Haifa, would you support a ceasefire? And the minute I said that there was this pause in the conversation. And she said: Yes, I would. And we both said nothing for a moment, because we were, I think, sitting with the implication of that realization: That if her own child were in Gaza, she would support a ceasefire. It would be a risk too great, because a life that mattered intimately to her was there and was at risk. So that’s a very small story. But the moment stuck with me, because I think it was such a simple exercise in empathetic imagination. But it actually had this strangely profound impact on the space between us.

MC: That’s beautiful. I love that that worked. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to believe that saying anything works for any of this. The reason I say that is because I do feel like it can be hard to do those hypotheticals, because I think there’s a real element of tribal peoplehood stuff going on. It’s very hard to get someone to identify with the people of Gaza because there are people who are operating in this mode of identifying so strongly with Israeli Jews, like: Those are my people, and this is all complicated, and I don’t know what to do, but I just have to stand with the people who are my people. It’s so different than how I feel about it, and I think trying to cultivate empathy is really important, but it’s a hard tribal space to break into.

AA: In the spirit of “fuck empathy,” we should probably play a clip with someone who decided over Thanksgiving, not to go that direction and not to try.

IL: Yeah, Mari. I think we had a lot of callers who were in your same boat, who were just feeling like it’s not worth it, and this caller is one of them.

Caller: I sent out this text message to individual members of my family in anticipation of the holidays, and this is what I wrote: I know how important the Thanksgiving tradition is to our family, and so I wanted to reach out to let you know personally that for my own emotional and spiritual wellness, I will not be able to attend. This is already a holiday that for years has brought me much distress. It is a day that commemorates the genocide of native peoples on this land, and therefore does not represent celebration to me. Additionally, the current devastation unfolding in Israel/Palestine has filled me with so much grief. I’m sure all of us are experiencing our own grief. I wish this was something we could all process as a family, yet given some of our family members’ current involvement, acceptance, perpetuation, neutrality, and support of the escalating violence on that land, I do not think it’s possible at this time. I need to surround myself with people who are able to hold the wide spectrum of pain and compassion needed in this moment, not only a narrow pain and compassion for one group of people. I need a level of humanization that I don’t believe all members of our family are capable for at this time. I pray that everyone in our family feels safe, loved, and cared for. And I pray that one day we, as a family, can devote our lives to ensuring that all human beings deserve to live in safety, dignity, and freedom. I pray we find the courage to examine our illusions around good and evil, or us and them, and I hope we put them all to rest so that we can protect all human life as sacred. I pray we are supported and cared for during that painful process, as the death of illusion is a major loss to grieve. Sending peace, love, and solidarity to all.

AA: It would be interesting to know what the response from the family is, and also what this caller’s feeling is about what that has done. On the one hand, you can read that as an act of self-preservation. I don’t want to have this conversation with these people—my family—and I want them to know why. And I think that that’s a totally valid decision to make. But I also wonder what the long game of it is. Is the act an act of break? Is it designed to shake the family members out of their slumber? Is it sort of like a threat? Like, if you want a relationship with me, you’re going to have to open up more? Because it doesn’t at all seem aimed at convincing. There’s very little in that message that is trying to bring them along—which, again, I think that’s valid. I just really want to know how it went for this caller.

MC: The whole thing opens up an interesting question of ethics, which is: What kind of relationships are acceptable to keep, even if you strongly (morally or ethically) disapprove or disagree with what those people are doing. And this isn’t the only context in which these conversations are had. This is the whole thing about the idea of people going back to their Trump-supporting relatives on Thanksgiving after the 2016 election. There’s this idea that it really isn’t incumbent on you to try to get your people, right, and have the conversations, and fix them, and change them. And I think that that is often true and a good point. And also, I don’t know if it’s always possible in my situation, and I’m not going to cut off my family, and I’m not going to end those relationships. It’s just not an option for me in my life.

AA: There are political mixed messages, Mari, too. It’s not just like: Get your people. It’s also: If you can’t get your people, cut them off.

MC: I have strong disagreements with people in my family. But you know, they’re not employed in working for the war effort. As far as I know, I don’t believe that they’re like directly, materially supporting it in any way, so I don’t know if my calculation would be different if that were the case. I’m sure there are people who are in that situation, and I’m sure that’s also really, really hard. What I have done is I have decided that I’m going to preserve my relationships because I come from a really close family, and that’s a really important part of my life, and I can’t give it up. So I’m going to have those relationships and am going to try to focus on the things that do make us close and the things that we can come together on. And we do try to sometimes take a break and not talk about this—that’s kind of what we did at Thanksgiving. And there’s definitely—I think it’d be fair for someone to say: Well, that’s cowardly, and you just went home, and you had your fun Thanksgiving, and you didn’t try to change people’s minds about this. And I’m open to that criticism, I felt, for me to do the work that I do, and continue going out to protest, and to continue doing the work I do at Jewish Currents, I need to not feel like my family is falling apart. And I need to be able to preserve those relationships. And I need to maintain that love that’s important to me. And that’s the calculation that I’ve made.

AA: It seems like in that regard—let’s get into some tips, because people did call in with tips for having that conversation and how they engage.

MC: Really? I need them. Let’s go.

Caller: I always start from a personal connection. I’m a teacher, and my co-teacher is Palestinian American. My co-teacher and I are very close. And my family, my husband, my daughter, and I visited her parents’ house in Ramallah in 2019. It was the first time I’d ever been in a non-Jewish house in Israel. So in my case, it makes sense for me to bring up a real person with an actual family that’s impacted rather than talking about Palestinians in general when I’m talking to my family.

Caller: My preferred way of approaching it has been in focusing on a ceasefire, and hoping that once we overcome that, then we can have more serious discussions about ending the occupation, and liberating all Palestinians.

Caller: The other thing that’s helped a lot was being able to hold the complexity of the history—including elements of Jewish suffering—alongside the not complicated necessity for action and ceasefire, and I think that that helps.

Caller: It’s okay to set boundaries. I say: Hey, we can talk about this, but we have to both be sitting down. That’s the boundary I know I need. I also want to say don’t underestimate the importance of your own grounding tools. Deep breathing, have a little fidget in your hand, you know, smelling something delicious (lavender or something). If a person is seeking connection with their loved one, I suggest connecting over feelings, which may be shared feelings of despair, and anger, and sadness, grief and loss, even if they’re about different things. Sometimes, that can then move to feeling more connected to each other across differences. And I do think it is about listening.

Caller: What I find really helpful to talk about with families who are open to an actual conversation about what’s going on is to talk about groups like the Hand to Hand schools or Women Wage Peace, because I find the conversations about the work that these groups do can, in my experience, often bring the conversation out of that existential philosophy realm, and back into the realm of humanity and individual, real people. And discussing the work toward peaceful coexistence can be really powerful, even with people who are so terrified of the possibility of Jewish expulsion or decolonization and the people who justify violence because of this perceived “Us versus Them,” to-the-death ultimatum. I feel like it’s at least a starting point to plant a new seed in people’s minds, that there are people inside who are fighting for a better world together, too, who need our support. And this isn’t just some philosophical binary in the ether of a dichotomy between two groups of people.

Caller: Coming home post-October 7, I knew that it was going to be extremely unpleasant, and that there would be a lot of conflict. And ultimately, I knew that I couldn’t come home unless I had a framework to communicate within with my family, because it would just be too unpleasant and too upsetting, and it wouldn’t be worth coming home. And I said: I will not discuss the situation of Israel/Palestine, nor my work that I’m doing there at all. No one is allowed to discuss it with me unless they approach the conversation with respect and regulations—specifically, that they’re emotionally regulated, that they’re not lobbing insults or accusations at me, and that they show respect for the immense amount of time, energy, and capacity I’m putting into this movement and ultimately, educating myself. And initially, that was received with exactly what I expected, which was emotional unregulation. But I just kept repeating: I’m not going to have these conversations unless we approach them with respect and openness, and if you’re going to be very reactionary, then we’re not gonna have the conversation. Ultimately, at some point, after repeating that enough times, and refusing to accept any dynamic between my parents and I that wasn’t regulated and respectful, I then, after a few days, said: You know, the work that I’m doing is actually very emblematic of the values that I was raised with—my Jewish values, my Jewish upbringing. If you took a little bit of time to listen to me, I think you’d be really proud of me, and I think it would resonate with you a lot. And that kind of did the trick. And it opened my mother up to saying: Okay, let’s talk about it. And then the next conversation we had about it, I was really able to say: This is what the situation looks like, and this is why we are fighting for liberation for the Palestinian people; this is why we’re fighting unconditionally for justice and the right to resist their oppressors.

MC: You know, the question about staying emotionally regulated is: Are people going to be emotionally regulated when they have that conversation with me? And it’s also: I have to think about whether I’m able to be emotionally regulated when I’m starting a conversation, and sometimes I’m not, because I’m just mad, and I’m hurt, and I’m upset.

AA: Sometimes I’m really not.

MC: I think we have to acknowledge it’s just hard to stay in that space and be really calm. It’s easier for me to do that with a stranger ‚or acquaintance ‚or a more distant family member—I can do that pretty well. And with my mom, I totally can’t. So we have to think about when we’re ready to engage in that way, and when we’re not.

AA: I don’t know, I have to be honest, I’ve been taking out a lot of anger on my random camp friends or whatever, like on Instagram, where I just lose it in the DMs. And then I’m like: Oh, my God, what am I doing?

MC: I think having a group of people—allies, wherever they might be—where you can be like: Ahh, I’m so frustrated about this thing, blah blah blah blah—I think that’s probably very helpful so that you can try to take that stuff out there, and then when we’re having more direct conversations, to try not to necessarily put all that anger in that direction. That’s something I actually recommend for all life situations, which is to have a group chat where you can let the anger out so that you don’t let it out publicly.

AA: So that you don’t have to tweet through it.

MC: Yeah, that’s my advice to everyone.

IL: There’s two things I want to say in terms of tips for having these conversations, and it goes back to this question about being emotionally regulated, which is extremely difficult. One thing that I recommend people do if they think that their family members or friends might respond well to this to say: Hey, that hurt my feelings. When people move to ad hominem attacks, or if people are just being cruel in the way they’re talking to you, I think it is okay to say: Hey, ow! I don’t let people talk to me that way. One of the reasons I think that’s important is because I think we let Israel and the conversation around Israel trump our interpersonal relationships often, and I think that’s part of the problem here. But I also want to say that even if you can’t get to a place where you’re both emotionally regulated in this conversation, if you can get a point across, it’s important to understand that you’re not going to have immediate gratification from this. Most of the time, if you convince someone of anything, it will happen when they are processing it later, when they are more emotionally regulated. People just want to win an argument; they want to be right. So if you can drive a point home, do that even if you think you’re losing.

AA: There was a voicemail that came through that was really about “yes and-ing” that I think is pretty important. So being able to say: Yes, the Holocaust, and: Yes, many Jews who came to Israel were refugees with nowhere else to go, and this has the structure of a settler-colonial system. Or, you know, not using the word settler-colonial at all, because it’s such a buzzword that freaks all these people out. I mean, we can use it in the pages of Jewish Currents, it doesn’t mean that we have to use it with our families—as long as we’re not sugarcoating what’s actually happening. Either way, trying to find something in what they’re saying that you don’t have to disagree with—not jumping to the point of disagreement but lingering on the point of agreement and adding to it.

I think some of the work that all of us have to do (and some of the work the left has to do—I talked about this on the last podcast with Naomi Klein) is about trying to bring these narratives together in some way, trying to integrate some of the narrative of Jewish suffering and Palestinian suffering, and again, create a bridge between them. And that is some of the work that we can do in these conversations. So: Yes, there is antisemitism, and that doesn’t disprove or discount the injustice that is happening, the extreme mass killing that is happening. Some of what I’ve been noticing in these conversations is a way in which a certain kind of grievance is basically becoming an excuse not to look at what is happening. There’s a real opportunity to separate these things out and say: Yeah, that thing that you heard is really disturbing, and it just doesn’t change the situation. Or: Yeah, you can be mad at that college group for saying XYZ thing that made you uncomfortable, and this doesn’t change the structure of oppression that Palestinians are living under. Trying to do some of that work of validating where you can and pushing forward when you can.

I’m gonna suggest moving into the question of how we deal with this on a Jewish communal level and what it means to be sort of an anti-Zionist in Jewish communal life for those people who are staying in Jewish community.

Caller: Hi, my name is Sonia. I live in Oakland. I’m 42 years old, so I’m one of the oldest millennials. So, thank God, actually, my family, we’re all in the same boat. We’ve never been brought in to, like, Jewish statist Zionism. I do have a lot of experience, though, because I’m actually pretty religious. I go to synagogue every Saturday, we Shabbat. My kid is in day school—Jewish day school—so it’s been horrible, because my community—and, I mean, I knew this about them, of course, but I guess I always managed to avoid talking about it. One of the things that’s so depressing about this is so many Zionists do not know a real-life human Jew that hasn’t bought in. Just be there, just exist for them as a real person and be in communication so that they know it’s not, like, a plot; you weren’t brainwashed, it’s not fake. This is a real position in their own family. And also, please get involved with your local Jewish community because I am so lonely, and I don’t know what to do. I’m not going to give up Judaism.

MC: This is so tough, because if you are religious, and you need somewhere to go, those spaces are just becoming really inhospitable, and it’s so sad. I totally respect the caller’s plea for more people to get involved and show up for anti-Zionist Jews. And I also, just based on the stories I’ve been hearing about the ways that this polarization has exploded since October 7,I don’t know if it’s going to happen in these existing institutions. I just don’t know if they’re going to open up and include our voices or make space for that. I know that’s not always an option, to create something new. I do think a lot of people are forming new communities and trying new things, and I think a lot of that’s going to mushroom out of this, but I don’t know. It just feels like the evidence that we have from recent history and the current moment is that, even if we’re there and speaking in those spaces, they don’t respect our voices, and they’re not gonna incorporate them into policy. And that’s not necessarily true of every synagogue or every community, but it just feels like it’s true of a lot of the stories I’m hearing about mainstream spaces right now.

AA: I agree with you, Mari, that’s where a lot of the evidence is right now that we’re seeing. Even the few spaces that have been welcoming to anti-Zionist or non-Zionist Jews have become more difficult since October 7. That said, they’re not going to survive. The generational numbers are not on their side. As millennials and Gen Z get older, have children, want to go to synagogue or send their kids to day school, there probably will be institutions that will be up for grabs. And I think there is something to thinking about what the strategic work is of identifying communities—in the same way that Jewish Currents was, in some ways, on its last legs, and there was an opportunity, both by the people handing the magazine over and the people who were there to catch it, even though the people who handed it to us were not on the same page with us about Zionism. It was more important to them that the magazine survive and have new life. Now, I think that that is an outlier, but there will be a moment where some of these institutions will have to turn over, just by virtue of numbers. And the question is: How do we have the biggest impact in the Jewish institutional space? I agree with you that right now, it looks bleak. And on a certain level, I almost want a taskforce put together to identify all the weak and transitional institutions in the country and let us get in there and do some entryism, or something.

MC: Be careful what they’re gonna accuse you of when you when you announce those plans.

AA: Well, a girl can dream. But I just want to say, I do think there’s something to this idea of visibility. I mean, right now, we’re in the moment of backlash, but you have to believe that over time, something else might be possible.

IL: I have a lot of thoughts on this. I am a person who’s deeply connected to spirituality. I wouldn’t call myself religious, but I am regular attendant of synagogues. I’m a B’nai Mitzvah tutor. I am also on the same page about these establishment Jewish institutions. I respect the caller 100%, and I can totally empathize with the loneliness. And I don’t know what kind of synagogue she’s a part of, so that’s worth noting. But, you know—I used to split High Holidays. I used to go to my synagogue here in Brooklyn, and also the conservative synagogue that I grew up with at home. And after this, I can never set foot there again. It’s not just about what rabbis say on the bema. For me, my synagogue sends a delegation to AIPAC conferences every year. They encourage donations to things like Israel bonds. This is not just words, it’s monetary support. I will never set foot in these institutions again. And you might say: You should have left a while ago, and that would be fair. But what I do want to say is that—especially if there’s someone who’s thinking about not being able to tolerate their establishment Jewish spaces because of their Israel politics—it might be scary to think about doing that. Ten years later, looking back, it’s a lot scarier to think about never having done that, because now I do have friends and people I consider family whom I can light Shabbat candles with and sing Shalom Aleichem with, whom I know are also grieving and hurting about the scenes out of Gaza. And I feel emotionally and spiritually aligned in that. I think I would prefer to have the hurt of feelings of isolation from my friends and family from back home than to feel that spiritual dissonance.

MC: Yeah, I really have been feeling for people, and especially people who are in the position of the caller, where they really have this more consistent religious practice. They need somewhere to go every weekend. They go for every Shabbat. In a lot of cities in the country right now, there is nowhere else for them to go, and that’s just really sad. And I do think this is a real moment of opportunity. I do think this is when the people in those communities who feel differently are finding each other and trying to start something new, but obviously, it takes a long time. I feel very lucky, because also living in Brooklyn, I do have places to go that I can go for High Holidays, a congregation that is not explicitly Zionist and that talks specifically around Palestine. I mean, the way that that feels to me now is just so amazing, and I also totally understand a lot of people do not have access to that at the moment. But, as a word of encouragement to people who are in that space of feeling like they need to find something else: When you do find that leftist Jewish community, it really actually is an amazing, amazing feeling. And for me, that really changed my life.

AA: Maybe we should just play the clips on ritual and spirituality and how people are relating to that right now as it relates to their families:

Caller: Last week, after a particularly-heated text exchange with my aunt, followed by a very emotional call with my mom, we all agreed to get on FaceTime to light the Shabbat candles together and say the prayers. So it was such a roller coaster of a day, but seeing each other’s faces and doing this ancient ritual together, one that brings family together and ushers in a pause and a reflection, was extremely powerful. It didn’t solve our disagreements, but it was this very tangible reminder of our shared love for our heritage, and people, and each other. We’ve decided to try and do this every Friday that we can moving forward, even if there are arguments happening. I don’t know what will come of that. But I’m willing to try.

Caller: I feel like we are in a really critical spiritual moment for Jews. I think having the spiritual fortitude to let go of the external factors that we believe make us up and return to—and see if we can still maintain a sense of self without a reliance on Israel, or what we believe makes up our Jewish identity. I think talking about spirituality seems trite in this moment, but I actually think it’s critical. How you are on the inside affects how you show up in the world. I think this is a deeply spiritual moment that we have a responsibility as Jews to take on.

AA: I just cosign that. I’ve also been lighting Shabbat candles, since all this started, which is not a practice that I actually had before. It’s not a thing that connects me to my family, but it is a thing that connects me to a longer history of Jewishness than just this moment. And that has been grounding for me and has allowed me to stay in this work.

MC: I know, I just talked about how good it feels to be in those Jewish left spiritual spaces. And also, I want to admit that I’m having a hard time with this right now. It just feels so bad. I went to the March for Israel to report, and there were all these people there, doing the “no ceasefire” chants. And I was just seeing this whole spectacle unfold, and it’s really hard, sometimes, to not feel like: Well, is that what Judaism is now? It’s not my thing, and it’s not the thing I’m doing, and can I still do it? Because, is what I’m doing just going to be that? And I know that’s not a cool thing to say. But I just have to admit that sometimes I feel like that. And I know that I have to counter it, because if we let go, then that is what it becomes, and so we have to reclaim it, and we have to do it our way. And I’m committed to continuing to do it. I don’t think there’s an option for me to not be a Jewish person at this point. It’s just not an option. But it’s hard. I’m finding it actually harder to do that right now.

AA: I mean, Mari, a lot of people are feeling that way. I feel like I get a text every single day that’s like: I’m not Jewish anymore, if this is what it means. It was already a weird fit, and I wasn’t sure what it meant, but now that it means genocide, I’m not interested.

IL: Yeah, this question of spirituality is one that I think about a lot. I think it’s worth asking: Who are we, and what is the meaning of being Jewish? And that all sounds really abstract, but I think that this comes up for me when I have conversations with friends and family, and it always lands on: Well, we need a Jewish state. And it makes me really sad, because I have this question of like: Is that all that it means to be Jewish now? To have bodies on the ground, on a land, and to manufacture a demographic majority on a land at the expense of indigenous people? Is that a life worth living?

AA: I do think that a lot of people are kind of opting out of that, and I don’t know if I can blame them. And I also don’t know if the work that any of us are doing—on a certain level in this moment, we have lost. And we just have to remember that we’ve always been here. We’ve always been part of this Jewish community and this tapestry, and these ideas have always circulated. There have always been people who were in our position, and that we’re doing that work now, for the people who come after us, who may have to—it may be buried again, and they may have to find us, or something else will happen.

MC: On the one hand, it’s like we’ve totally lost ‚and genocide is proceeding, and the majority of our institutions are complicit. Also, the most people I’ve ever seen come out for IfNotNow, and JVP, and all these groups are showing up in this way that I don’t think I could have predicted, and so I do try to remind myself that the future is contested. And I do think the generational divides, if they continue, are only going to make that more clear.


AA: Thank you guys for joining us on this episode unlike any other that we’ve done—a collaboration, again, between On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast, and Unsettled. We hope that you enjoyed it. Hang in there, everyone.

Feb 22 2024
Hindu Nationalism’s New Temple (33:03)
Aparna Gopalan talks to Siddhartha Deb, Angana Chatterji, and Safa Ahmed about what India’s Ram Mandir means for the country’s minorities.
Feb 8 2024
Israel’s Emerging Religious Left (30:58)
Maya Rosen speaks with Mikhael Manekin, Nechumi Yaffe, and Dvir Warshavsky about the movement of observant Jews offering a left-wing alternative to Religious Zionism.
Feb 1 2024
Charging Israel with Genocide (38:59)
Mari Cohen speaks with Noura Erakat, Darryl Li, and Tony Karon about the International Court of Justice’s order that Israel must prevent genocidal acts.
Jan 3 2024
Labor’s Palestine Paradox (39:44)
Jeff Schuhrke, Zaina Alsous, and Alex Press in conversation with Aparna Gopalan about US unions’ response to the war on Gaza.
Dec 28 2023
Bonus Episode: Mailbag (42:35)
Arielle Angel, Nora Caplan-Bricker, Nathan Goldman, and Mari Cohen answer reader questions.
Dec 21 2023
Hamas: Past, Present, and Future (33:50)
Peter Beinart speaks to two political analysts from Gaza, Khalil Sayegh and Muhammad Shehada, about Hamas’s reign.
Dec 8 2023
Talking to Our Families (this page)
Jewish Currents and Unsettled discuss callers' messages about how they are talking to loved ones who are supportive of Israel’s war on Gaza.
Nov 16 2023
Naomi Klein on Israel’s “Doppelganger Politics” (52:09)
Arielle Angel talks to Klein about her new book, Doppelganger, and how the concept of “doubling” can elucidate the present violence in Israel/Palestine.
Nov 9 2023
Cori Bush’s Ceasefire Plea (25:46)
Senior reporter Alex Kane interviews Rep. Bush about her call for an end to Israel’s bombing campaign and the political consequences of anti-war dissent.
Oct 31 2023
A Surge in American Jewish Left Organizing (41:34)
Mari Cohen speaks with Elena Stein, Eva Borgwardt, and Emmaia Gelman about how Jewish left groups are bringing thousands of protestors into the streets.
Oct 26 2023
The Loneliness of the Israeli Left (37:16)
Arielle Angel speaks with Michael Sfard, Sally Abed, and Yair Wallach about the Israeli left’s experience of October 7th and its aftermath.
Oct 19 2023
Unsettled After October 7th (51:52)
The Unsettled podcast speaks with scholar Tareq Baconi and Gazan activist Isam Hamad.
Sep 28 2023
Elon Musk, the Jews, and the ADL, with Know Your Enemy (01:05:14)
Alex Kane, Mari Cohen, and Peter Beinart discuss the contradictions of the Anti-Defamation League with Know Your Enemy’s Sam Adler Bell.
Sep 14 2023
Trans Halakha (44:24)
Nathan Goldman talks to three members of SVARA’s Teshuva-Writing Collective—Laynie Soloman, Alyx Bernstein, and Rabbi Xava de Cordova—about reimagining halakha for trans life.
Aug 31 2023
Nosegate (28:36)
Arielle Angel talks to Rebecca Pierce, Jody Rosen, and Alisa Solomon about Bradley Cooper’s turn as Leonard Bernstein—wearing a prosthetic nose.
Aug 17 2023
The Jewishness of Oppenheimer (47:05)
In an episode presented in partnership with The Nation’s podcast The Time of Monsters, Mari Cohen, Jeet Heer, David Klion, and Raphael Magarik discuss Christopher Nolan’s new biopic about the infamous physicist.
Aug 3 2023
Camp Kinderland at 100 (57:18)
Judee Rosenbaum and Mitchell Silver talk to Arielle Angel about the storied summer camp, founded by Jewish unionists in 1923.
Jul 20 2023
Chevruta: Be Fruitful and Multiply? (30:26)
Torah scholar Laynie Soloman and feminist theorist Sophie Lewis study a Talmudic text that complicates the biblical injunction to procreate.
Jul 6 2023
What Indian Ethnonationalists Learned From Israel Advocates (35:10)
Aparna Gopalan, Azad Essa, and Nora Caplan-Bricker discuss how the hasbara playbook offers a template for defenders of supremacist politics everywhere.
Jun 22 2023
The Struggle to Stop Cop City (38:01)
Micah Herskind, Keyanna Jones, and Josie Duffy Rice join Claire Schwartz from Atlanta to talk about the fight to prevent the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest and the construction of the US’s largest police training center.
Jun 8 2023
The Plight of Masafer Yatta (26:57)
Alex Kane talks to Palestinian journalist Basel Adra about the West Bank hamlets where over 1,000 Palestinians live in fear of being expelled by Israel.
May 25 2023
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Jewish Matchmaking (47:09)
Arielle Angel, Nathan Goldman, Mari Cohen, and Aparna Gopalan discuss Netflix’s Jewish Matchmaking and the questions it raises about contemporary Jewishness.
May 11 2023
Still No Justice for Shireen Abu Akleh (25:19)
One year after her killing, Jewish Currents examines the life and death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the broader context of Israeli assaults on press freedom.
Apr 27 2023
Fighting Anti-Trans Legislation in Missouri (38:38)
Editor-in-chief Arielle Angel speaks with Rori Picker Neiss about what it's like to advocate for a trans child in a red state.
SubscribeWINTERWEB2024