“I am not a Jew with trembling knees.”

This is not a protest against a faceless, nameless monolith. We’re standing right here, and you’re calling for our destruction.

This essay is part of Hey Alma’s series on what it’s like to be a Jewish college student in response to October 7, the 2024 Israel-Hamas war and campus protests. Click here to read the full range of voices.

My rabbi at home has told my congregation for many years: We are not Jews with trembling knees.

The chalk you drew on the sidewalk outside your tents says “Don’t Look Away.” Well, I’m not. I’m not looking away, not because I’m intrigued and not because I wish to spectate. I don’t enjoy being confronted by chants of “globalize the intifada” from people who I take classes with. I’m not looking away for one reason: You should be forced to see me, too. You should be forced to stare at the faces of your Jewish peers, as we are forced to stare at your takeover in our campus quad. This is not a protest against a faceless, nameless monolith. We’re standing right here, and you’re calling for our destruction.

I take the biggest issue with those for whom this is an academic exercise. To chant loudly in favor of globalizing the intifada, a call for violence against Jews worldwide, seldom impacts you. But you told me not to look away, and so I am here. I am here as you chant for violence against me not 10 feet from my face. You hide your faces behind masks, but I’ll force you to see mine.

It’s incredibly easy to tout Hamas talking points when the result isn’t an attack on your humanity or your identity. Your ability to remain steadfast and keep your resolve is not a signal of your objectivity but of your distance from this issue that afflicts us every single day. You play a role you can shed when the day is done, and during this academic exercise you ensure the world is less safe for Jews than it was yesterday.

I want peace. I want an end to violence for all innocent civilians. I want the safe and immediate return of Israeli hostages in the same breath that I want autonomy and safety for Palestinian civilians. I am informed enough to understand that Hamas is not the answer to either of these wishes — terrorist organizations advance their own interest at the expense of peace, usually the peace of their own citizens first.

I support lawful and peaceful protest. I don’t support calls for violence against any person based on their identity. Before this war, I thought my peers did too — I was sorry to be wrong.

I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I just wish I didn’t always have to prove it.

— Sophie Friedberg from Los Angeles, CA; University of Wisconsin-Madison, Class of 2024


Sophie Friedberg

Sophie Friedberg (she/her) is a graduating senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from Los Angeles, CA. She received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and will be starting law school at Loyola Marymount University this fall, hoping to enter a career in Child and Family Law.

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