Jews all over the world have witnessed a terrifying rise in antisemitism over the past several weeks, and many of us have sadly gained an unwelcome understanding of what it means to fear for our physical safety simply because of who we are. Jews in Europe, the U.S., and Canada have been attacked, intimidated, threatened — with incidents of antisemitism rising by 500% in the U.K. over a 17-day period in May. In my hometown of Montreal, majority-Jewish neighborhoods were explicitly warned by local synagogues and advocacy organizations not to leave the house looking “visibly Jewish” following threats made on social media.
As I watched some of these antisemitic incidents unfold on Instagram, I felt an indescribable sense of pain and loneliness. Perhaps even worse than the hatred I was witnessing was that fact that countless non-Jews — especially those who are outspoken and vocal about most other forms of prejudice — remained silent on the subject of antisemitism. So many of those whom I loved, respected and admired for being the first to speak up on behalf of marginalized groups had absolutely nothing at all to say when it came to the ill treatment of my people.
Why so many are afraid to condemn Jew-hatred continues to puzzle me. Perhaps people are scared they will accidentally align themselves with Israel if they so much as utter the word “Jew,” or perhaps there simply isn’t the same pressure to speak up on our behalf when much of the world paints us as the ultimate oppressors — an antisemitic trope in and of itself. Regardless of the reasoning, it often feels like no one is in our corner, like we are allyless.
Much of this rise in antisemitism has been triggered by the recent war in Israel-Palestine, and Jews in the diaspora have been called on to comment on the situation no matter our expertise on the topic — putting an unfair amount of pressure on those of us who are dedicated to learning and unlearning before making rash and uninformed public statements. Jews, just by nature of being Jewish, are not experts on a centuries-old conflict happening, for many of us, on the other side of the world.
All of this combined has left us between a rock and a hard place. Many Jews have been doing the hard work of self-educating while dealing with the emotional trauma that comes from seeing hundreds of demonstrators doing a Nazi salute in Italy or watching protestors carry swastika-covered flags in Canada. To say these past few weeks have been taxing is an understatement, and it is in these times that I am most grateful for the gift that is Jewish friendship.
It goes without saying that it is valuable and necessary to have relationships with people from different backgrounds — arguably one of the best ways to gain empathy for someone else’s lived experiences. But there is something to be said for the kind of friend who knows exactly how you’re feeling without having to say anything at all. There is a quiet comfort in a friendship where two people can hold space for each other, support each other, and understand the distinct kind of emotional exhaustion both parties are simultaneously experiencing.
I am fortunate enough to have many relationships of this kind, but I wasn’t always. Growing up in a non-Jewish neighborhood and being the only Jew in my elementary school meant I was a teenager before I understood what it was like to have friends who shared my cultural background. It was only when I started high school and discovered a group of like-minded progressive Jews that I learned how validating it can be to have relationships with those with a similar upbringing, value set and worldview.
Now, more than a decade later, I have several fulfilling Jewish friendships, and this past month has led me to gain a newfound appreciation for these relationships and the comfort they provide. I have spent this turbulent period in Toronto with my two Jewish roommates — who also happen to be my best friends — and we have been fiercely supportive of one another throughout these challenging weeks. I also have a tight-knit group of high school friends back home, and our group chat recently went from a place to share life updates and funny TikToks to a forum for discussion, comfort and consolation.
This moral support has presented itself in many different forms. At times, it has meant making space for a friend to rant about a disturbing clip they saw on social media that day, without interruption, knowing they will surely do the same for me later. It has meant listening to a friend freely express their frustration and disappointment in the lack of support from supposed allies while nodding along in agreement. It has meant getting an honest answer, no matter how painful, when I ask my friends whether they think it’s safe to wear my “Tikkun Olam” tote bag out of the house (answer: maybe not such a good idea right now). And it has also meant making more of an effort to do the little things, like offer extra love and affection to a friend who so clearly needs it — knowing very well that I need it just as much.
Supporting each other throughout these difficult times has also meant providing space to just be. A friend who knows the distinct fear and anxiety you are feeling is a friend who can allow you to be where you are, no matter how much or little you feel like talking about it, while offering a deep yet unspoken understanding of how stressful and unsettling it is to be a Jew in the current climate.
I am eternally grateful for the few non-Jews in my life who have found the courage to speak up against antisemitism in recent weeks, whether by messaging me privately or taking a public stance on social media. Jewish people need allies; we know all too well the tragedies that can occur when we — a group that makes up just 0.2 % of the globe’s population — are left to fend for ourselves while the rest of the world allows hatred against us to stand unchallenged.
But Jews also need each other, and we may be surprised to discover just how healing it is to bond over our shared thoughts and feelings. The Jewish experience is often a lonely one, but close-knit friendships with other Jews can provide a welcome source of comfort and understanding during difficult times. Jewish friendship can be meaningful and valuable in the best of times, but it is absolutely indispensable in the worst of times.