We Need Jewish Joy Now More Than Ever

In spite of antisemitism, Jews will always have our culture, our history and our legacy.

Media, and especially Jewish media, has recently been full of stories about antisemitism — of hate and of the incitement of violence against Jewish people. Seeing such brazen statements of enmity is always frightening, especially coming from well-known public figures like Kanye West. To me, what feels scariest, however, is not the particulars of what’s happening now, but the reminder of what has happened to Jewish people throughout history — and what could happen next. Jews are never allowed to feel truly comfortable or to believe that we are assimilated; the familiar sounds of persecution periodically remind us that we will never truly belong.

This is exhausting. We are so tired. Unsurprisingly, constant discussion of the people who hate us is pretty demanding.

But despite a long history of oppression, we are not hopeless. We have clung to community, and to each other, when survival was a near impossibility. We embody perseverance and endurance. We continue. Even when everything feels dark, we have to hold on to the light.

Currently studying at university with few Jewish people around me, I am holding on to my culture more tightly than ever. Sometimes this is quiet, and just for me: Moschiach plays through my headphones as I walk down the street; I stamp the beat into the pavement while the world passes by unaware. On Friday nights I do the brachas in my head, blessing Tesco’s cheapest white wine. I’m going to crochet my Dad a yarmulke.

But sometimes it’s louder, for other people to see. I wear my Magen David to the club. On forms, I’ve stopped ticking “white British,” which was never vaguely true. I look for our beautiful faces in every crowd and ask people if they’re Jewish at every opportunity. I am not willing to hide how important my identity is to me, or censor it to make other people more comfortable. Mordechai Ben David will be on the aux, always.

This culture is a little piece of home. It’s nostalgia, and it’s defiance. It represents a past, a present and a future. It is joyful. It is joy.

We, as Jewish people, are a legacy of escape, displacement and survival. We have carried our culture through every battle. We have whispered our history to one another across centuries and continents. Our wisdom has traveled like a message in a bottle, wrapped up and hidden and stowed away in the hopes that it reaches the right people when they need it most. We have moved secretly and silently through fear and darkness. We have made ourselves smaller and harder to find, and we have rebuilt it all from nothing.

One day we will shout not in terror, but in jubilation. We will feel free and we will be happy. Windows and doors will be open and sunlight will shine through, and we will move boldly, unashamedly. We will hold each other more for love than for safety. We will not have to check over our shoulders and count our blessings because we will have forgotten, just a little bit, what it is to be so scared. And unabashed Jewish joy will be ours — steadily and unchangingly ours.

We have had to create rituals and talismans that we can carry with us in our hearts instead of our suitcases. They are beautiful, and they are ours. They course through our blood and keep us warm and sing us to sleep. When there is little else to rely on, we have our culture, our history, our legacy. Yes, we are made of grit and strength, but we are also made of joy. In these dark times, I encourage you to find it within yourself. L’chaim: to life, to joy.

Hannah Davis

Hannah Davis (she/her) is a second-year Spanish student at Oxford University. She’s Jewish in an orange-on-the-Seder plate, “Only the Good Die Young,” “Falsettos” and “The Producers,” adorable anxiety, reclaimed yenta kind of way. She can’t wait to explore this Jewish identity and so much more as a Hey Alma College Writing Fellow!

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