April 8, 2024
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Out of the Grief and Fear Has Risen A New Purpose: Jewish Connection

Chai.

This morning, on my way to work, I stepped onto the subway next to a young man wearing a Jewish star around his neck. I touched my own neck and pulled out the gold Hebrew letters forming the word chai that had accidentally been buried under my sweater as I had gotten dressed. Chai means life, alive, living. As I waited for him to notice my subtle communication of solidarity, I scanned the packed subway car; engrossed in their phones or resting with closed eyes, no other passenger seemed to search for the same sense of connection that I sought in every public space I entered. Eventually, the young man noticed my necklace, looked up at me, and smiled knowingly. The feeling in his eyes said to me: “I see you. I stand with you. I am you.” I nodded and smiled back, reciprocating his sentiment with nothing but my silence and the curve of my lips. This interaction, invisible to those around us, contained a whole world, just as the two-letter Hebrew word, chai, composed of just a chet and a yud, contains the life of the whole Jewish people.

Since October 7, it is interactions such as this one that keep me going, that push me forward, despite the whirlwinds of immense pain and hatred that threaten to hold us back. The world that I speak of, contained in a brief moment of eye contact between a stranger and me on the subway, is the soul and spirit of the ancestry, persecution and perseverance that tie us inextricably together today. Out of the grief and fear has risen a new purpose: Jewish connection.

Since October 7, I have been watching an inspiring phenomenon unfold around me and within myself: Some of my friends, forced to go to Hebrew school as kids and practicing their religion only on holidays, are taking to their Jewish identity with a new devotion and commitment. Other friends, raised Orthodox and turning away from religion after leaving home for college, are returning to the prayers and rituals with which they were raised and sharing them with the secular and allied non-Jewish community around us.

I find myself listening to nigunim through my headphones on my daily commute, studying Jewish philosophy in my free time, and reciting the Shema before bed. Now, every Friday night, I gather with a couple of hundred other Jews, and we sing together to welcome Shabbat. We have never met, yet we know one another. We have cried, danced, laughed and embraced with the shared spirit that brightens this world that sometimes tends towards darkness.

In the days following October 7, people would wonder why I was in mourning: “Do you have family members in Israel?”

“Of course,” I would respond. “They are all my family.”

In addition to my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, the last few months have taught me that I have about 7 million brothers and sisters living in Israel, as well. This is the nature of the Jewish people.

I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud to belong to a tradition that values life over all else.

According to the Talmud, since all of humanity is descended from a single person, taking a life is like destroying an entire world. Similarly, to save a life is to save an entire world. Thus, Judaism imparts this message: They can chant for our destruction. They can take to the streets and try to deny us our right to exist. But we will sing back louder: Am Yisrael Chai. We will continue to gather, to raise our voices to demand the return of our hostages and to work towards a rebirth of peace from the ashes of destruction.

The people of Israel live.


Lauren Goldsamt is pursuing a Masters in Social Work at Columbia University, specializing in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and is on the board of the Jewish Caucus student group. She grew up in Great Neck, New York. Her grandparents lived in Teaneck until they moved to Fort Lee in 2015, and her mother recently moved to Fort Lee as well.

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