What is our place now that we are ‘othered’?

By Morgan Pearlman

We were always told: “Never Forget.”

Growing up, I always interpreted this to mean, never forget that the Holocaust happened. Educate your peers, kids and grandkids so that they know our people’s history and can ensure it never repeats itself.

The framing was not, however, never forget that you will always be othered. Isolated. Ignored. Hunted. Never forget that we have Israel not only because the Jewish people deserve a homeland but because we need one. Never forget that intergenerational trauma is not only trauma from generations past, but that it will reemerge firsthand in your generation and for generations to come because we will never be completely safe.

Since Oct. 7, I have been forced to reckon with the second interpretation. Since then, I have continuously asked myself of my non-Jewish peers: Would you have hidden me?

And while some well-intentioned friends have reached out expressing condolences and proclaiming they have “much to learn,” my only thought is: What is there to learn? My people were butchered. The discussions of settlements and a storied history between Israel and its neighbors implicitly imply that there is some sort of evaluation or justification for Hamas’ barbaric acts. Any discussion of “context” loses sight of the fact that murdering Jews is not a means to an end for them — it is the end.

As I’m sure many of you can relate to, this has been an incredibly upsetting and lonesome experience — heightened by the fact that I have spent the past several years committed to building a more equal society and engaging in activism to support marginalized groups. I marched at Black Lives Matter protests, attended Pride parades and traveled for Women’s Marches. Yet at the United Jewish Appeal vigil hosted in New York City only a few days after Hamas’ attack, my fellow “activists” were nowhere to be seen. They were not there to mourn with me. As our fellow Sideliner Suzy Weiss points out in “The Great Betrayal,” my “progressive” peers abandoned me. I’m struck by the irony that my people will die defending the existence of those who continue to vilify them.

While other minority groups get to define what marginalization looks like for them, I have to defend my stance that anti-Zionism is more often than not antisemitism. Being a Jewish person who feels hostility and prejudice is somehow insufficient. Instead, I have to intellectually convince my peers that antisemitism is rearing its ugly head, even if it is cloaked in wokeness. I don’t get to be a person who feels; I must be a lawyer who persuades.

Not only am I left feeling I have no place in the current American political schema — but am also left feeling like I have no place in America at all.

However, while we are not new to combating evils, this time around we are facing it stronger than ever before. We are facing it together and with a country of our own. Amidst this hatred, Jewish people around the world are rallying together. Thousands of doctors have volunteered to pick up and go to Israel, people are standing at airport ticketing counters buying flights for soldiers returning to fight and despite typically eschewing military service due to religious observance, thousands of Haredi Israelis are volunteering to support and serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).

Jews around the world are appreciating — or in some cases, realizing — the beauties of being Jewish. The past several Friday nights in New York City, I’ve had to make multiple stops at grocery stores and bakeries because challahs have been sold out citywide. I have Jewish friends who never have celebrated Shabbat before now lighting candles on Friday nights. We are calling one another, DMing each other and taking solace in each other’s presence. We can feel angry and despondent — but we should not feel alone.

While I am unfortunately confident that we will not clear the world of hatred toward us generations from now, I am also confident that Jewish families will still be sitting down at the table to welcome Shabbos together — and that they will love that tradition more than anyone else hates them for it. Even amidst hate, I am so grateful to be Jewish. And I know I am not alone in that.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Morgan Pearlman is a senior policy advisor at the New York City Mayor’s Office. She works for First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright, focusing on public/private partnerships and the Adams administration’s work with the corporate and philanthropic sectors. She participated in Sidelines, a program of the Paul Singer Foundation that sends young Jewish leaders to Israel. A Dallas native, Morgan is a graduate of Greenhill School, University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Law School.

Leave a Reply