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Fight or flight

In 1996, my AP Psychology teacher told us something I’ve never forgotten: At some point, every Jewish child will have a nightmare about the Holocaust. The daughter of survivors, this teacher, a psychologist, was one of the first interviewers for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Project.

Over the years, I’ve had those nightmares, and I’ve also wondered: What would I do? Until Oct. 7, I understood this primarily as a rhetorical exercise, aware that, fortunately, I hadn’t a clue how I would actually behave in circumstances that I was fortunate not to have experienced.

Then came Oct. 7 and the generational trauma inherent to the Jewish people was being relived. “Let my people go” and “never again” were no longer phrases about the past, but the here and now. Since Oct. 7, I’ve found myself becoming more aggressive about my Jewish identity. I’m not the only one.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, goes the adage. In the case of the Jewish people, what does kill us makes us stronger. This is what the anti-Israel folks fail to recognize. Their often vicious activism against Israel and Jews succeeds in galvanizing more Jews to stand up for their identity and their people. Just as Gov. Polis said at the opening of the JNF-USA conference last year, hateful protestors yelling “Go back to Auschwitz” are evidence that the Jewish state is needed.

In these past 100-plus days, I keep thinking about fight-or-flight, the body’s stress response to threats. Which, fleeing or fighting, carries the highest possibility of survival?

Taken out of its physiological context, fight or flight can also be interpreted as an individual: When I am attacked, do I fight back? Or do I flee? There isn’t a right-or-wrong answer. If safety is the number one objective, fleeing might be the wiser choice. Fighting back can make one a target.

As a nation, however, silence — fleeing — can be deadlier than fighting.

Maybe it’s because we know what happened in the Holocaust. Maybe it’s because we see friends across the globe. Or maybe it’s because we have the State of Israel and the IDF. But today, I’m seeing a lot of Jews openly fighting back. Almost as if we know how bad it can get, so what do we have to lose by standing up for ourselves?

Too many people in this world want Jews to hide when we are attacked, to diminish ourselves, to absorb the hate projected on us.

Anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish activists think that the louder they agitate against us, eventually we will fold, that we will be frightened or shamed into submission.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Jewish people were underestimated.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected]

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