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Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Combating Isolation: Reflections from American Jewish High Schoolers when Israel is at War

In the past month, as I read news and features about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, I feel like the American Jewish community’s unique relationship with Israel has been misrepresented. For countless generations, my family, and many other diasporic Jewish families, have lived in the West and faced the East. Jewish liturgy and modern dialogue cultivate an undeniable Israeli center to the global Jewish community, and since Oct. 7th, the Israel-centered Jewish panic has reverberated internationally.


HBHA students visit The J KC display of a Shabbat table with the photos of hostages still in captivity. (Ellie Glickman)

Seeing the historic numbers of Jewish deaths happening across the ocean through the screen of my phone screen left me less informed and more stranded. I wanted to talk about my unease with others who understood the nuances that I just wasn’t seeing anywhere in the secular media.

I decided to organize a focus group of my peers, four other high school seniors in different parts of the country, to have this much-needed conversation on Oct. 18, 2023.

When asked how the recent events have affected them, Margalit F. (Iowa City, Iowa), said she has been in a state of “cognitive dissonance” since Oct. 7. She explained that due to the Jewish people’s “emotional… relationship to the country,” her mind is “never at peace.”

Margalit F. described that Israel’s presence growing up was a “comfort” to her, saying there was a “Jewish country out there… [and] a place where you’re not a minority.”

Ezra G. (Northbrook, Ill.), added that he has “always associated Israel with a community and family that I am lucky to be part of.”

Hailey H. (West Des Moines, Iowa) said that when she first visited Israel, the country provided her with a “larger point of view” of “the beauty of Judaism.”

Ari B. (Upper West Side, NY) said that he grew up “inside of a bubble,” by having Israeli-American grandparents, attending synagogue Hebrew school, and being involved in the Upper West Side Jewish community. Later, when attending a more diverse high school, he began to learn about differing opinions on Israel. Ari B. said he began questioning if Israel was “not this perfect place” that he had imagined as a child.

Margalit F. described a moment on a summer program, when she too began to understand the differing realities of Israel than what she was raised on. Margalit F. said that while her cohort was touring an Arab neighborhood, the program’s bus driver pointed out his family’s olive grove that they could no longer visit. Margalit F. said that while she had learned about stories similar to the bus driver’s in the past, hearing the testimony of someone whom she had a pre-existing relationship with added a new personal perspective to the preexisting narratives of the country.

When confronted with, and beginning to understand these new perspectives on Israel, Hailey H. said that her belief in Israel is still important to her. She said, “I know in my heart that the Jewish people deserve a state…and that Israel is a beautiful country that can coexist peacefully.”

While the belief in Israel has been an established part of these high schoolers’ lives, on Oct. 7, their consciousness of the country became an all-consuming presence. Ari B. said that he “feel[s] like there is always this pressure on my shoulders… to talk about Israel.” He said it feels like “a 24-hour shift of trying to present myself.”

Margalit F. said that the past few weeks have been “so isolating because there is literally no one to talk to.” She said, “The Republicans at my school are drawing swastikas on my car and the liberals at my school are like ‘let’s play videos of Hamas killing people.’”


Digital isolation has been affecting the lives of many when seeing countless accounts of antisemitic violence and rhetoric. (Ellie Glickman)
Digital isolation has been affecting the lives of many when seeing countless accounts of antisemitic violence and rhetoric. (Ellie Glickman)

Ari B. agreed, saying that “there’s a lot of hidden antisemitism in the activism that has been happening, and I don’t think enough people are noticing that.”

While navigating a time of striking uncertainty, we are also learning and evolving, so with it our opinions. I wanted to document the feelings of American-Jewish teens during this time, but “this time” is already three weeks ago. Every day that passes is a day where more lives are taken in Israel and Gaza, where over 240 kidnapped civilians are held hostage from their homes, and where peace in a country so invaluable to the lives of millions seems unfathomable.


Tel Aviv based artist, YONIL, created posters in solidarity of the Jewish communities being affected by violence and loneliness across the globe. Posters have been displayed across London where between October 1 and 18 police reported a 1,353 percent increase in antisemitism. (courtesy of YONIL)

Making a difference in a place far away yet close to your heart feels almost unattainable, but what we can ensure is making a difference in our local communities. Being able to speak to peers with similar experiences made me feel seen. A feeling everyone deserves, needs, and can make others feel.

This story was originally published in RampageWired on Nov. 10, 2023

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