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How to Be an Ally

What can non-Jews do to stand by the Jewish community during this crisis?

Maggie Phillips
October 11, 2023
This article is part of Hamas’ War on Israel.
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Like many Americans since 2020, I have absorbed the message that it is not the job of victims and the oppressed to educate me, and that I shouldn’t center myself amid someone else’s pain. After the horrific attacks by Hamas on Saturday, as person of faith myself, I prayed for peace, for the victims and their families, for the Jewish people, of course. But, despite my status as a gentile-in-residence at Tablet for about three years, I didn’t want to impose on any of the Jews in my orbit during this difficult time. And to be honest, I didn’t really know what else to do.

Should I post? Was that too shallow? Anyway, what would I say? Who the hell am I? With just under 460 Twitter followers and a lackluster Instagram, there weren’t exactly legions of Maggie Phillips fans waiting with bated breath for my official statement on geopolitics.

But this morning, I sat my gentile ass down and listened, as they say, while my Tablet colleagues talked about their experiences as American Jews over the past few days. And I realized that what we have right now in this moment is a crisis of allyship.

So let me help you, Jews and gentiles alike, bridge the gap that’s keeping us from really being there for each other.

Fellow non-Jews, here’s what’s been useful for me that you might like to know:

• Israel seems far away, but for a lot of Jews, it doesn’t. That’s either because they consider the entire Jewish people to be their family, or because they have literal friends and family living in Israel. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how a little empathy could go a long way in a time like this.

• Jews can (and do!) have complicated feelings about the State of Israel. Don’t make assumptions about their politics or their Zionism. Right now, the main thing that matters is that there are people chanting “gas the Jews” en masse in major cities. Do we mean what we’ve been saying about being against racism and Nazis?

• Put politics to the side, and check in with your Jewish friends and acquaintances. Let them know that you’re thinking about them and (if it’s your thing) praying for them, for their friends and family—by name, if possible.

“Maggie,” you may be saying, “I know I’m reading Tablet—and this is a little embarrassing to admit—but I don’t actually know any Jews personally.” It’s OK, you’ve admitted you have a problem, that’s the first step. We can work with that.

Here’s what I’ve done—and you can too, right from the comfort of your very own home!

• Find a local synagogue. Reach out, even if it’s just to leave a voicemail, an email message, or a comment on their social media feed saying you’re standing with them.

• Do you belong to a church, civic group, or volunteer organization? Get in touch with the leadership and see about sending a bouquet of white roses, a symbolic gesture of resistance with its roots in WWII. (I got this idea from the Philos Project, a Christian ally organization that delivers white roses to Jewish communities after acts of antisemitism.)

• Post about your support for the Jewish people. No, really! A good friend of mine observed that a lot of the uglier reactions we’re seeing play out currently are downstream of a sort of “gamification” of world events—for a lot of people, what they see flattened on screens and infographics and served up to them by algorithms is the extent of their engagement with an issue, and it gets further simplified to “good guys” and “bad guys.” So much of the horror playing out in Israel is designed to be seen online. So for someone feeling like their hurt, pain, and confusion are being ignored or jeered at, scrolling and seeing a post standing by Jews and condemning the actions of Hamas, might well kindle the small flame of hope they’re struggling to keep alive.

• Tablet’s got some audio content coming your way, of real Jewish voices talking about their lived experience, right now. If you can, take the time to listen and get to understand the emotional and personal dimensions of this issue for individual Jews.

Now, for my Jewish friends: Disclaimer: I’m not the Lorax who speaks for the gentiles on this one, and it really isn’t your job to educate us. But letting non-Jews know what this moment feels like may help alleviate some emotional labor in the long run.

As disheartening as it is to realize, horrific violence overseas does not always live rent-free in everyone’s head. I saw this myself when my dad was deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone in 2006, and young people we know were being killed by terrorists nearly every day. My friends and peers, good, well-intentioned people, were living in blithe ignorance and apathy. People’s experiences are siloed, just like the news. Unless otherwise explicitly stated, don’t assume someone’s disinterest is callousness or antisemitism. Let them know that for you, what happened Saturday is personal above all else.

The last time I was at the Tablet offices, I declined to take a tote bag reading “Mensch” home with me. I protested—it felt like cultural appropriation! “It means you’re one of the good guys!” our office manager, Jordana LaRosa, protested back. “Don’t you want to be one of the good guys?”

You know what? I do. I want to be a mensch. I imagine you do, too.

Maggie Phillips is a freelance writer and former Tablet Journalism Fellow.