I want to start by saying that I love you. I think you know that I would go to any lengths to help you in a time of need, that I am fiercely loyal, and that you can always count on me. I take great pride in that because, aside from my son and husband, friendships are the most important thing to me.
The events in Israel have shone a light on something I never realized: You, my loving, non-Jewish friends, have no idea of the Jewish experience, of living in our shoes, of learning from the stories of our parents and grandparents. We grew up hearing about the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were deliberately and methodically slaughtered. And so we grew up knowing that we were lucky to be alive. This fact – a miracle in itself – was drilled into us from the day we were born. We are lucky to be here! And truly that is how I feel today.
Did you know that the Jews account for only 0.2% of the world’s population? Think about that for a minute, New York City has 8 million people in it, there are only 15 million Jews worldwide.
We are a tiny community. In 2011, the Israelis exchanged 1,027 Hamas prisoners for one Israeli soldier. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Middle East conflict – I am not, it’s complicated and has been going on for years – but I just want to give you a picture of how valuable one Jewish life is, because there are so few of us.
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'It’s 2023! How is this still happening?'
I am writing this letter because I feel strongly that this is a teaching moment. You just don’t know, so let me try to explain from my perspective about how I am feeling.
Since this tragedy in Israel happened on Oct. 7, only two of my many non-Jewish friends reached out to me to see if I was OK, and let me know they were thinking of me after hearing that more than 1,200 Jews were killed. Babies, children, mothers, Holocaust survivors and civilian men were slaughtered, raped, kidnapped and tortured by the TERRORIST group Hamas.
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By your inaction to reach out, I immediately thought about the Jews of the Holocaust and what that must have felt like when no one spoke out, or stood up to protect them. Perhaps that is why I jump at the chance to march in Black Lives Matter protests, rally everyone I know to fight for LGBTQ+ right and sound the siren when I hear that immigrant children are being held in cages. I will always fight for the human cause because I know how valuable life is.
In the week following this horrific event, the silence on your end was deafening. My Jewish girlfriends and I huddled together, crying and trying to make sense of a world gone mad. “It’s 2023!” We said to one another, “How is this still happening?” I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I felt sick to my stomach.
The silence continued. That’s when we all began to wonder if we were safe.
Who will hide us when they come for us?
Then people all over the world started weighing in and taking sides.
Sides???? There are no sides. This isn’t about sides; this was a terrorist act against Jews by Hamas. Just like the Nazis, Hamas’ main goal: to cleanse the world of Jews.
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So perhaps you can understand our fear when we hear nothing. We think to ourselves: Who will hide us when they come for us? We ask ourselves: If we have to flee, where could we go?
I know that sounds dramatic, but we wonder these things sincerely, even urgently. The PTSDs of the Holocaust haunt us. We were taught “never to forget.”
Antisemitism has risen at an alarming pace in this country. In 2021, when I learned that only 19 out of 50 states in the United States teach Holocaust education (now there are 26 states), I started a program called HESP (Holocaust Educator School Partnership) with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, thinking that perhaps if we could educate our young about the atrocities of World War II we might begin to stop this hate.
Children aren’t born with hate in their hearts, they are taught.
You, my friends, have no hate in your hearts: that is why I love you. So when I showed up at an event the other night to do a reading of short stories and saw so many people I knew and loved there, friends and colleagues of mine whom I adore, I was shocked to see that no one seemed to be carrying the weight of what took place in Israel: a weight that is hanging heavily on every Jewish person I know.
And then I realized: This isn’t your reality, it is ours. You mean no harm, you simply don’t have the full picture.
As this understanding settled on me, my anxiety turned to hope – that perhaps, in friendship, I can say to you: We are hurting and we are terrified, because history has shown us that this won’t end well for the Jewish people if you don’t hear our cries for help.
Julianna Margulies is an award-winning actor, producer and activist. She is the author of “Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life” and founded the Holocaust Educator School Partnership (HESP) in partnership with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Your Jewish friends are hurting. Your inaction makes it more painful