Building an ‘Iron Dome’ of global Jewish resilience

In Short

Jewish resilience is practiced in a crisis through the narrative we tell ourselves about where we come from, what we believe and do, and why. We can write a new global narrative of resilience that encompasses the past and imagines a better future as a joint effort between Israeli and world Jewry.

The tragedy of Oct. 7, 2023 — the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust — challenges the basic Zionist story, which presumes that the creation of a Jewish sovereign state would be enough to break the cycle of atrocities that previously befell the Jewish people. This narrative formed the prism through which Israeli and world Jewry saw themselves and each other for 75 years. 

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, this story is in flux. It is a crisis that demands the generation of a layer of global Jewish resilience — a “Global Jewish Iron Dome,” if you will.

“Jewish resilience” is the capacity of a Jewish individual or community to have a strong sense of Jewish identity and purpose in times of crisis. It is the ability to manage disappointments with Israel and the Jewish community while staying in the tribe; and it allows us to hold our power — the might of a nation-state — with the vulnerability that comes with antisemitism in its various forms. Jewish resilience understands and anticipates the rise of hate against the Jewish people, and allows us to have hope for a brighter Jewish future. Jewish resilience is practiced through the narrative we tell ourselves about where we come from, what we believe and do, and why.

The “Global Jewish Iron Dome” is the narrative that encompasses the past and imagines a better future as a joint effort between Israeli and world Jewry. 

Based on research conducted in the aftermath of 9/11, psychologist Marshall Duke and his team at Emory University discovered that youth who receive what is called an “oscillating family narrative” are most resilient when faced with a crisis. Why? An oscillating family narrative provides the present generation with an understanding that they and their ancestors have navigated through challenging times; that they, too, should expect to experience them; and that they, too, can likewise survive them. 

The observations below — where we are in the Jewish people’s oscillating narrative and how to use that narrative to build global Jewish resilience — emerged, in part, from conversations with Duke following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas:

This narrative is vertical. It stretches through historical time. According to the research by Duke and his team, individuals need to maintain a sense of coherence post-trauma. This can be done using “Seder logic”: connecting the current crisis within a long arc of history. This is a story about me, and the Jewish people who came before me and will come after me. We were present in Egypt, at Mount Sinai, in the concentration camps, at the creation of the State of Israel, at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting and on Oct. 7, 2023. Just like we got through crises then, we will get through this now and in the future as well.

This narrative is horizontal. Narrative can expand to include others in its scope. The narrative of this moment is of a larger global Jewish context. In particular, this encourages Israelis to incorporate world Jewry into their frame. It inspires a narrative of solidarity beyond generational, political or geographical divides. It’s a story about me, the Jew to my left and to my right. 

This narrative has plateaus: Within the highs and lows of oscillation, there are periods of quiescence. Following a turn, the story line doesn’t immediately go up or down. In fact, in this space, we are in both an up and down – one has not fully let go of the high (the previous mindset and perceived reality) and is still processing the shock and consequences of the initial fall. This creates great confusion: Am I powerful or powerless? In this period, there are mini episodes (tracked by the day-to-day news cycle and our emotional ups and downs). In this floating period, one can begin to “look for land” to determine what signs we are looking for to symbolize that the plateau is coming to an end.

The narrative protects us from surprises. The idea that antisemitism could be eradicated with the State of Israel was a false expectation. Antisemitism will always exist; with every generation, it takes on new forms and strains. Moving forward, to accept this reality is to function with greater clarity. In our past, there were ups and downs, which tells me there will continue to ups and downs in the future. 

We can embrace this moment as a fundamental turning point in the previous narrative. There was “the day before” and “the day after” Oct. 7. The “day after” narrative is already forming based on events and how we manage them within “the plateau.” With so much out of our control, we have personal and collective autonomy in how we want it to look like and impact us and others. This story can be practiced, shared and received. 

Finally, this narrative exposes hope, because we know the story line always eventually trends upward.

Look for stories of hope and hold on to them. Even Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son, Hersh, is a hostage in Gaza, was able to find “a whisper of hope” within her suffering in the story of a Bedouin man who risked his life to protect a group of Israelis. 

Consider symbols for yourself that will represent hopeful turning points. Articulate the signs you are looking for and then recognize them when they occur as metrics of progress. This could include the return to a certain routine, the release of hostages, a calmer campus climate. 

Find hope in the friendship of allies. As Rabbi Sharon Brous said, “I know in my heart and I want you to know in yours that we are not as alone as we feel… It is the human instinct to key in on what’s missing, often at the expense of what is present right before us.” Be grateful for the clarity of true friendships that rise to the top. 

Look for hope in the stories of our past — personal and collective. Those who came before us demonstrated great resilience, clarity and vision within the darkest moments of our family and collective history. 

These stories give us strength to know that just like “back then,” we too have the strength to prevail. 

This, after all, is the Jewish story. 

To maneuver through these times, the Tisch Center has produced a “Global Jewish Resilience Package” for Jewish professionals, educators and leaders on how to cultivate global Jewish resilience. Click here to learn more.

Tracy Frydberg is the director of the Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at ANU: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel.