My Jewish college kid is protesting the war in Gaza. And I’m proud. – Penelope Trunk Careers

In the last 48 hours many of Y’s friends have been arrested for being part of an anti-war encampment at their college. I am shocked by the large number of college encampments across the US, but I knew this was coming because Y (who goes by they) has been discussing it for months.

We are Jewish, and like many Jewish families, our sense of activism is strong. But it wasn’t as easy for me to get my head around the pro-Palestinian rallies 0ver last six months.

My extended family has a wide range of views on the topic — there are Zionists on one end and  Y on the other. I am somewhere in the middle, which is to say I think the Israel-Hamas conflict has become horrifying and I have no idea how to fix it. This disappoints Y because the ethical discussion is so clear to them.

Before Y was born, Nino and I opened our home to a Palestinian kid who was 16 years old in NYC with nowhere to go.

His name was Tariq. It was just after 9/11 and Nino was working full time to help illegally detained people from the Middle East. Tariq’s dad was detained and Tariq had no relatives in the US.

Tariq’s dad was in the US raising money for Palestinians. I wasn’t sure what I thought about that cause, but I knew it was wrong to have the dad imprisoned for 9/11, and I knew Tariq needed a place to live until he could get back home.

Tariq had no life skills. He had spent his entire life fighting for his homeland. He learned everything about the fight from his dad, but no one taught Tariq how to make himself breakfast. We thought maybe it was that our food was unfamiliar, but actually, he had never used a stove.

He was on high alert at all times. Totally traumatized. We tried our best to support him, but we really had no idea how to cope with the level of trauma he had. Finally, someone took him back to his family in Gaza.

Periodically Nino would try to figure out where Tariq and his dad were. How they were doing. But it’s not like you can stalk them on Facebook.

Now, 25 years later, I still see no grand solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I am sure there’s another generation of Palestinian kids never learning to cook or shop for food, because their childhood will be consumed by fighting and recovering from fighting and fearing the start of more fighting.

This is why I can support Y in their endeavors to stop the war in Gaza. Because we didn’t know if Tariq’s family was on the right or the wrong side but we knew he was a kid who needed help. And I see Y looking at the human destruction and I am not surprised by their reaction.

What did surprise me is that while Y protested their school’s financial support to Israel, Y’s Jewish identity grew.

Y’s school organizers have been careful all along to show that Jewish kids were organizing; that a person can love being Jewish and hate the war in Gaza. So when Passover came around, the kids had a seder in the encampment. Y had never gone to seder at school, so this is their first student-led seder. They said they’ve never been more proud to be Jewish. They were happy to know all the prayers and all the songs. They were happy that non-Jews participated as well. This is from the kid who announced God is not real during their bar mitzvah.

At the seder each kid had written the phone number of a lawyer on their arm in case they got arrested. But the intent was to be peaceful, so arrests were unlikely. That is, until a pro-Israel student shouted “kill the Jews” and then the state police arrested everyone because the protests had become anti-semetic. This speaks to tension on campus, for sure. But also it speaks to how savvy today’s kids are about protesting.

Anyway, the kids got out of jail fast enough to get back to campus the same day. They reorganized right away, including rotating shifts to study for finals. I love that what my kid is learning in college is how to protect free speech, how to stand up for what matters, and how to shape their own identity.

That night the group planned a Havdalah service at the encampment spot. I don’t know if Y has ever even done Havdalah. But now Y talks about it like it’s an essential part of the Jewish week: I’m kvelling.

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