I Chose to Be Jewish. I Didn’t Choose Netanyahu.

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readMay 14, 2024

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Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

The first question the Rabbis of the Talmud posted to potential converts to Judaism is this: “Do you not see that this people is debased, oppressed, and degraded […]?” (Gerim 1a).

Antisemitism has always colored my experience of both conversion and living a Jewish life. In Catholic high school, when the only Jewish teacher taught me about the Shoah (the Holocaust) for the first time, I struggled with how I imagined my own ancestors might have behaved, had they lived in Nazi-occupied Europe. Visiting my family of origin and attending Church with my mother, I silently fumed when the local priest spouted “supersessionist” theology and anti-Jewish tropes. When antisemitic threats to US synagogues began to increase exponentially, I listened to non-Jewish friends and relatives argue that “everyone” fears gun violence in this country; this despite the fact that they did not drop their young children off to a Jewish preschool surrounded by private security, uniformed police officers, and plainclothes officers.

As someone who chose to convert to Judaism as an adult, I’ve been accused of many things: converting from one misogynist religion (Catholicism) to another (Judaism). Trading a shame-based religion for a guilt-based religion (TBH I’ll take guilt over shame any day). Betraying my queer ideals and identity by engaging in any religious tradition at all. Siding with war and “genocide.”

None of the epithets hurled against me — as a woman, as a queer person, as a Jew — have ever felt true, nuanced, accurate, helpful. They have all been, unequivocally, dehumanizing, threatening, and violent.

There is nothing admirable in shouting “Die, Jew!” at a college student on a campus in the US. There is nothing helpful about calling for “Global Intifada.”

What I learned to prioritize, during the process of my conversion, can best be summed up by a commandment repeated over and over in the Torah, the sacred book of the Jewish people:

וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

V’ger lo tilchatz, v’atem y’datem et nefesh ha’ger, ki gerim hayitem b’eretz Mitzrayim.

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the very soul of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in Egypt” (Shemot/Exodus 23:9).

The commandment to keep the experience of having been Othered at the forefront of the way we then refuse to Other in turn — this is the central commandment to the Jewish people. Every year at Passover, we are enjoined to act as if we had been enslaved, and then freed. Though our tradition, like the traditions of many cultures who have experienced marginalization, oppression, discrimination, attempted genocide, contains revenge fantasies, Jewish tradition over and over and over again reminds us that empathy must be a driving force.

There are some in the US today, and all across the world, who seem to think empathy must be strictly rationed. It can go to those people, but not these over here. Antisemitism, always an insidious cultural force, always a hatred that announces itself as a supposedly rational response to facts on the ground, tries to convince us that we have to be for Israel or for Palestine. For death or for life. And it’s just not true.

I have been struggling, long before October 7, with how to speak about my personal relationship to both antisemitism and to Israel, as a people, as a place, and as a nation. I have received pleading messages from my former University students, from family members (Jewish and non-Jewish), from college classmates, from strangers on the internet, from community members for whom I have officiated weddings, or named and welcomed Jewish babies, or guided through rituals to mark the most vulnerable transitions and experiences in their lives. They want to know what “side” I am on. They want to know how I think the conflict in Israel/Palestine should be “solved.”

I have heard hideous proposals and “solutions” from the extreme poles of the US political spectrum, from calls echoing Netanyahu’s apparent desire to bomb Gaza out of existence to calls for the death of all Jews.

A few days ago, I signed onto the Rabbis for Ceasefire letter. https://rabbis4ceasefire.com I have agonized over this decision, and I fear now that people will cancel me, will hate me, will threaten me, will lose respect for me, now that I have publicly signed it. I did not sign previously because I did not agree with the original forms the letter took. I did sign recently because I believe it is time for an end to this ground war, which is killing innocent Palestinians and threatening the future security of a place I hold so dear, so sacred, so personally meaningful — a place that must be home to both the 7 million Jew and the 7 million Palestinians who are already living there, and who ought not be expelled, killed, or displaced.

I’m not a politician. I am not a war or peace strategist. I am not an NGO worker or a journalist or a person who has any experience whatsoever with serving in a military organiation or living as a refugee. I am a person who chose Judaism in so many ways as the framework through which I live my life.

My Rabbi during these dark times has been Rabbi Rachel Timoner, of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn NY. Her sermons, particularly this recent sermon addressed at the young Jews in encampments on college campuses in our democratic nation, have bolstered my sense that we cannot see this as a “two-sided” conflict, that we cannot ignore the suffering of Palestinians, that we cannot pretend the Occupation of Gaza is just, and that we cannot allow antisemitism to be ignored, propelled, or normalized. Rabbi Timoner argues, powerfully, that antisemistism is both “invisible to those who aren’t” affected by it and “internalized by those who are” (Sermon, Acharei Mot 5784, May 3, 2024, On the college encampments).

I might be good at strategizing things like how to teach Judaism and sexuality, or how to organize a well-run High Holy Day service, but I am not an expert at being strategic about what is happening in Israel and in Gaza, and around the world in relation to that conflict, right now. I cannot watch citizens in Rafah arguing, persuasively, that because Hamas bunkers down in tunnels under the streets, it is innocents who will overwhelmingly be killed if and when Israel bombs. I cannot watch Israeli victims of rape on October 7th be labeled liars. I cannot watch babies starve because their mothers cannot nourish themselves sufficiently to nurse their children. I cannot watch political extremists infiltrate college campus, shouting in the faces of Jewish students that October 7th should happen over and over again.

I am so very tired of hearing folks say that the “choice” is binary and clear. That there are two sides in this conflict, power versus vulnerability, war versus genocide. It’s false, and it’s dangerous, and it’s not going to lead to peace, freedom, liberation, or security for anyone.

Human connection, deep and honest communication, is the only thing that is going to help us right now. I say this especially as we mark both Memorial Day and Independence Day in Israel.

Hamas is not all Palestinians. Netanyahu is not all Israelis or all Jews. The Israeli hostages must be released from captivity. Palestinians must be released from their captivity to the terrorist organization that is Hamas. Ceasefire must be accepted. Humanitarian aid must reach Gazans. And peace, for Palestinians and for Jews on the land sacred to both peoples, is the only way.

If you are eligible to vote in the United States please learn about the Combatting Antisemitism Act and call your representatives.

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Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)
Human Parts

queer belonging. sex positivity. creative ritual. inclusive judaism.