WHEN WE LANDED AT THE AIRPORT IN NEW YORK, WHILE WAITING FOR OUR PASSPORTS TO BE CHECKED, I WAS ALREADY AFRAID THAT SOMEONE WOULD REVEAL OUR ISRAELI-JEWISH IDENTITY AND HURT US OR EVEN JUST SHOUT AT US, "FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA, PALESTINE WILL BE FREE."
Over the past two months, I've dealt with dozens of Instagram and Facebook accounts. They yelled at me that I was an abusive occupier or that they were going to destroy me and my entire family, but there is a difference between a digital confrontation and a physical confrontation. I was never involved in a fight, I never "went to blows."
I'm really afraid of nonverbal confrontations, because words are my personal defense kit. What will I do if this happens? Start running? To try to convince him not to hurt me? These are the thoughts that ran through my mind, and judging by the conversations that took place among the other members of the delegation who enlisted in this important mission, I realized that I was not the only one who went into risk management mode.
We stood together, a group of Israeli women, each a leader in her field, so I know that these are brave women who had to overcome obstacles, because there is no woman in a position of influence who did not have to develop the skin of an elephant and overcome the scorn and diminution of certain men (not all men) in order to advance.
We have always experienced disregard for women's professional determinations and decision-making, despite all the studies that have proven for years that ignoring women's knowledge at the decision-making table leads to failure, in every field. The failures that have emerged in the management of the State of Israel over the past two months clearly prove this; it is only a shame that this lesson has been learned at the cost of many lives. We could have been listened to before, when we shouted that we were excluded and diminished, before the lesson became painful and cruel.
While waiting for the stamp in their passport, some began conversing in English instead of Hebrew. Me too. Someone asked if she should hide the necklace with the Star of David. There was silence. The same group member went on to say that this was the first time she had considered hiding Jewish symbols. Unfortunately, for me it's a familiar childhood scene. In Argentina, fear of anti-Semitism is part of life.
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We landed in the United States, a delegation of "Women Leading an Exemplary Society" on behalf of the World Zionist Organization and Shazor, whose goal is to raise awareness of Hamas' gender-based violence on October 7, and also to tell American Jews about the real needs of Israeli civil society, which are not always communicated correctly by government officials (here American manners take over my writing).
We stood at the airport, American police at every corner, thousands of miles away from our precious country where babies were kidnapped from their beds and murdered in front of their parents. Far from the sirens, the missiles, the attacks, the fighting in Gaza. Still, we didn't feel safe. Even the opposite.
An objective person would probably be astonished, after all, we left a conflict zone – a subtle expression of a war zone, again American manners – and landed in a country where there is no need to run to the safe room. So how can it be that we don't feel more protected?
The biggest break we've all felt since October 7 is in our sense of safety. The question is how to restore that feeling.
The reason is that a sense of personal security is not felt in accordance with the objective data, but I knew this before I spent an entire week with a delegation in New York. I knew that a sense of personal security is not directly proportional to the statistics of the actual degree of risk, but this week made me realize that not only is there no direct relationship, but that the personal sense of security of each of us is so subjective and depends on personality structure, education, values, past experiences and a million other factors, that it is sometimes inversely proportional to external reality. Meeting diverse Jewish, American and Israeli women showed me the extent to which the interpretation of reality affects the sense of personal security – more than any factual proof.
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When I planned to write a column about the trip to America, I wanted to explore where it is safest to be Jewish these days. I planned to share statistics comparing crime levels, comparing the number of people murdered in Europe, the United States and Israel, comparing the number of police officers and soldiers per capita.
The deeper I delved into the question, the more I realized how irrelevant this data was to the psychological sense of security. I'm a very rational woman, friends tease me and call me "Paula studies say," and even I have to put science aside for a moment.
So where is it safest to be Jewish after October 7?
The first week in New York included a tight schedule of events, conferences, and meetings, which didn't really allow me to walk the streets. After the expedition ended, I stayed in the city for another 24 hours to breathe some air, and the truth is that mainly in order to purchase the list of products in Sephora that Sheila and Arbel asked me for. Speaking of feeling safe, letting them down is perhaps the thing that undermines my personal confidence the most.
At one meeting with Jewish-American entrepreneurs, I asked them if they were afraid. If anything has changed in their and their family's lifestyle since October 7. One of the women said she had lived in Manhattan all her life, a woman of means and education who had been active for many years in the Jewish community, who was suddenly afraid to walk down the street where she has lived for 30 years. She said that since the war began, she has not gone out to public places.
Another woman tried to convince her friend that it wasn't that serious, that there were demonstrations here and there and the tearing up of ads of abductees, but overall it wasn't dangerous to walk in the streets and the city's police officers were skilled and professional. Another said her son, a Jewish-American boy in fourth grade, was yelled at by a classmate: "Fuck Izrael." Now she's considering transferring him to another school. The same woman who tried to moderate the one who was afraid to march in Manhattan incited her friend and said that most schools support and help Jewish children, and then she explained to all of us that the cases of anti-Semitism we see in the media are numbered, and that even while a pro-Palestinian demonstration is broadcast on the Israeli news, there are many Jews who pass by and do not fear for their safety.
Posters in New York for the release of the hostages, some of them vandalized, photo: Paula Rosenberg
I watched the discourse between them and was amazed to see a mirror image of what is happening in Israel right now. In order to feel protected, some of us need to share our difficulties and feelings of fear, while others are determined to convince us that there is nothing to fear so that they can feel safe. The concerns of others keep them from feeling that everything is fine.
So how much real danger is there right now for a Jewish woman on the streets of Manhattan? The statistical chance is probably low, but undermining one's sense of security finds no comfort in percentages.
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On the sidelines of the seminal event at the United Nations, which I wrote about two days ago and was covered in all media, I had an interesting conversation with Julianna Margulies, an American Jewish actress ("The Good Wife"). I approached her at the end of the event and expressed my gratitude for fearlessly sharing her position, siding with Israelis and strengthening hasbara, despite her criticism of the Israeli government.
I asked her if she feared for her safety, for her career. She looked at me, hesitated for a moment, and then said, "No... Not very. Yes, I get harsh reactions and statements, but I'm not so afraid. My son, on the other hand, who is 16, said to me, 'Mom, haven't you done enough?' I think he's a little worried about me."
Then she looked at me and continued: "You invited 90 Jewish-American actors and actresses to this discussion, how come only Debra Messing and I came? How can that be?" I saw both despair and anger in her eyes. I asked her if she thought it was because of fear, if she thought her Hollywood friends were afraid. She replied, "I don't know, but we can't just let fear manage us."
With actress Julianna Margolis (center) and Karen Shahar Krobiner, photo: from the private album
Her courage and that of too few others does not mean that they feel more protected, but that for some of us to act and initiate it is the way to feel greater personal security, while for others to remain silent and restrain the fear.
Debra Messing, who was also present at the UN, supports Israel on every platform and posts a lot of content on social media. She attended a rally in New York. Does she feel safer because of her activism? I will try to reach her and find out.
As part of the delegation, we also met with Guy Franklin, founder of the Israeli startup platform in New York, which brings together more than 400 entrepreneurs. I was curious to hear from him about the concerns of the business population in the wake of rising anti-Semitism. The platform Franklin created maps the Israeli companies in the city.
I asked him if the situation did not raise concerns that the information he provided would increase the degree of risk exposed to by people with an Israeli identity, and he shared with me that this is a burning issue among Israeli entrepreneurs. The picture he revealed perhaps most accurately defines the layers that comprise the concerns: as those responsible for the safety of employees, a worrying element has now been added that has not been dominant until now. "Until now, Israelis emphasized their Israeliness everywhere they went, and were very open about it," Parklin said, "but that has changed. Now everyone is more cautious when calculating security and business risks."
On a personal level, many Israeli businessmen in New York have families, children in schools and kindergartens. Out of this complex situation arose a need to strengthen the sense of protection of Israeli society. "We shared this with the mayor's team, followed by a meeting sponsored by Mayor Eric Adams, where the solutions that New York City has to offer will be presented," Franklin says. "As part of the meeting, the mayor wants to hear the issues that bother Israelis."
One entrepreneur who spoke to Franklin shared his frustration, saying: "I went to university here, I'm raising my kids here, I've started a business here and I feel unsafe now – what are you doing to keep me safe? About my family? About my employees?"
So here's something else to learn from Eric Adams, the mayor who moved us all in his embracing speech after October 7: The sense of safety for each of us depends on the ability of those in power to acknowledge concerns without denying them, to listen to fears without belittling them, without blame.
Instead of empty passwords, in order for us to feel more protected and protected in Israel, we should adopt this method, which is the most basic. Even someone who is not an economic expert, a high-tech entrepreneur or the mayor of New York City can implement: listen to the citizens.
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I return to Israel with the feeling that there is currently no place that is truly safe for Jews and Israelis. Each of us needs a space where fears can be expressed, and sometimes the most practical solution lies in the ability to admit that something is broken, that needs to be fixed. Not only to try to prove that we are still protected in the country, certainly not when hundreds of thousands cannot return to their homes for fear of their safety, and when civilians are still being held captive by Hamas. The state does not have the right to say only "this is life" or "we are strong."
Start listening to us, this way we can restore our sense of personal security. Stop ignoring the cry of pain of the victims and their families, the sense of devastation we all have.
It is important to eradicate the enemy, it is important to glorify our fighters, it is even tolerable for those in power to pat themselves on the back for achievements, but none of this will restore the feeling that there is someone to rely on, that there is someone who protects us.
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