My first experience with someone wanting me dead was at Yale, weirdly enough.
Not in class, of course.
I was always a C-student at best and the only schools I got into were often my safety schools.
Yale was running this summer program called Exploration (or Explo, for short) where you got to hang out with a bunch of students from 40+ countries worldwide, attending classes that were intended to give you a taste of what college life was like.
I hated the class part because it was too hard.
I made one of my classmates cry during a theater class when, in the middle of a scene, I completely forgot all of my lines.
Even the director’s attempts to come into the scene, feed me lines, and get me back on track failed miserably.
But the social part was fun.
So, for three weeks in the summer, I was in New Haven staying in a dorm on Yale’s campus and one of my roommates was from Dubai. He was nice at first and we got along well.
But then, inch by inch he started chipping away at my trust.
First, it’s when he not-so-subtly steals pairs of my fresh white Nike socks and pretends that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I see them on his feet.
Then, it’s by pointing the camera on his phone at my face and saying, “Look at how ugly you look!” after he’s taken a picture.
Finally, it’s when often unprompted, he goes on about how Jews are satan and deserve to be eradicated.
I’d heard all of the fun Jewish stereotypes in middle school – oops, I dropped a penny being one that came up frequently – but someone genuinely wanting me dead?
But it seems to be a common theme in Jewish history.
Jews as victims.
Enslaved. Pushed out. Killed.
But not all of them. Many of them fought.
My great uncle Jakob was one of those fighters – he fought alongside the Jewish Partisans, often holing up in hastily made shanty towns in the forest and ambushing Nazi battalions at a moment’s notice.
He survived for years this way, and even when he eventually escaped to build a life in Israel, he still fought in the War of Independence.
He didn’t talk about it much until after his wife Bernice died, at which point he wouldn’t stop telling stories.
He fought, and then after he was done fighting, he told stories so we could never forget it.
Those stories gave us a reason to fight, too.
And so, as I continue to hear about the atrocities that happen on the other side of the world – tragedies on both sides because the one thing about War is that it destroys everything in its path – I think about my great uncle and the generations of Jews before us.
Telling stories is, in a way, fighting for your survival, too.
Stories keep generations alive, for years and years.
We fight to survive. And we tell stories so that future generations never forget about it.
This is true of so many different cultures and civilizations. Things reach a head, somebody wants to destroy you and more often than not, you fight.
And then depending on how that went, you tell stories.
And whether it’s the unhappy faces that I see among congregates at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, often led by an emotional Rabbi and Cantor; or the increasingly gut-renching stories of war; or even the direct correspondences with friends who talk about the dark times that we find ourselves in, I know that survival is in our blood.
War is bad.
It is barbaric. And it is destructive.
We've only just started to see the atrocities in which this war will inevitably bring to both sides.
We fight for survival. And we tell stories.