Magen David: A Personal Shield and Statement

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One of the great things about my job is that it requires regular visits to Israel. When our kids were younger, such trips away from home usually involved the purchase of small gifts – a kind of modern guilt-offering – that would be excitedly unpacked upon my return. Early on, I learned to stow those presents in the carry-on luggage: far worse than a missing suitcase was one containing the much-anticipated present for a 7-year-old.

The kids are much older now. They are far past having to count the number of “sleeps” until mommy comes home; far past my angst-ing about the number of times during my absence that pizza would feature as the main course for the evening meal. Beyond my needing to bring back goodies from the shuk or duty-free.

Then, the week following the Paris shootings at Hyper-Casher, my nearly 20-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked if I would buy her a small Magen David necklace on my upcoming trip.

My daughter is a university student with a decidedly progressive focus of studies. Her courses, unknown in my own undergrad years, have included topics like Sustainability and Gender Studies. And, because of her abiding love for everything theatrical, her friends tend to be theatre kids rather than business students.

The world of her peers has been increasingly Israel-critical of late, all the more so since last summer’s Gaza conflict. So, when she asked for the Magen David, my first thought was one of pride: in the face of some adversity, the symbol of our people was a kind of affirmative statement about her own identity.

But, just beneath my pride was another sentiment, not one of which I am proud. It was anxiety, that a public self-identification as a Jew might lead her to face heightened criticism or, perhaps, even physical threat. When the world is not safe for those who support Israel, it is also not safe for the People of Israel.

This morning, I opened my own jewelry box. There, tangled with the other gifts I’ve received over the years, was my own small star, a gift to me from my parents when I was a teenager. I wore it through my own university years but, for decades now, it has rested in its small velvet cubby, no longer needed to reaffirm a personal identity that has matured and blossomed over thirty years.

Today, once again, I linked my own Magen David’s delicate chain behind my neck. When we worry – however fleetingly – about our children’s safety in publicly affirming their Jewishness, it’s time to make a change. It’s not enough to leave it to those whose religious observance makes them “visible Jews.” The rest of us need to out ourselves a little bit, too.

And, when my daughter wears the star I will buy for her during next week’s trip to Israel, I hope it will be both her personal shield of David and a symbol of my pride in her as she navigates her own path to Jewish adulthood.

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