As I pen these words, Israel grapples with mourning its losses and confronting relentless adversaries. Hamas’s brutality has been laid bare for the world to see, and while some nations offer support, others continue to unfairly vilify both Israel and its Jewish citizens. Simultaneously, the chorus of “social justice warriors,” comprising Jews and non-Jews alike, is under scrutiny for its moral blindness.
Tragically, recent events have underscored the serious challenges we face. The president of a synagogue in Detroit was tragically murdered, possibly by a lone-wolf terrorist. Violent anti-Israel protests have erupted in Brooklyn and Rhode Island. Troublingly, in Philadelphia, young Muslim children have been caught chanting menacing slogans. Perversely, when questioned about the rising anti-Semitism, the White House press secretary primarily addressed the safety of Muslims.
It’s evident that Jews are being put on notice, much like the warning embedded in the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation, there are those who seek our destruction.”
The question we must now answer is: How will this generation respond? Naturally, we’ll express our outrage, deliver sermons, write letters to lawmakers, hold vigils, organize rallies, and renew calls for education and dialogue with our adversaries. However, there’s one response that American Jews have largely sidestepped but can no longer ignore.
The time has come for American Jews to acquire the skills needed for responsible and effective self-defense, including the use of firearms.
For over 2,000 years, Jews had little recourse in the face of anti-Semitic violence. They turned to prayer, beseeching God for salvation, while simultaneously grappling with a sense of collective responsibility for their own plight.
The advent of modern Zionism marked a transformative shift. Zionism replaced the passive victim mentality with proactive, optimistic self-redemption. Faced with virulent anti-Semitism, Jews understood that self-redemption entailed learning self-defense. After nearly two millennia, they heeded the Talmudic adage, “When someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” The world once again saw the emergence of “the armed Jew” who recognized that, in a world seeking to annihilate them, self-determination sometimes required the regrettable use of weapons.
Today, self-defense is deeply ingrained in Israel’s psyche, an indispensable aspect of its survival. This concept of Jewish self-defense found powerful expression in 1967 and continues to resonate, particularly in light of recent events. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Kinky Friedman captured this sentiment with the lyrics: “They ain’t a-makin’ Jews like Jesus anymore; We don’t turn the other cheek the way we done before.”
Oddly, some American Jews who admire the sight of armed Israelis have simultaneously deemed the idea of Jews carrying firearms within synagogues as abhorrent.
What accounts for this disconnect? Why is a community that reveres warrior King David and anticipates the arrival of the Messiah, a descendant of David, plagued by an acute fear of weapons? How can Jews who celebrate Hanukkah, commemorating an armed rebellion that secured the survival of Judaism, hold attitudes about the use of force so incongruent with those of the Maccabees?
One explanation is that American Jews perceive guns not as tools for self-preservation but as sources of cultural friction or intrinsic malevolence, possibly stemming from a long-held Diaspora victim mentality.
Another explanation may lie in politics. Many American Jews lean left politically, and they have absorbed the left’s stance on guns and gun ownership.
Perhaps both factors contribute to this phenomenon.
However, if the attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Colleyville, as well as the violence against individual Jews in northeastern cities, have failed to sway public opinion, surely the events of recent weeks should serve as a wake-up call for American Jews. It is time to cast aside the notion of noble victimhood and join our Israeli brethren in understanding that when someone threatens your life, it may become necessary to act preemptively.
Fortunately, many American Jews are embracing this notion. The events since October 7 have opened their eyes to the stark reality that not all well-intentioned friends stand with Israel. They feel betrayed by those “friends” who endorse “moral equivalence” or remain silent. Jews who once adamantly opposed firearms are now recognizing that hope and goodwill alone are insufficient. They are beginning to understand that acquiring the skills to protect themselves is both necessary and, albeit reluctantly, vital.
Across the country, Jewish communities are witnessing an uptick in firearm purchases and firearm training. In Chicago and Los Angeles, longstanding organizations work with law enforcement to bolster security at Jewish institutions while training individual Jews in situational awareness and responsible firearm use. In other areas, Jewish gun clubs are emerging, placing a strong emphasis on self-defense as a mitzvah. One group, primarily composed of Orthodox Jews, goes by the name “Group 1441,” drawing inspiration from Psalm 144:1: “Blessed is the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war.”
Encouraging responsible firearm training, however, remains a tough sell within American Jewish institutions. Rabbis and lay leaders continue to express doubts and reservations about armed congregants. This stance is misguided. Given our daily reality, Jewish organizations must shift their focus toward empowering individual Jews to take a proactive role in their own protection.
Synagogues, Jewish institutions, and Jewish federations must offer programs and classes on basic self-defense. These should include situational awareness, martial arts, medical response (such as “stop-the-bleed”), and firearm training. Just as children are taught to swim to prevent drowning, Jewish schools should allow older students the opportunity to learn defensive firearm use.
In the words of Kinky Friedman, “Now it’s time for the chosen ones to choose, before all hell breaks loose.”
Israelis have made their choice. What will we, in the Diaspora, choose “before all hell breaks loose”?