My Friends Are Living in Fear
By Flo Low
Scrolling through my newsfeed two weeks ago, I was overcome by simultaneous despair and indignation.
“My friends are living in fear,” I wrote, though I wasn’t convinced anyone was listening. “What are the rest of us going to do about it?”
A colleague was the first to respond, commenting: “Well, first our president needs to stop supporting the terrorists.” While the content was venomous, what disturbed me more still was the ease with which she assigned blame – and completely ignored the direct call to action. Yes, our political leaders must be held accountable, but finger pointing is equal to (if not a form of) apathy. Passive behaviors such as these justify continued inaction and perpetuate the status quo.
The status quo is unacceptable.
My friends are living in fear. They can’t buy groceries, or sit in a coffee shop, or pick up their kids, or get on a bus, or even walk down the street without fearing for their lives and the lives of their families and friends.
And my friends in Israel are no different than my friends in the United States: some are religious and some are secular; some are single and some are coupled; some are young at heart and some are younger at heart; some were born in Israel and some were born abroad; some are right-wing and some are left-wing.
Despite these superficial differences, what unites them is simple: they are good and kind and caring and passionate and interesting people. And they deserve to go about their daily lives feeling safe and secure.
Last week, I launched My Friends Fear to tell my friends’ stories. The premise is simple: to share the experiences of average, relatable people who want to live peacefully. I believe this seemingly simple action is the best way to raise awareness and combat silence, ignorance and apathy. Because I believe that when we recognize our shared experiences, we are confronted with our shared humanity and can end the viral spread of hatred.
For far too long, fear or the fear of “being political” paralyzed me. Now that my friends are living in daily fear, I am terrified by those who are silent and indifferent. When I asked my closest friend (and one of those featured) what he thought of my initiative, he was disappointed it required such a negative frame to draw the world’s attention. What encouraged us both was that the responses inspire hope. For despite the variety of backgrounds, religious and political views among my friends, what unites them is their shared yearning for peace and quiet.
Engaged citizens can change our world. Last Saturday night, my newsfeed was filled with updates from friends from across the political spectrum attending the rally on the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. One particular quote caught my eye:
“During these difficult days, when our hearts are boiling and our blood burning, and when people are gripped with feelings of revenge and frustration, we are required to maintain our humanity and our democratic values, to act responsibly.”
These sentiments were voiced by Tony Nasser, coordinator of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement's Arab division. I was struck by their similarity to Rabbi Hillel’s adage: In a place where no one is human, you must strive to be human.
Fear is paralyzing and polarizing but it is also the great equalizer – it knows no political boundaries. Though the solution for Israel must be chosen by those who live there, support and empathy from abroad can empower moderates, those with the capacity to synthesize black and white into livable grays. These are the voices most capable of affecting real and lasting change. But when you are living in fear, it is far easier to remain silent. Until a friend asks. Until you feel someone might actually be listening.
Harmony may still be out of reach, but freedom from fear must not be.
My friends are living in fear. I’m sharing their stories.
What will you do?
Flo Low is an American Israeli cultural activist currently pursuing an MFA at Yale University. Flo is passionate about the role of the arts in generating empathy, improving civic engagement and promoting the public good. She is a First Lieutenant (res) in the IDF and serves active annual duty. She holds BA degrees from both Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Please contact her to share your stories and publicize your actions on myfriendsfear.tumblr.com.