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  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

The world is watching

courtesy photo

I met a lot of Jewish people at Rutgers. As a kid who was born and raised in Hammonton, all I knew were Sicilian American Catholics. There was the odd Irish, or north or central Italian, with a sprinkling of English families who founded the town, those few who didn’t leave when all the Italians moved in. But mostly Sicilians. Jews were entirely unknown to me.

The Judaism I came to know from my grad and undergrad days was the Micah version: "Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

Those many contacts formed my entire concept of Judaism. They were my classmates, professors, dorm mates, housemates, friends and friends of friends. I learned what Yom Kippur was from choir members. I learned what Passover Seder was from my dorm mates.

I was invited to Friday prayers by my cooperating teacher when I did my student teaching. I saw her light the candles and say the blessing, which, when translated was intriguingly similar to the Catholic Eucharistic prayer: “Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer. Fruit of the vine, and work of human hands…” I was gob smacked and entirely smitten with the beauty and the deep connections of Judaism with my childhood faith. I also saw history up close and personal in the numbers tattooed in dark green on the forearms of a boyfriend’s parents.

As I replay my memories something truly astonishing occurs to me: Not one Jewish person I have ever known, in any capacity whatsoever, has everdirty, tried to spite me, ruin my career prospects, steal a lover, enact revenge, or do any manner of harm to me. (Wish I could say the same for everyone else!)

Incredibly, every single Jewish person I have known has tried to help me, love me, guide me, teach me, befriend me, encourage me and give me good counsel. Quite the record, and the incarnation of “May their memories be a blessing.”

At this moment, anyone who is paying the least attention to what’s happening in Palestine cannot help but recoil in horror at what the current Israeli regime is doing to the Palestinians. It is a genocidal agenda that rivals the Endlösung of the 1930s. “Remove yourselves or die” isn’t much of a choice, and there is really nowhere for them to go.

If some outside group invaded Hammonton, kicked all the farmers and businesspeople off their land, and took over our homes at the point of a machine gun, how would that feel? The only difference between them and us is that they grow olives, and we grow blueberries. We even look alike.

Another thing I worry about is how the world’s justifiable negative reactions about the genocide in Palestine will impact ordinary American Jews.

My podiatrist, my former periodontist, a few counselors along the way; numerous classmates, many professors, dorm mates and university friends are not responsible for what’s happening in Israel, any more than you or I are responsible—which we all are, just by virtue of being Americans whose country supports that regime with billions of American taxpayer dollars—funds that could go toward our own domestic health and education. More and more, this support of Israel makes less and less sense while Americans go without. It is no longer in the U.S.’s self-interest to continue that policy.

There is a strange symbolic conflation of the state of being Jewish with the modern state of Israel. Those two things need to stay distinct: a nation is not identical to an individual who by mere happenstance was born into a certain ethnicity and religion.

American Jews should not bear the guilt or responsibility for what is happening in Israel—but US policy and funding certainly are to blame and need desperately to be reexamined. Right now, our Congress is discussing whether to send billions more to the Israeli war machine. As of today, at least 14,800 Palestinians have died, mostly children, women, and babies, according to The Israeli side lost approximately 1,200, according to a spokesman from Israel’s Foreign Ministry from the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

The kill ratio is ridiculously disproportionate, and always has been. Given that, there is no “both sides are wrong” here. By the time this column goes to press, the number of dead Palestinians will be much higher.

I look at photos of dead Palestinian children. With inner turmoil, I recognize the features and complexions of my Sicilian elementary school classmates.

As we enable genocide, Turkey is sending medical convoys to the region. That is courage and that is being on the right side of history.

The world is watching. Unless we change course immediately and drastically, history will not be kind to us when this story is told.

To donate for those in need of medical care, regardless of who they are:

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002.


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