The following column originally appeared in nine USA Today Network newspapers in New Jersey. 

Last month I returned to Israel for my first visit since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

It felt very different.

My heart was as full as ever, but my eyes were filled with tears and my soul with trepidation. The pain and fear provoked by that horrific day still feel so present.

I stood in a once-beautiful kibbutz, now an apocalyptic hellscape of burned homes, with safe houses pockmarked by rocket-propelled grenades and piles of ashes still being examined by cadaver dogs.

We heard the stories of the 360 people massacred at the Nova Music Festival, of families being burned alive, and women and men subjected to sexual violence and torture before they were brutally murdered.

There was no use trying to make sense of the senseless. Instead, I searched for hope.

Hope defines us, sustains us, strengthens us, brings healing to our broken hearts. It is not easy to find in Israel, but giving up the search is not an option for those missing a loved one.

I heard from the aunt of Yagev Buchstab, who turned 35 while in captivity. Yagev and his wife, Rimon, were among those taken hostage. The couple held each other tightly as their home was invaded, so tightly that terrorists had to lift them up as a pair to put them in a truck to Gaza.

For 53 days, they were held together in the most despicable of conditions inside a tunnel before Rimon was released in a hostage-for-prisoner swap. Now she waits for Yagev’s return, so they can renew that embrace.

Time may help us heal, but Oct. 7 has left a deep, indelible scar in Israel. And it has also made a lasting impact on American Jews, as the just-released State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report from the American Jewish Committee reveals.

Since Oct. 7, the report found, 63% of American Jews say they feel less secure living in the U.S. than a year ago. That is more than double the number from when that same question was asked just two years earlier. For almost eight in 10 American Jews, the attacks made them feel less safe in the U.S.

That fear has altered how many go about their lives — 46% of American Jews report either having avoided publicly wearing or displaying things that might identify them as a Jew, avoided certain places, events or situations out of concern for their safety or comfort as a Jewish person, or avoided posting content online that would identify them as a Jew or reveal their views on Jewish issues.

If you have to think twice about wearing a yarmulke or Star of David in public, then something is desperately wrong. The hate is real, as many Jewish college students have found out.

The aftermath of recent anti-Zionist and outright antisemitic incidents on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus, among others, is reflected in the AJC survey, where 20% of current or recent Jewish students said they reported feeling or being excluded from a group or event because they are Jewish, or because of their perceived or actual connection to Israel — up from 12% a year ago.

Yet, amid all those grim numbers, I find hope. I need to. More than nine in 10 Americans surveyed in the AJC report agree that antisemitism is a problem in this nation and that it “affects society as a whole; everyone is responsible for combating it.”

We really are all in this together.

One of Yagev Buchstab’s talents is building guitars. As he and his wife were being taken into Gaza, they saw a terrorist run off with one of his guitars. When Rimon pointed that out, Yagev told her that if the music of that guitar brings joy to even one child in Gaza, it was all right.

Even as he was being transported to an uncertain fate in Gaza, Yagev was telling his beloved wife there was one thing the terrorists could not take from him.

He refused to lose hope.

Rabbi David Levy is Director of AJC New Jersey.