By: Avi Polotsky  | 

 Hishtadlut: A Secure Approach

For millennia, the Jewish people have been the targets of all different forms of persecution. Whether it be the heinous crimes of the Holocaust, beatings on streets or institutional discrimination, Jews have endured it all. Personally, I have been called the classic derogatory terms for Jews and was even once accused of being an Edomite and an imposter of Judaism. Experiences like these have shaken me and made me fearful of publicly expressing my integral Jewish identity. Still, they are not enough to prevent me from wearing my kippah or untucking my tzitzit, for I refuse to be ashamed of my Judaism. 

Sadly, though, this is sometimes not enough. In recent years, antisemitism has become somewhat of a regular occurrence, especially in New York City. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2021, there were 416 instances of assault, harassment or vandalism against Jews in New York alone. I have seen videos of Jewish passersby being assaulted, leaving me wondering whether a similar instance could also happen to me. Although I cannot change someone’s will to physically harm me, I can control how I respond. While thankfully nothing physically threatening has happened to me yet, in such a case, the responsibility ultimately lies with me to ensure my own safety. Certainly, the police and other security resources should be on task to prevent violence, but as the recipient of a potential attack, I will always be the first line of defense.

This topic, though, runs much deeper than stories I read about online and my own experiences. Growing up in a family of Russian descent, I am used to hearing courageous stories about my family members standing up to persecution in the Russian Empire and the USSR. I remember my mom telling me how my grandfather protected his family from an armed burglar. The intruder was a neighbor who had a dispute with my grandfather, and he broke into my mother’s apartment with a knife, seeking revenge. My grandfather bravely repelled the attacker, and the next day he confronted the man verbally, scaring him away from my mother’s family for good. While I am lucky to have grown up in a safer and more hospitable society, stories like these have instilled in me the value of protection. 

This mindset closely resembles the Jewish concept of hishtadlut, or putting in effort toward our endeavors. While Jews trust God to care for us, we simultaneously do our best to ensure our desired outcomes. Although many speak of hishtadlut in the context of parnassah, or earning a living, it is just as relevant to conversations revolving around ensuring our safety. 

A few years ago, after experiencing a verbal antisemitic incident, I realized that it was time for me to engage in my own hishtadlut. The possibility of a confrontation becoming a physical assault was all too real, and I needed to prepare myself. I learned how to box, trained myself in other fighting techniques, started to lift weights and began to carry a bottle of pepper spray. Of course, these efforts do not fully ensure my safety, but I consider it my duty to do anything I can to best protect myself and those around me. 

As a YU student, I am incredibly grateful to our Wilf security for creating a safe environment for everyone. Unfortunately, though, as we have seen, events of harassment and assault against students have occurred on and near our campus. While incidents are rare, they are certainly not impossible. That being said, it is a good idea for YU students to do their part in protecting themselves. 

This isn’t to say that one should strengthen themselves in order to seek out confrontation. I did not train myself to fight with the expectation of engaging in conflict. On the contrary, my abilities serve as a last-resort option for defense if I am unable to de-escalate a situation. In fact, presenting a strong and composed demeanor is in itself a powerful deterrent. Feeling assured that you can protect yourself is discernible to antagonists wishing to prey on those whom they deem weak. Moreover, these efforts not only help with personal security but can also transform nagging feelings of apprehension and paranoia into an outlook of confidence and control. Truthfully, I hope I never have to implement my combat training and would actually consider it a success if I make it through the rest of my life never having to engage with anyone physically. Regardless, I will not feel that my efforts have been wasted. 
YU students should keep the idea of hishtadlut in mind when it comes to personal security. Hashem gifted us with life, and we are tasked to utilize that gift as best as we can. Developing our capabilities to ensure our safety is a massive part of that responsibility. The security here at Wilf is outstanding, but at the end of the day, the onus lies on each individual to protect themselves. While, b'ezrat Hashem, no one should have to experience such confrontations, engaging in our hishtadlut can only help us going forward. 

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Photo Caption: Boxing Gloves

Photo Credit:  Arash Hashemi