If you are reading this, you may care deeply about Jews. You may care deeply about Pittsburgh or America or humanity. You may be Jewish or you may not be. Either way you are reading this for a reason.
My religion has a huge bearing on who I am. Much of my identity as a Jew is self-imposed, but this Saturday was different because I was again reminded that it is beyond my control what people think about me and those I love, and that where I gather and what I believe can put me in danger.
Thanks to all those who reached out to me, or who publicly expressed their feelings about the shooting in Pittsburgh. Thanks to the city of Pittsburgh and all the cities who have now put extra security around synagogues and come out against anti-Semitism. Thanks to law enforcement officers who went in risking their lives to save people they did not know. Thanks to the media, which has done a tremendous job of humanizing and covering this national trauma and helped us come together as a nation.
As I write these thoughts, I am gutted.
I just spoke to my 12-year-old to explain what happened. I explained to her that there are people in the world who hate her but don’t even know her. They hate her for something she loves and cares deeply about. I explained to her the burden I have carried my whole life knowing that people were out there that hate me, and once in a while it rears its head with devastating consequences. With my voice trembling, I explained that in her great-grandmother’s lifetime a feeling so deep came over the world that it wiped out her family and half of our people.
My daughter gently grabbed my hand and held it tight — something she does less and less these days. She sat silently for a minute and then she related my feelings to what she felt when she and her classmates were sheltered in place because of an active shooter at a nearby school. She related it to where someone in her class said something offensive and racist and the whole class was forced to confront the reality that someone in their midst had said something unconscionable.
My daughter gently grabbed my hand and held it tight.
I walked away from our conversation sad that she now knows about the burdens she will carry in her life, but confident that her abilities will lessen that burden for others in the world.
I generally try to be a balanced person and not make it about wedge issues. I don’t want to make this about gun control — but I struggle to see why people can have a weapon that can kill that many people so quickly. I just don’t get that. I am mad at a world where my children practice shelter-in-place rules and must pass a security guard to enter our synagogue.
I don’t want this to be political — everyone on either side of the table, Republican and Democrat, are united and steadfast in their horror — but I was challenged by my rabbi today who pointed out that a leader sets the tone for what is permissible on the fringes (at least at first on the fringes), and our president and all politicians have the obligation to reduce, not stoke, those embers that clearly still exist.
I don’t want this to be about terrorism — but in Europe the Jews are subject to radicalized Islamic terrorists. In America the terrorists are white supremacists who have become radicalized.
I don’t want this to be about being a dangerous world where it is hard to do what we do — but this is not only about anti-Semitism. It is about our right to gather where and when we want. When someone attacks us for who we are, be it kids in a school or Jews in a synagogue, they go to where we gather, making it unsafe for us to practice our freedom of assembly.
I want this to be about what we do tomorrow, what you do tomorrow. There will always be hate out there — we must not give it oxygen. And we must speak out against hatred of our neighbors.
I heard from my grandma today. She escaped the Holocaust and came to this country as a refugee, and she told me that today we are reminded of who we are — we are “survivors.” In her case, at 93 with 14 great grandchildren and a loving, tolerant and thriving family, she is certainly right; but she is also gutted to see at the end of her life the beginning of the hate that tore her life apart when she was the same age as my daughter.
There are more good people in this country and in this world than bad people. It is easy to lose sight of that but we shouldn’t. Let’s move forward — hug your neighbor, listen to your friend, and celebrate what makes us different and the same. Don’t let those on the fringes dictate the tone of this amazing world.