1999 Los Angeles JCC mass shooting survivor Mindy Finklestein weeps as she tells her story at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Oct. 28, 2018. (Photo/Sue Barnett)
1999 Los Angeles JCC mass shooting survivor Mindy Finklestein weeps as she tells her story at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Oct. 28, 2018. (Photo/Sue Barnett)

How the Jewish community healed me after I was shot at a JCC

I’m a mother,

I’m a wife,

I’m a daughter,

a sister,

a friend,

a Jew.

I am a gun violence survivor.

I am a mass shooting survivor.

I am a hate crime survivor.

Almost 20 years ago I worked at a Jewish camp at a JCC in Los Angeles when a neo-Nazi walked in and began shooting. I was shot twice.

I was 16, today I’m 35. And yet times like this make me feel like I’m 16 again, lying in a pool of my own blood, crying out for my parents.

I think to myself, what do I want more than anything to make me feel whole again after my scars feel like they were ripped open again? I want my people. I want my family. I want my friends. My community.

Judaism is not just a set of beliefs. It’s not just a culture. More than anything it’s a community.

I grew up surrounded by Jewish people, going to Jewish preschool, going to Hebrew school, attending Jewish camp. Many of my best friends were Jewish. My world was blanketed by the Jewish community.

So when a man tried to kill me for being Jewish, my community was torn apart. But then I started to receive letters from Jews around the world. We received meals on our doorstep from people we’d never met.

A week after the shooting I went to my cousin’s bat mitzvah in a wheelchair and I was embraced by 30 Holocaust survivors.

I quickly realized that no matter where you are in the world, whatever happens to you, being Jewish, having a Jewish community, and identifying as Jewish in whatever way that means to you, connects us all. That is what Jewish community is all about. That is what got me through 20 years ago, and that is what will get me through this.

Because being a member of a community makes you stronger and makes your voice louder. So whether you are a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend or a survivor of any kind, we are all a part of this community, this community, and together we can get through anything.

And lastly, I’m an American. And I’m a voter.

The author delivered a version of this as a speech at an Oct. 28 service at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

Mindy Finkelstein
Mindy Finkelstein

Mindy Finkelstein lives with her daughter and husband in the Bay Area and works as a development executive at a local nonprofit.