I know a Rose Mallinger. And a Jerry Rabinowitz. The nine others murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh are familiar to me, too. They are the stalwarts of the synagogue. Every synagogue has them — the older congregants who rarely miss a Shabbat service, the ones you can always count on to be there.
This year, as I sat in services during the High Holidays, I thought about what our life will be like when we are empty nesters, now that our daughter is a senior in high school. We always talked about attending services more often once the kids have moved out. When life slows down, will we one day replace the older regulars?
Our synagogue has been our family’s respite. We belong to a large synagogue. When we first became members more than 10 years ago, I was intimidated. Would we feel welcome? Would my kids? Would we get lost in that big building amongst so many congregants? Would the clergy know our names? Would they know us?
The years went by quickly, and our kids have now grown up in this synagogue. It’s a place where they are embraced for who they are — where they always feel welcome, where they are seen. It’s where they learned about what it means to be Jewish. It’s where they learned about who they are. For all of this, I am grateful.
Our son has a head of unruly curls. Sometimes the curls fall over his eyes, which makes me crazy — and he knows this. I ask him to cut his hair, and this annoys him, and I can’t quite let it go. I watch one of our rabbis greet him with a hug. I see her, so full of joy and light, look at him and smile. I overhear her tell him how much she loves his hair. I see him, another time, being embraced by one of his former Hebrew school teachers. She looks at him with pride. She cannot believe how much he’s grown, how he towers over her now. For all this, too, I am grateful.
And for me, our synagogue is the place where I get my spiritual sustenance and so much more. It’s the place where when everything feels jumbled and messy outside, once I am inside that building I feel OK. This is the place where I never feel alone, even if I’m sitting alone.
Talking to our kids about the Tree of Life synagogue attack is necessary and important. But our kids are teenagers, and they don’t always want to hear what I think. At this stage in their lives, they want to be a little separate, which seems right and OK. Sometimes they engage with me, and sometimes they don’t. When there is quiet, I fill the silence with worry. I feel powerless.
I sent our kids heartwarming stories via text, Instagram and email that sprung up in the aftermath of the Tree of Life attack, and this helped me feel like I was doing something. I forwarded them positive stories like the one about the surprise “graffiti love-in” at a rural synagogue in Western Massachusetts.
I tell them about the moving interfaith service I attended, with lines around the corner to get in. I decide not to tell them about the anti-Semitic incidents I read about just days after the attack. I say nothing about the shooting at the country music bar in Thousand Oaks 2½ weeks later (even though they woke up to the news alert on their phones). I am simply devastated. I don’t know what to say.
I pray for my kids, soon to be launched, that they find communities that hold them, good people that surround them, protect them and love them for who they are. I pray that they find places where they feel safe, and I pray that they will be safe.
I hope they will stand up to hate, fight for injustice and speak up for what’s right.