Eleven Jews were killed on Shabbat while at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this past weekend. I am still trying to find ways to wrap my head around such a horrific act of anti-Semitism.
Even I have been surprised at how much this feels like it happened to my family. If you are one of my many beloved gentile friends who reached out to me this weekend to express condolences, I thank you for your open heart and compassionate spirit. And if you are among the lucky who do not have any understanding of what it means to be a part of a minority, or to need to protect your identity from people who speak poorly of you, attack you daily, deny your right to exist, threaten your family, and participate in lethal attacks on your people, I hope that you can have compassion for the Jewish people right now.
Upon hearing the news, I felt like getting on a plane to Pittsburgh. I felt like finding the head of the Federation or the Jewish Community Center and offering to come lend my support. I felt helpless. I felt scared. I felt let down by America. My grandparents came here to escape this. Where is my home? Certainly I didn’t feel very at home this weekend. I felt like rushing to Israel, as bizarre as that sounds. Some of my family made aliyah (moved to Israel; literally “to go up”) when I was born because of the attacks on Jews there during the Yom Kippur War of 1973; how strange that my mind conjured this nonsensical “solution” to my pain.
I also thought about the attacker’s recent hatred for HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization that helps refugees settle once they come to America. This brings me to tears. You see, whether you believe it or not, whether you like it or not, the Jewish cultural narrative is that we were slaves in Egypt. We were strangers in a strange land. We gained our freedom through the leadership of a lame-of-tongue and unlikely hero of a man named Moses. We were commanded to always comfort the stranger. We are never to forget that we, too, were strangers once. What those who hate us fail to grasp is that our story is stronger than their hatred. We will help refugees even if you don’t want us to. That’s what we do and who we are. We are not afraid of your fear of refugees, foreigners, or those who are not like you. We know what happens when that fear takes over. It burns humans in ovens.
And yet, I am afraid. I am afraid to go to synagogue next Shabbos. But I will and I must. Because the hatred of Jews does not only exist at synagogue. It’s everywhere. Hitler didn’t care if you believed in Gd, and anti-Semites don’t care either. This one man chose to attack in a place of worship, but they will find us everywhere. And so we go on living. It’s the same for the other targeted minorities whose places of worship have been attacked. We go on. We must.
And because the days preceding this attack on the Jews of Pittsburgh were spent consumed with bombs in packages sent to critics of our current president and because the language used by the bomber was language reminiscent of Trump’s, I could not help but try to blame President Trump.
I wanted to. And there are people who don’t agree, and I respect that. But the language used about the Ku Klux Klan and the lack of admonishment for the alt-Right and the paucity of clarity regarding where Trump stands on tolerance for hatred sticks in my brain right now. And I can’t get it out. But now is not the time. Not now.
I know eventually I’ll need to talk about things like gun control, mental illness, hate speech and how this all played a part in what happened. But not now.
Now is the time to feel sadness. And to turn inward. Yes, I feel protective. Of my people. Of my identity, of my prayers, and of my people’s story. We have been through so much. We have conquered and survived. We have heroes among us, and we have some who do not always exemplify our best intentions. We are a people like every other. We want to live and thrive. We want to practice our religion, celebrate our culture, and live in peace alongside others who seek to live alongside us in peace.
When will the time come when we can see that become a reality? Not now. Someday, please Gd. But it’s not now. Not yet.