When I was in fifth grade, I started seeing a therapist because I was petrified of the Holocaust. We were learning about World War II and Nazi Germany in class and hearing about the inhumanity and torture my ancestors experienced terrified me. Of course I had learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew School when I was younger, but hearing about it in such detail was too much for 10 year old me to bear. The therapist, teacher and my parents’ way of helping me cope with my anxiety was to reassure me that something so horrible and so unimaginable could never happen again. That history could never erase the memory of an event of such magnitude and tragedy. This comforted me, and I was okay.
Throughout my life thus far, I fortunately have never experienced an act of anti-Semitism against myself or family members. I continued to go to Hebrew School and became a bat mitzvah in seventh grade and confirmed in tenth grade, and while anti-Semitism was always something that I knew still existed out there, I felt safe.
Even on the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the population at services was far greater than any other services during the year and security guards stationed at the front entrance reminded me of the anti-Semitism out there, I would look around and see familiar faces of people I have known my entire life. I felt safe. This year, I decided to go home for the Rosh Hashanah service, and even though I had not been in my synagogue for a long time, I felt welcomed and comforted by my family, friends, and the clergy.
Judaism for me has always been about tradition. I never really considered myself to be particularly religious, but being Jewish has shaped a huge part of my identity. It has taught me to be kind, generous, and how to be a part of a community bigger than myself. When I heard about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend I was heartbroken. When reading about the lives of the eleven victims, I cried. I felt unsafe. I still feel unsafe.
Oftentimes when you hear about tragic events, it’s easy to remove yourself from their contexts, reassuring yourself that it could never happen to you. But not in this case. For me, this shooting feels so real. I can picture myself, my family, and my friends there, and it terrifies me. I feel afraid to go to temple again. A place where I had always felt safe.
How is it the end of 2018 and anti-Semitism still persists? Why do evil people still have the capacity to tear communities apart? Why should we feel unsafe at places of worship?
While get out the vote messages are incredibly important and empowering, how can we really, truly effect change? I don’t want to feel unsafe anymore. Jewish people have been persecuted for thousands of years. When will it end?