This past Saturday life, and choices previously made, took on new meaning.
A little less than two years ago I converted to Judaism after two plus years of study – first on my own, and later with a group of others under the tutelage of a rabbi who also became my friend.
Judaism provided me with a sense of peace, belonging, kavana aka intention. It grounds me and gives me a sense of purpose as well as a framework and network to do good to and for others, which aside from being a mitzvah, is something that is a recurring purpose in my life.
As I was debating taking my studies further to be with a rabbi and trying to decide how much this was important to and core to who I am, I visited the local Holocaust museum. I read every plaque. I looked closely at every picture and item displayed. I repeated the question to myself, “If this happens again, how would I (re)act? How would I feel? Can I take this on?” I walked out that day with a sense of purpose, that yes, even should the worst happen again, I would face it, proudly a Jew.
Saturday morning I went to early voting at a new county facility. At one point in the long wait, while standing next to a police officer, I had a terrible thought… What if someone came in and started shooting or had a bomb? There was no form of shelter. There was limited access in/out. There were only two officers. There had been no metal detector or wanding. I live in an area (state? county?) where folks can openly carry as well as conceal carry (weapons); there were no signs asking people to not carry. Heck, someone could say something to someone else and trigger a shooting.
It was a sobering thought.
Luckily, nothing happened at that facility.
When I got back to my car and decided to take a moment to review my Twitter stream that I learned, as I had those sobering thoughts, a synagogue was facing the terror of being gunned down by a madman, simply for being Jewish.
I’m not going to go into the debate about gun ownership, including what type of guns should be available to the public. I’m not going to go into (mental) health care and how it or the lack of it is (tied to gun sales) or impacts ones actions.
I found it profound, as I have in many other instances when this sort of thing happens, that I knew it was happening. My brain picked up on whatever vibes and thought about being shot at in a public space at the same time that it was occurring elsewhere.
I also found it profound how it impacted me the rest of the day. While driving I worried that someone would know I was Jewish and shoot me or ram me with their vehicle. While sitting in a fast food restaurant I worried that someone would ram a car at the window I sat at or would come through the door to shoot me, just for being Jewish. All of those were incredibly long shots to be nigh impossible. After a while, I found a sense of equilibrium and moved on to anger and sadness for those killed and their friends and family.
I revisited my thought process from three years ago, asking myself, what would I do? Would I hide my being Jewish if it came to survival? Would I instead be proud of who I was and this tribe I am a member of and do what I can to fight back, to repair the world in whatever way I can. It’s harder when one knows how easily it could actually happen. The metro area I live in has a large Jewish population and also sees a lot of acts of antisemitism.
But I knew, I would still stand tall and fight back. This is who I am, who I have fought long and hard to find and be.
While it happened many hundreds of miles away, I knew that the likelihood of copycat actions was plausible in my area. I had the thought that my family could be concerned about me as well as about attending my shul for my upcoming nuptials. Thus, I proactively reached out to close family to let them know some basics regarding the safety measures my synagogue has taken in the past and is continually looking to improve.
It was fascinating the responses I got. And a little heartbreaking. One family member showed their narcissism in not having thought about it at all. Another had a vigilante mindset. A third had a compassionate response. A few years ago this would have surprised me, but things have changed in the past year.
Sunday morning I went to a meeting to hear about security measures at my shul, to be reassured. I learned that within minutes of the event starting, local police went to each shul in its jurisdiction to ensure that they were safe in case it was a targeted, larger scale event.
The fact that law enforcement took it as a credible possibility and acted proactively reinforces the reality as well as how ignorant and hurtful that one family member could be so dismissive of my safety.
My fiance appreciated how I felt that the community devistated wasn’t localized to just that shul, but that, while I did not know anyone there, I felt they were my family, my people who were hurt. I saw an image recently that stated ‘when any Jew hurts, we all hurt. We cry as a family. We are family.’