Jewish · slice of life

I write to find peace when the world is falling apart.

My husband and I almost named our son Alexander — instead of Ari — back in 2016. We wondered, due to the rise in anti-Semitism, if it was wise to give our son such a Hebrew first name. After many discussions, we ultimately decided to name him Ari since we wanted him to be proud to be Jewish.
I was breathless as I squinted to read the subtitles on my phone from the live local CBS coverage from Pittsburgh earlier today. I couldn’t turn on the volume since my kids were within earshot. Congregants celebrating Shabbat were met with bullets during morning worship. The shooter is reported to have said “All Jews Must Die” (or some iteration of that) before he opened fire on the worshippers. As of this evening, the anti-Semite and anti-immigrant shooter behind this hate crime was apprehended. That’s cold comfort since 11 people are dead — and others injured — in what is one of the deadliest attacks against American Jews.
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I found some comfort in tonight’s Havdalah ceremony. It was a way to shed some light on a dark day.

As someone who spent nearly every Friday night at synagogue until the age of 30, I can tell you today’s attack is one of my worst nightmares. I grew up in a synagogue with an off-duty police officer protecting us. I worked at and took classes at the 92nd St. Y where I passed through a metal detector every time I walked into the building. In my 20s, I was a member of a large synagogue on the Upper West Side that checked everyone’s bag before entering the synagogue. Having security at synagogue doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable since it is what I knew as a kid, which was long before the rising Anti-Semitism we’ve seen in this country in the past two years. Unfortunately, I knew from a young age, that there were people in this world who wanted to harm us just because we were Jews. However, other than several insensitive remarks in middle and high school, I didn’t deal with much anti-Semitism growing up outside of New York City.

This afternoon, I was trying to figure out what I could besides do shelter my daughter from the news. I could donate to the Tree of Life Synagogue sounds like the kind of synagogue I would join if I lived in Pittsburgh. On their website, they describe their congregation as “traditional, progressive, and egalitarian.” I could also make a donation to Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, which resettles refugees (and partnered with Tree of Life). But those things didn’t feel like enough. Therefore, I told Marc, “I’d like to do Havdalah tonight.” (Click here to learn more about Havdalah.) He didn’t ask why. He didn’t have to. He just knew.
We rarely end Shabbat with Havdalah, but tonight we did. And I was a mess. I could barely chant the blessings without crying. Isabelle pressed me for why I was crying. Marc said, “A lot of people died in Pittsburgh today who shouldn’t have.” At the end of Havdalah, we sang “Shavua Tov,” which is a wish for a good week. The English, which we sang, put me into full-on crying. Because the words are:
A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase. 
After the week we’ve just had, we could all use a week of peace.
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31 thoughts on “I write to find peace when the world is falling apart.

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I so admire your courage. You have been a voice and a force, choosing action since these clouds first began to gather. Peace to you and your family.

  2. Stacey,
    My prayers and support are with you and all who seek to worship freely in America. I pray that you will soon feel peace again and forever.
    I mourn the basis for which our nation was founded, the very same open and accepting beliefs that once made me so proud.

  3. Prayets for an end to the hatred.
    Absolutely not comparable, but i remember learning to spell Czechoslavokia in third grade as a part of an ancestry unit. (And being the only 3td grader to spell it!) At school, jokes about “Bohemians” were hateful and hurtful. I didnt want to be from thr “Bohemia” area. Over 5 decades ago AND I still remember!

    1. I was listening to the Bishop from Pittsburgh talk about faith and how this isn’t a time to stray away from one’s faith — because G-d didn’t do this — but to try to get closer to it. I was so moved by his words because it’s easy to stray when things like this happen.

  4. It feels like a loving thing for you to be writing for the rest of us, Stacey. Since hearing this terrible news, I’ve thought about you and your family along with others I know, past students, too, who are Jewish and hoping you are finding some support, with your synagogue, with your family. And now here you are sharing, and wishing us all peace. My wishes go back to you and thank you for this. A few hugs are being sent, too.

    1. There was an opinion piece I read in the Forward this evening that resonated with me, https://forward.com/opinion/412838/the-right-has-blood-on-its-hands-after-pittsburgh-carnage-and-so-does-the/?attribution=author-article-listing-1-headline. The author references how American Jews are sitting shiva for those who were slain. It describes exactly how I feel about this tragedy. While thankful it isn’t mine, personally, the reality is that it feels so deeply personal when it happens in a house of worship.

  5. It is truly something I cannot begin to understand. I love how you turned to your faith and how Marc answered in a developmentally appropriate way. Thank you for sharing and reminding us that peace and kindness can be a force. Sending strength your way.

  6. I’ll be honest. When I first heard of this tragedy, I first thought of you and your family. I know that probably sounds crazy, but you are the only Jewish person that i “know”, even if it is only online. (Maybe we can meet for real at NCTE?) I love reading your stories about your faith, your traditions, and your culture because it is all unfamiliar to me. I cannot even imagine the fear you must have. May peace be with all of us.

    1. I’ve had several people tell me that, Leigh Anne. Not only does it not sound crazy, but it warms my heart. So many people — including many Slicers — have reached out to me just to say “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m sorry,” etc. That’s meant the world to me.

      And, yes, let’s meet (for real) at NCTE! Perhaps you’ll join us for the Slicer Dinner on Friday night? (Info in tomorrow’s call for Slice of Life stories.

  7. You always have so many comments, so I don’t always add my two cents, but I want you to know how very much you add to my life. I don’t even really know you, but your slices always, always add light to my understanding and joy to my day. You are part of the peace in the world that I enjoy. I hope you have a blessed week and feel comforted.

  8. A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase. 

    We need all of this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. As our fourth graders are writing personal essays this week, they’re struggling with purpose. I read something yesterday that Vicki Vinton posted about essayists grappling with something- making their readers feel. This is a great example. ❤️

    1. It’s hard to make readers feel something, but when we’re passionate about what we are writing, I think it makes it easier to convey feelings. It’s my hope your fourth graders come to understand that essay is writing to think and, in turn, transform other people’s thinking about their topic.

  9. Thank you for this post, and for the beautiful words of your song and prayer. That’s one we can sing in harmony. So sorry that there are those who choose to act out a more dissonant, hate-filled message.

  10. What a terribly sad way for these (mostly) elderly people to end their lives of faith and devotion. This was their weekly refuge…a place they felt safe and loved. I admire your courage, both you and your husband in teaching your children to embrace their faith during this horrific moment.

  11. Thank you for sharing this heart-string-tugging post. I too felt sick when I heard the news and to be honest, it has hovered over me like a dark cloud. I cannot even imagine the kind of hate that would violate our places of worship and our places of learning; however, I too have begun to feel safer with tighter security. It’s a sad state of affairs. I too tried to figure out how to “help” in some small way….

  12. Thank you for sharing your words. They are so raw and yet peaceful. Sending your peaceful thoughts.
    I have been so troubled by this act of hatred and wonder what I can do as an educator. I have settled on the idea that I need to be more of a force in making sure that our students hear literature that reflects diverse settings and characters, and teaching respect for differences.

  13. “I write to find peace when the world is falling apart.” One day, when your daughter is old enough to learn about this horrific event, she’ll have your words to lean on. Thank you for writing, thank you for sharing. The world needs words of healing, words to heal. Keeping this in my thoughts: “A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase.”

  14. I read this on the 27th but I wasn’t quite ready to comment. I was just so sad. Now, three days later, I’m writing to thank you. I am not Jewish, but I borrowed your prayer and I have been praying it since I read it. Thank you for sharing of yourself in a time of upheaval. May our prayer go out into the world and increase.

  15. >A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase. <

    I can think of no other blessing more well suited for what has happened in Pittsburg and in our world right now.

    Thank you for sharing your reaction and feelings with us. This is what the Slice of Life is all about, being able to use this venue to convey ourselves via the written word. For this, I am thankful for the gift of your writing you share every week with us.

    Peace be with you and your family as we all continue forward together.

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