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.
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.
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.