This past Saturday morning, my friend Jenny and I led our synagogue’s final Junior Congregation service of the school year. When we finished, I noticed the adult service was still going on. That’s right, I reminded myself, they have to say Yizkor. (Yizkor is a Jewish prayer service that happens four times per year to remember those who have died. Since we’re egalitarian Conservative Jews, it’s not incumbent upon anyone to go to a Yizkor service if they don’t have an immediate member of the family — parents, siblings, spouse, or child(ren) — for whom to say the Kaddish prayer.) Therefore, the other moms and I allowed our children to play in the room adjacent to the chapel while we stood in the hallway outside of the social hall waiting for the Yizkor service to finish and lunch to begin.
We stood there — five Jewish women in our 40’s — talking about Yom Ha’shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 1st and ends at sundown on Thursday, May 2nd. Our conversation reflected the way we learned about the Holocaust and how we’re sharing (or not sharing) about the Holocaust with our children. It occurred to me, as we stood there, that we were coming off of the holiday of Passover, which marks the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt, and were already thinking about Yom Ha’shoah, which is when we remember the more than six million Jews whose lives were cut short because of their religion. As we stood there reflecting, it occurred to me that we were fortunate to be able to ponder the wisest ways to teach our children about our people’s past heartaches. Little did we know — standing in that hallway — that terrorizing of Jews would continue on the West Coast a few hours later.
On Saturday, April 27th, 2019 — six months to the day that the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had bullets raining down on congregants during Shabbat morning — a white supremacist walked into Chabad in Poway, California and opened fire during their final day of Passover services. One woman was killed, three others were injured, and millions of Jews around the world were terrorized again.
I’ve tried to find something else — anything else — to write about since Saturday, but all I keep coming back to is the fact that my friends and I let our guard down in synagogue. We allowed our children to play a few hundred feet away from us — on the other end of the synagogue — while we chatted. You know where I’m going with this… it’s where the mind shouldn’t have to go when you’re in your house of worship (or a school, or a movie theater, or fill-in-the-blank-with-wherever-the-most-recent-mass-shooting-has-taken-place). But that’s where my mind keeps going. Why weren’t we right outside the door talking? Had we become complacent because of our synagogue’s new security measures, because six months had passed since the Tree of Life Shooting, or both?
Carly Pildis, a Jewish writer and advocacy professional, wrote this in Tablet Magazine today:
None of us can let our fear of being murdered in synagogue keep us from our houses of worship. However, I’ve come to realize all of us who choose to go about living Jewish lives have to be smarter about how we live. Unfortunately, it means being a bit more overprotective even if it causes an eye roll.
We’re living in a time when we — as Jews — we do not feel safe. As writer Ariel Sobel wrote in a piece in The Forward yesterday:
On February 21st, 2017, I wrote my first blog post that reflected any hint of feeling unsafe as an American Jew. ( I started this blog in February 2012. All of my posts categorized as “Jewish” prior to 2017 were (mostly) celebratory in nature.) This is the fourth time I’ve categorized a blog post with the “Jewish” category that’s been about anti-Semitism since 2017. Anti-Semitism is alive in this country and around the world. It’s on the left. It’s on the right. And it’s going to take everyone — Jewish and non-Jewish — doing there part to eradicate it.