It's been just over a week now, since the Squirrel Hill massacre. Just over a week since one man walked into a synagogue and, armed with a weapon developed for warfare, claimed eleven lives in the space of a few minutes. Murdered eleven people as they worshiped, as they prayed and chanted, as they sat and stood and bowed together, in Shabbat services.
At least part of his motivation appears to have been not just a general hatred of Jews, but also because the Jewish community has been mobilizing to assist refugees, including through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS was founded to aid Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms and violence in Russia; they've since helped many others build new lives here, in safety. Because we, too, were once strangers in a strange land.
As the Squirrel Hill community sat shiva, acts of anti-Semitism continued to unfold. A Brooklyn synagogue cancelled a get out the vote event after being vandalized with anti-Semitic hate speech. The day before Halloween, a nearby block woke up to discover anti-Semitic and racist graffiti on the doors of its brownstones. We trick-or-treated there, amidst a police presence and news vans. Another synagogue about twenty minutes from where I grew up, where my parents and sister still live, was also vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs. And so many, many more, acts of hatred and cowardice criss-crossing our country.
Last Saturday was also the first Saturday of the month. The first Saturday of the month is when our neighborhood synagogue hosts Tot Shabbat - an hour of songs and stories for small children, followed of course with kiddush and challah. I'd been planning for awhile to take the girls, as I try to do whenever Tot Shabbat comes around.
But as I lay awake in bed Friday night, I worried. The massacre at Tree of Life was fresh; and acts of anti-Semitism were continuing to make headlines, including in our neighborhood. What if something were to happen? Should I stay home? Was I risking too much by taking my children to Tot Shabbat?
Had it become dangerous to go to shul?
I thought of the Jewish families before me, who had continued to attend Shabbat services despite pogroms, despite Kristallnacht, despite the Holocaust. I thought of Black parents in the American South, who continued to bring their children to church despite bombings during Jim Crow, despite Charleston, today. I thought of all the other parents before me who did not break, despite broken hearts, despite mouths full of fear. We send our children out into the world, even when that world is deformed by hatred and violence and pain.
Sometimes just getting everyone dressed and going outside can be an act of courage.
We went, and, thank God, we were safe. Many families made the same choice, and the room was full. There was, for that hour, singing and silliness and learning and prayer. Commingled with our grief and our fear, there was joy.
I still don't know what to do with the pain, or the grief, or the fear. After Tot Shabbat, J took the girls and I stayed for the adult service, which had been advertised as part of the Show Up for Shabbat movement taking place nationwide. I'm glad that I did. Prayer helped, and community helped.
Action helps too. To hold fast to our commitment to refugees, to support the organizations that do the work, to lend a hand where we can. To call out words and acts of hatred and violence. To vote.
During Saturday's service, the rabbi talked about what it means and how it feels when we come together to bury our dead. And we learned: when a funeral procession and a wedding procession meet on the road, who goes first? Who has the right of way? The wedding procession.
Because life goes on.