October 27th of this year marks six years since my Bat Mitzvah. A day comprised of love, light, and my transition into womanhood, as Judaism tells it. As I stood on the Bimah and recited the prayers I’ve known since I could speak, I took a moment to look around my beloved synagogue. I had my baby naming here. I went to preschool here. I attended Hebrew school here. I knew every nook and cranny of the ancient building. Every marking on the stained glass where the sun shined through. I knew every squeaky armrest on the seats of the Sanctuary and secret stashes of candy and mints. How to tie the Siddur ribbons into loops without knotting them. The fanciest bathroom with floral wallpaper and comfy chairs. The smell of hamentashen from the kitchen. The smell of paint from the art room. The best tasting and coldest water fountain. How to ride the clunky elevator up to the library without it breaking.
Pictured: Natalie Held on her Bat Mitzvah day October 27th, 2012
I looked out into the endless rows of my family, friends, and beloved congregants. To this day, I have never seen the synagogue so full of people except for the High Holidays. I wore a sea-foam green dress to match my yarmulke and complement my ocean blue one for my party at the beach pavilion that night. Prayer after prayer, I led the service (even pretending to chug the glass of wine to the congregation’s astonishment, only to tell them it’s grape juice).
Eventually, I reach my Torah portion: Lech L’cha. Lech L’cha tells the story of Abraham’s faith in God. God commands Abraham to go forth and leave his home to seek the land and great nation that He has promised him. Abraham takes the leap of faith and listens to God’s command. Thirteen years later, God blesses Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac, who shall give them the great nation God promised. Abraham is then commanded to circumcise himself and his descendants as a covenant between himself and God.
Sanctuary of Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Photo from Angel Commercial L.L.C.
October 27th of this year marks one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in the United States. A day comprised of evil, hate, and the result of the dangerous rhetoric and anti-semitism that has been brewing in this country. Eleven innocent lives were killed and six others injured at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during a Bris. A holy Jewish ceremony, a circumcision, held on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life. A man entered this synagogue with intent to murder, shouting “All Jews must die.” I woke up to the news and an outpouring of tweets and posts from friends, family member, and politicians. I read one of Donald Trump’s tweets and immediately broke down.
“This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of anti-semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.”
I agree with this statement. I agree with the words he wrote. But I do not feel the meaning behind them. His actions speak much louder than words. I watch as he disrespects women. I watch as he mocks a disabled person. I watch as he discusses people of color in racist and horrific ways. I watch as he continues to do nothing about gun control in this country. I watch as he degrades the media and his political opponents. I watch as he goes to limit the rights of women and LGBT+ people in this country. I read his words and I am upset and angry because they are meaningless to me. I watch as our president creates a further divide in this country. I watch as his xenophobic rhetoric ignites the racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic people that live in this country. I watch as he gives a platform to the evil exists in this world. I am no stranger to evil; my ancestors are no stranger to evil. It begs the question, what happened to Never Again?
Natalie’s “mini-norah” menorah for the first night of Chanukah 2017.
October 27th now has two important meanings to me. Six years ago, it was the day I became a woman in Judaism. This year, it was the day I remembered what it means to be a Jewish woman. I am proud to be Jewish and I am proud to be a Jewish woman. I will never live in fear; however, I am reminded that evil and hate still lingers in this country. The American Defamation League reports that in the last year, anti-semitic incidents have risen 60%. I am angry, I am upset, but I am not surprised. I am reminded we must not be complacent; blinded by the idea that something like the Holocaust could never happen again. That anti-semitism isn’t being cultivated in our country. We need to be reminded that we must still stand up for our LGBT+ friends, our Muslim friends, our black friends. As Martin Niemöller writes:
First they came for the socialists– and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came from the trade unionists– and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews– and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak for me.