And Then They Came for Me - A Jewish Student Reflects on the Pittsburgh Shooting

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, 11 people were murdered and others shot at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saturdays are the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest when many of us sit in synagogue and thank God for the lives we live. We remember our history, unite as a community in peace and ask God for peace on Earth. Going to synagogue on Sabbath is supposed to be a time of reflection and joy, but that has now been disrupted forever.

I am having a hard time processing my thoughts on this specific occasion because I feel so deeply wounded. I am not from Pittsburgh, nor do I have any direct connections with the Tree of Life Synagogue, yet it feels like my brothers and sisters were the ones killed.

All day I have been reminded of the multiple places I no longer feel safe. Movie theaters were ruined in 2012. College campuses became unsafe to me in 2014 after the UC Santa Barbara shooting, where my brother attended at the time. In 2015, two angry extremists took the safety out of the workplace after an attack in San Bernardino. In 2016, after police officers were killed during a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, a few blocks from where I was working, I was no longer able to attend a demonstration without severe anxiety. The 2017 Las Vegas music festival shooting forever ruined the pure joy of concerts for me. And now synagogues, a safe haven for my people, will be marred with anxiety and fear.

After each of these attacks, people came together to heal and bond, saying we would come out stronger. But the bonding and healing hasn’t really worked on me, and I believe many others struggle with the same challenges. I feel anxious when I go to the movies. I still check my surroundings on our very own SMU campus. My heart rate rises at every concert and music festival I attend. And now I have to be careful even when I want to worship.

The worst part is that the Jewish community has been aware of these risks for years. My synagogue has had security for a long time, and the Jewish Community Center is now fully gated and requires a security pass to enter. Yet not even those precautions are enough anymore. At the vigil in Dallas to honor Saturday’s victims, the organizers explicitly stated that no purses or bags would be allowed inside. How can I live in a world where I do not feel safe seeing a purse?  

I often wear my Jewish star necklace as a way of showing the world that I am not afraid, that I am a proud and confident Jewish woman. But the shooter on Saturday yelled “all Jews must die” while he was fulfilling his mission. And unfortunately, I know that there are others like him in my city, neighborhood, maybe even people I pass walking to class, who feel the same way.

Should I continue to wear my necklace when I know I am putting myself at risk? I have always been so open about my Judaism, writing articles reflecting on holidays, teaching classmates about my religion and culture, attending events supporting the community – the quilt of my daily life is intricately bound with Jewish threads.

I feel this openness is being tested, like I need to start being careful where I show my religion. This is something my people have faced for thousands of years, and now it has truly hit home for me. Even today, being Jewish sometimes, unfortunately, means dealing with challenges like swastikas painted on buildings and antisemitic flyers hung on campuses and ignorant questions from peers. These are issues we face on a daily basis, but I have never felt personal fear until today.

Today, someone decided that threatening lives and spewing insults were not enough, that murder was, once again, the only way to solve the “Jewish problem.” Today, I feared for my own life and the lives of my family, friends and community. This is the fear that I, and many others, am now dealing with. We can get angry and start yelling about gun reform, national policies, Presidential statements and so many other things that have contributed to attacks like these, but at this moment, I can’t seem to get my mind off unwavering fear.   

I am heartbroken. I am anxious. I am angry. I am devastated. I am nauseous. I am absolutely petrified. And this is the new reality. The worst part of all of this tragedy is that I find no comfort in uniting with my Jewish community because in a crowd, even during a vigil, all I’m doing is checking my surroundings for the next attacker.