If you are a Jew, you already know how I feel right now. But since you're probably not, I will explain. I want you to understand my sadness and pain and to care because you are an American.
As a Jew, something in me broke on Saturday. For my whole life, until that moment, the room in my synagogue called the sanctuary was a place of community, love, support, private and joined prayer, joyful song, and sanctuary, meaning complete safety. But when I attended Beit Am's gathering last night, I sat in my beloved sanctuary and felt a chill of fear. I imagined someone coming through our front door not to join us but to hurt us. Just because we are Jews.
But the wonderful folks who are part of the Beit Am Jewish community are good people; while not all of us pray together on a regular basis, each of us tries to make the world a more peaceful, inclusive, welcoming, and safe place for every human being because that is what our religion instructs us to do. That's why I don't need to read the bios of those murdered in Pittsburgh. They are the pillars of their community who get to Shabbat morning services on time, to help make a minyan (the 10 Jews needed to take out the Torah), and to make sure that Judaism lives on in an increasingly secular world.
I get that the victims were the older folks at Tree of Life synagogue because maybe they grew up in a time when attending services was how you "did Jewish" or maybe because they or their loved ones survived the Holocaust, or maybe because being around other Jews is what gives them the greatest sense of belonging in an evermore fractured country.
And it is in feeling that fracture that my grief turns to anger. Although he claims no personal responsibility for this tragedy or any other in which people have been targeted due to their skin color, their sexual orientation, their religion, or their political affiliation, our president has consistently used his words as weapons; it is a predictable consequence that angry and unstable people are manifesting his vitriol as physical violence against their fellow citizens.
Due to our long history, Jews strongly identify as refugees and greatly empathize with other oppressed groups, but if you know that this country was built by the hard work of those who came to our shores for freedom and, above all, safety, you should feel as scared as I do right now. It is not acceptable to demonize those who are different than we are; it has never been all right, but now that it is clear that, even in America, verbal violence leads to murder, it is upon us all to speak up (and vote) against racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, white nationalism, and violent political rhetoric.
If we act on our shared, deeply held beliefs of love and acceptance for all human beings, perhaps we can make our country into the sanctuary we all deserve.