I’ve got a sore, lumpy knot of grief stuck in the back of my throat. I feel it lodged there in my neck every time I try to swallow. It showed up when I first heard the news that there was an active shooter situation in Pittsburgh. In a synagogue.
I am not Jewish, not by birth or faith, but I feel Jewish sometimes. Like Judaism and its people adopted me. For almost three years, I worked in a synagogue in Indianapolis. I was an administrative assistant, helping the religious school director, the early childhood center director, and the cantor. This was during a pretty rough time in my life (second only to my cancer diagnosis and treatment in terms of the wreck it made of my body and mind).
I was divorcing my first husband, a dedicated manipulator and compulsive liar who, as it turned out, refused to leave my home for months—even after our divorce had been finalized by the courts. And then when my ex did leave, he used his position at his job to target me for online harassment. The situation was abusive, though not physically so.
My ex is not the point though. I only bring him up so you can get an inkling of my state during the time I was working for Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. The important thing is not what I went through, it’s how I got through it: by going to work every day in a place filled with people dedicated to making the world better for other people. How many of us can say we got paid to go to our safe space?
I was so lucky to have had that job.
I’ll never forget my orientation when I was hired. No cheesy sexual harassment videos from the ’90s to watch. Just one of my bosses giving me his estimation of things. “You’ll find there are some strong personalities here,” he said. “And we’re not completely immune to office drama and interpersonal conflict, but I wake up every day knowing that anyone here would take a bullet for me and I’d do the same for them.”
That memory is playing so vividly in my mind today.
When I read the names of the victims at Congregation Tree of Life this morning, the words “take a bullet” started playing in a loop. And I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what if. What if yesterday’s murderer hadn’t been in Pittsburgh.
I know antisemitism isn’t new. But the stories have been more frequent and hitting closer to home lately. A University of Illinois student vandalized the menorah outside the Illini Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Champaign. Nazi flags and Iron Crosses were spray-painted on brick walls at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, Indiana.
In a statement from Beth-El, I read that they are working with law enforcement to reinforce security for the synagogue and religious school. And that’s when my heart broke a second time. Because the people that make up the safest place I can think of—safer than my own home, or the church I grew up in—are being robbed of that same sense of security they gave me, the security everyone deserves.