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For All Jews, The Shooting At Poway Chabad Hits Too Close To Home


There’s nothing quite like logging onto Twitter on a Saturday night after spending the day with family and learning that there’s been another synagogue shooting. Momentarily, you forget to breathe. Then you find yourself thinking about the dead and the injured with a knot in your stomach.

Sixty-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye should still be here. Her 22-year-old daughter should still have her mother, who was in synagogue honoring the memory of her own deceased mother. And Lori Gilbert Kaye’s husband should not be a widower. I can’t even imagine him realizing that he’d been called to perform CPR on his own wife. What a horror.

In a six-month period, American Jews have sustained two deadly attacks. This time it was a gunman at a San Diego-area synagogue, Chabad of Poway. He injured three exactly six months after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Wanting to connect with members of their religious community and the Almighty, Jews have gathered in their local houses of worship to pray after these attacks. What should have been standard outings on two Saturday mornings have instead become historical moments of mourning. And the Jewish community does mourn, even though we may never have met any of the 12 victims in Pittsburgh and Poway, because they’re members of our extended Jewish family.

The shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, which took the lives of 11 American Jews, was shocking. That another deadly attack happened on the six-month anniversary of that attack is almost unbelievable.

Growing up in New York in the 1980s and ‘90s, I was proud to be Jewish and felt totally at home. I heard stories about anti-Semitism my family had experienced, but it all felt like ancient history. My grandfather and his brother applied to work at the local power company for kicks, knowing that institutional anti-Semitism would automatically disqualify them.

As a child, my father was chased home in his Brooklyn neighborhood by boys shouting he was a Christ-killer. When it came time to apply to college, my father didn’t bother applying to schools like Princeton and Yale, which were still known to be limiting their Jewish student populations.

It wasn’t until high school that I started encountering anti-Semitism myself. A non-Jewish classmate confused me by tossing a quarter on the floor. When I asked why, he said he was testing whether I’d dive for it. So me sitting still apparently confused him right back.

More widely contentious was the reaction of my classmates during a discussion of the Crown Heights riots, which caused fraught divisions among Jewish and African-American friends. And then I’ll never forget the Californian from a summer program who asked me to tell him about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy, promising to hold all juicy details in confidence. That was the end of that crush.

All of those things felt fairly fleeting, though. I never felt like I had to hide my Jewish identity. And while we had police at our synagogue for every High Holiday, it was about making sure that the surge of attendees was able to safely cross busy streets by our suburban synagogue.

I wish I could say that my children will know that same safe, philo-Semitic America. Increasingly, though, I don’t believe they will. For starters, security became de rigeur at so many Jewish institutions after 9/11. It became normal to have security that Americans who attend churches or use preschools affiliated with other religions would likely find foreign. Sadly, that security is necessary, as these attacks have shown.

Parenting is many things, including the art of managing many worries about one’s children. New ones are rapidly being added to that existing list. I was already grappling with how to best raise children who are knowledgeable and proud of their Judaism in a nation where we are a tiny minority. Now, I also worry about my children’s safety, while they pray and learn about the religion of our ancestors. What am I supposed to tell my young children about this turn of events without terrifying them?

This is not a way to raise a family. Or rather, it’s not a way I ever anticipated and definitely not one that I prefer. Of course, even as I write this, I imagine that if my grandparents and great-grandparents were still here, they’d nod knowingly. They might tell me the outlier has been my American experience, and that realistically, Jews have always raised children amidst the fear and uncertainty of deadly anti-Semitism.

But how do we do this? And why should we have to?