More Than San Diego

By Lily Rebecca Ginsberg who is Judah’s daughter and a recent high school graduate living in Alexandria, Virginia. 

If I tried, I could compile a comprehensive list of the shootings I remember. I will abbreviate it. I would start with Virginia Tech. I was six and could not figure out why my parents were so upset. It was during the Iraq War and soldiers were coming home in caskets. I didn’t know why these deaths were different. The next would be Tucson. My parents were making dinner and stopped. I didn’t know who Gabrielle Giffords was. Tucson was far away, and I wanted my parents to keep cooking because I was hungry. Then, Sandy Hook. I watched the news every morning — the coverage was non-stop. The only time I felt anything was when I saw the gunman’s face. I had never seen anyone who looked so crazed. Skipping a few, the next would be the Charleston Church Shooting. We talked about that one in school. I was finally old enough. Then, Orlando. I should have felt something. I didn’t. Then, the 2017 Congressional Baseball Shooting. That one was close to home. Literally. My school went on lockdown, or shelter-in-place — I can’t remember. We were scared. Then, Las Vegas in 2017. Then, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Capital Gazette, and the synagogue in Pittsburgh. I sobbed for San Diego.

I struggle to define my Judaism. My last name is noticeably Jewish. I was raised Jewish. I am a good enough candidate to be murdered by an anti-semite. I am a Jew, right? But, my mother isn’t Jewish. I was never Bat Mitzvah-ed because I am spiritually atheistic, and it is ridiculous to proclaim a faith I do not possess. I am too Jewish for any non-Jew, and not Jewish enough for some Jews. 

Jewish immigrants in New York City, 1908

My father’s family came to America in the 1880s and 1890s to escape the pogroms and vicious anti-semitism in Eastern Europe. Of my great-grandmother’s many children, some became Modern Orthodox, some Reform, some non-religious. We are the embodiment of the American-Jewish diaspora. My father came to Reform Judaism with age and chose to raise me Jewish. We went to Erev Shabbat frequently when I was little, and I would dance down the aisle to Ose Shalom. One of my favorite pictures of us was taken before going to shul. I got to skip school for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and, after late services, when I would fall asleep on the way home, he would carry me up to the house. I remember how his suit felt on my cheek as the cantor would sing Hashkiveinu. I remember running my hands over the fabric of the pews until my fingerprints wore off while he put on his Tallit, or we sat through the Rabbi’s sermon. I remember hiding behind him when I was intimidated by a teacher. I remember the love.

When I walk in to the sanctuary, I don’t feel the presence of a higher power, but of family and community. When I heard about San Diego, my first thought was how someone can enter a place that brings so much comfort and joy to people, look at them in their rawest form, surrounded by loved ones and their community, and still choose to kill them. I cannot understand how someone can look at any person, in a house of worship, school, or anywhere, and choose to kill them. I don’t hate many people, but I do hate the murderers. I don’t hate them enough to kill them, but they hate me enough to kill me. Is my hate not strong enough?

Anger and fear and hatred and sadness and defeat are the emotions I cycle through when one of these shootings happen. The scariest is defeat. I feel defeated as a Jew because this has been going on for centuries and we may all die. I feel defeated as an American because I used to think this country would look out for me. I feel defeated as a young woman because I don’t think I will ever be able to have children if the world is this violent and hateful. I feel defeated that this will not change in my lifetime, and there is nothing I can do about it. There are two battles: anti-semitism and guns. One is as old as time, and the other has millions of dollars and countless lobbyists. I feel defeated because I, alone, cannot make the world a better place.

I go to synagogue now, as a non-believing Jew, because of my father. I go because of my family. I go because somehow, through all the tortured years, we are still here, and I owe it to the six million and more to go to Shabbat services once in a while, have a Seder each year,  and light the Hanukkah candles. When I walk in to my synagogue in the land of the free, past an armed guard and my Hebrew school picture on the wall, I know I may not walk out. That doesn’t scare me. When my father walks in to a synagogue, I know he may not come out, and that scares me. The worst thing is not being killed in my Synagogue, or a school, supermarket, or movie theater; it is having the people I love being killed there. The only fear bigger is I will be the last one standing in a world full of hatred and murderers.

Posted May 3, 2019

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