The Tree of Life, or Etz Hachayim, has strayed away from its textual, physical meaning in many communities, instead representing the spiraling, beautiful nature of Jewish connectedness in culture and practice as well as the Jewish emphasis on the importance of preserving life. Judaism cherishes life above all things by protecting it with love and care. While the Jewish community does not always agree on the best methods for worship, we have an intensely intertwined community that crosses geographical, political, and historical borders. An attack on one is, and always has been, an attack on all.
I have never had trouble expressing my opinions. My extremely opinionated Israeli, Jewish family encourages me to speak my mind. My continued advocacy for those with less opportunities, resources, and power than me stems from this. Yet, in the midst of the deadliest Anti-Semitic attack in American history, I am having trouble finding the words.
On Saturday, October 27th, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked. 11 of my fellow Jewish community members are dead- murdered celebrating the beauty of a new life. Anger, sadness, despair, and anxiety constantly permeate my interactions and thoughts. As a result, I am unable to focus on my college classes or my many obligations. The only thought running through my mind has been: It could be my loved ones next. What can I do to prevent the next hate crime? I feel powerless and frustrated. After years of being aware of my own susceptibility to Anti-Semitic attacks, many people have remarked publicly: “I never thought something like this could happen.”
My Jewish friends, family, and I have never forgotten. When I was enrolled in a Jewish middle school, swastikas were drawn on the playground. I remember being questioned by a girl on my softball team: “Why don’t you have horns? Aren’t you going to hell?” I learned about the incomprehensible atrocities of the Holocaust. I recall crying for hours in despair, unable to grasp how humanity could be capable of such cruelty.
Yet, my parents always emphasized that Judaism was always something to be proud of. The peace and togetherness of Shabbat, the smells and songs of Havdalah, the latkes and candles of Hanukah, the apples and honey of Rosh Hashanah, and the love and respect for people of all faiths and belief systems have been aspects of my identity I cherish and keep close to my heart. I welcome my non-Jewish loved ones into these celebrations with open arms.
My experiences as a Reform Jewish American have influenced my value system, as I know the destruction that hate can bring. I know that I am responsible for the preservation, protection, and development of human rights internationally. Therefore, this motivated me to choose International Affairs as my major, pursue law school, as well as continues to encourage me to speak out about social and political issues permeating society. Yet, this particular attack threatens the identity and places of worship of Jewish people across the globe. It’s an attack on me, my friends, and my home. Because of this, it feels deeply personal in a way that I’ve never felt before. Understandably, all I can think about is how I want to take action. I want to prove that love and the spiraling, beautiful tree of life wins in the face of dire circumstances and hatred.
Therefore, I implore you to share this message and do all that you can to advocate for the rights of all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. In times of great sadness and despair, we must persevere and show solidarity. Our President and current political atmosphere fail to condemn white supremacists as well as continue to inspire and encourage hateful rhetoric and false information. Consequently, leaders consistently violate and degrade human rights with constant threats of violence and 1stamendment violations. Make your voice heard, vote on November 6th, stand up for the disenfranchised, donate to meaningful causes, and never back down. The tragedy of this past weekend only reinforces the necessity of unity among all sociocultural communities.
In the meantime, I promise to live my life as authentically and as culturally Jewish as possible. I promise to always advocate for the rights of all people internationally as well as share the beauty of my own culture and background with loved ones, always spreading love and acceptance. Refusing to be scared of the hatred of white supremacists and continuing to wear my Jewish star around my neck with pride, I am an American Jew and proud. Always.
Some Examples of Organizations to Donate to:
HIAS– an American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. Donate here: https://act.hias.org/page/7630/donate/1?ac=ads_google_d2d_1018&gclid=Cj0KCQjwguDeBRDCARIsAGxuU8bfwYjCXrWZL17rRE0QBg8h7qkRnrh2_bkkPGtuaD7LZHSdfKGHzPYaAhSGEALw_wcB
Muslims Unite for the Pittsburgh Synagogue: https://www.launchgood.com/project/muslims_unite_for_pittsburgh_synagogue#!/
The Human Rights Watch: https://donate.hrw.org/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1908&ea.campaign.id=36711
The ACLU: https://action.aclu.org/give/donate-aclu
Amnesty International: https://donate.amnestyusa.org/page/26346/-/1
Dedicated in loving memory of Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Richard Gottfried, Joyce Fienberg, Melvin Wax, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Irving Younger, and all victims of persecution and hate crimes across the globe.