11 souls stand amongst the Pews of the Etz Chaim Synagogue. Among them are a primary-care physician, a couple married in the same room they stand in now, and a 97-year old grandmother. 11 pairs of hands reaching out to embrace their brothers and sisters around them. 11 voices raised in song.
“Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu.” “May the one who makes peace bring peace upon us and on all the world.” They call out. But the prayer is left unfinished, gunshots drown out the cry for peace, louder than the word Shalom.
In 11 seconds 11 souls leave this world. 11 bodies lie bleeding on the ground. More than two look like my grandparents. And, no one left standing can recall the meaning of the words they spoke only moments before. The survivors no longer know what peace is.
When I arrived on this campus 2 years ago, I had never directly experienced an act of Anti-Semitism. I was luckier than many members of affinity groups in this country, whom bigotry and xenophobia target on a daily basis.
But, there is bliss in ignorance. For it wasn’t that anti-Semitism didn’t exist in the United States, I had just been one of the few in the history of the Jewish people who was privileged enough not to know it.
Yet, my ignorance faded with the destruction of the Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia two years ago. It melted faster when angry crowds marched the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us” and, most profoundly, when an unidentified perpetrator drew a Swastika on Deerfield’s own campus, accompanied by the word “heil” outside the Denunzio sidewalk.
However, although I knew about the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States, I didn’t truly feel it in my heart until I read the names of the 11 victims in a CNN News Report, and replayed the sight of bodies falling to the ground over and over again in my mind.
But, now I know. Anti-Jewish sentiments are alive and well and thrive along with every other form of hate in this country. And, that is not something I can shake from my conscience. It is true that I am angry at President Trump and other American citizens who give hatred a voice in the so-called “land of the free.”
I am afraid to go to Saturday services for the alarming realization that anyone with malevolence in their heart and a gun in their hand could’ve walked into any Synagogue across the country that Saturday morning, including my own. And, I am heartbroken for my people. But I am not defeated.
Recently, I sat in the front row at the Fall Theater Production of 12 Angry Jurors, watching Juror #10 deliver a monologue clouded by bigotry (as it was the playwright’s intentions to highlight its existence in the United States), with tears streaming down my face for the people of color massacred in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting of 2015, for the members of the LGBTQ+ community slaughtered in the Orlando Nightclub Shooting of 2016, and for the Muslim congregation who watched their Mosque go up in flames in the Texas Mosque burning or 2017. But, in the midst of my sadness, I came to this conclusion: it is time for America to practice love. It takes courage to love one another.
But, in the midst of my sadness, I came to this conclusion: it is time
for America to practice love. It takes courage to love one another. But there’s a reason we call ourselves the home of the brave. Let us also become the home of the peace-bringers, the justice- creators, and the love-givers.
To my fellow Jews I say: “Oseh shalom bimromav Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu V’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei t’vel.” And, to my country I say: “veahavta lereacha kamocha: love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is our strongest remedy. It’s the only cure to the disease of hatred that plagues our nation, and at this point, it’s all we have left.