(A d’var by TEMV Board Member and Publicity Chair Dana Rudolph, delivered November 9, 2018.) This landscape is familiar, strewn with ash and blood. We’ve been here before, too often, seeking the living, counting our dead. I know the terrain, can pick my way stumbling over the bodies, the stench of fear and hatred lingering in the air; the thoughts and prayers; the headlines and statistics.
I walk here with other Jews after the massacre in Pittsburgh, seeking comfort and strength, as I did with other LGBTQ people after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as I have done with other parents after school shootings, and as I know communities of color do every time they, too, are targeted by hate.
This time, though, the tragedy causes reverberation deep in my soul, touching the first act of hatred I ever knew about, one directed at people like me: the Holocaust. My Jewish parents were minimally observant, but conscious of their cultural heritage as the son and granddaughter, respectively, of Jewish immigrants—a heritage that stood out in our predominantly Christian New England community. I don’t remember exactly when I first learned of genocide, but it feels as if I’ve always known.
Later, on top of this, came the knowledge of homophobia. I am a lesbian born two years before the Stonewall uprising, and the milestones of my life have shared space with markers of the LGBTQ rights movement. I’ve seen progress—my son was born the same year the first U.S. state ruled that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. I’ve also seen how far we still need to go—less than three weeks after my son’s bar mitzvah came the shooting at Pulse.
In both my Jewish and queer identities, then, I’ve seen hatred and inequality directed at people like me and families like mine. At the same time, I recognize that people of color in the U.S., of all religions and beliefs, face far more danger and far more inequities on a daily basis than I do. Being White and middle class gives me a tremendous amount of privilege, which I hope I can use to be an active ally to those who have less.
Still, the spectre of anti-Semitism gave me pause when it came time to enroll my son in Hebrew school. My spouse is Christian, and we could have placed our son in either a Christian or a Jewish religious school program. As the child of two moms, he already had one aspect of his life that could make him subject to harassment or worse. Why give him two?
I have never been particularly observant, but wanted our son to experience the part of his heritage that he would get little exposure to in our mostly Christian community and society. Additionally, my father had died about two years before, and I was feeling the need to connect our son with the half of his family that felt like it was fading away—mine is a small family. My wonderful spouse was simply happy that we would be part of a faith community.
I asked myself, though: Am I making our son more of a target? I had to answer that in our country, rife with school shootings, simply going to school could be equally dangerous. And as someone who commuted through the World Trade Center every morning to my job next door until two business days before 9/11, I know that hatred sometimes casts a wide net, regardless of the identities of its victims. The best we can do is not let fear of such hatred cause us to hide parts of ourselves. One lesson I have learned from the queer part of my identity is that doing so causes its own damage.
I’d like to think, too, that in giving our son a Jewish education, my spouse and I have also given him strength: the strength of a people that has survived thousands of years of oppression. The strength of a people that values welcoming the stranger and repairing our all-too-broken world. The strength of a people that wrestles with the tough questions of human existence and still finds joy in each other and the world around us.
That joy is dimmed this week, though. How can we regain it and find our way out of this bleak and too familiar landscape, tainted with fear?
In the aftermath of the shooting this past February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students, some of the surviving students adopted the slogan “Never again” for their gun control campaign. The phrase has long been tied to the Holocaust, and a few people seemed perturbed at what felt like appropriation for a different cause, even if the students did not do so intentionally.
The students were prescient, however. Anti-Semitism met mass shooting in Pittsburgh and to both we must say “Never again.”
“Never again” means doing whatever we can to stop the violence and hate that only seems to be increasing. That includes reaching out in kindness to our neighbors of all identities, calling our elected officials, voting, supporting advocacy organizations if we are able, putting financial pressure on the supporters of hate groups, and marching in the streets if necessary. It means taking time from our lives when we would rather be doing other things. It means overcoming our small fears (of approaching that neighbor; of speaking in public) in order to hold off the big ones.
It won’t be easy. As the Talmud teaches us, though, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Let us resist and not desist, so that where once was a desolate landscape, a tree of life will grow again.