Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 1853 sculpture by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer.

Let’s Vow to Stand With Those Who Are Standing With Us Now

At first I thought: we need space to mourn. Eleven of our own have been shot. We need to cry together. Alone.

We know, of course, that it is all connected, that the attacks on our fundamental humanity and right to exist are connected to all the other attacks on people’s fundamental humanity and right to exist, that people chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville (some of them “very good,” according to our President) were empowered to shoot two shoppers at a Kroger in Kentucky because they were black.  We know (of course we know) that others affiliated with those “very good people” sent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and their supporters. 

And we know in our bodies, in our broken hearts, in our historical memory and the memories of our grandparents whose bodies have never forgotten, and in the cries and shock of our children who also now know what it means to have someone want you dead for an identity that is at the very core of who you are. And then that one of those people’s ideological brethren went on to massacre 11 Jews in shul on shabbat morning during a bris. During a bris, for God’s sake.

We did need space to mourn. We still do need space to mourn. And we do need to insist that this is a Jewish tragedy: the most lethal anti-Semitic attack ever on U.S. soil.  Ever. That’s important on its own terms, and in this political context. The Administration is already attempting to remove the Jewish specificity and make this into a general attack. Kellyanne Conway in the White House has framed the motive for the massacre as “anti-religiosity,”  the Vice President was introduced at a Michigan memorial by a “rabbi” from Jews for Jesus,  a group striving to eradicate Jews through conversion. It’s not subtle. (Remember the Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn’t mention Jews? Yeah.)

All this is true, but we do not need to mourn alone

Even as I was processing the shocking news after Shabbat, my inbox was already filling up with messages of support, love, solidarity, allyship. Even as I was girding myself to insist on our sacred Jewish mourning space, everyone around me was already creating it and honoring it. It felt a little weird, to be honest, to be getting all these lovely messages from friends around the world. I’m okay. My family is okay. Though indeed we’re in Pennsylvania, we are far from Pittsburgh, a community I know and to which I have deep ties.  We are safe, as safe as any one can be in today’s reality. 

And yet, my friends were saying: I see you. I see you feeling vulnerable, and scared. Our supporters and allies found space in their lives to care for and stand with others who  know fear.

I’m not making lemonade out of lemons. There is no good spin on this. Eleven people were massacred in a brutal pogrom that was the latest instantiation of a deep and deadly evil in our society. And while for many, it seems like a line has now been crossed, for others, there never has been a line: the entire history of our nation, and certainly of recent years, crossed the line. Is this the story of a radical break, or simply more of the horrifying same?

There are a few versions of where this story goes from here. There’s a version where we who have perhaps forgotten how close the Holocaust is begin to remember.  There’s a version where we turn inward, enlisting more guards and more guns and more rules and more fear and more gatekeeping and letting some Jews in while keeping others out.  After all, our sacred space was ripped apart and our people’s place in the fabric of the U.S. is under attack. 

And there is a version of the story where the rent in the fabric is covered by the bodies of those who stand with us. The Pittsburgh Muslim community who raised over $120,000 and counting to support the families of the victims.  The astonishing words of Marcus Cole about growing up black in Squirrel Hill in the 1960s. The sheer outrage and fundamental insistence on our humanity that is pouring out around the U.S. and the world, that shows the humanity of others. The messages from my friends who know that I’m safe and still need me and my family to know that we are loved.  

We are writing the story now. The narrative is and must be ours, and I say it is the story of living, together, with others, as the best revenge. We are honored and made sacred by the support of others. We are made more human with our support for them in turn. It is when we stand with others that we are all best seen.

The evening Hashkivenu prayer that we recite after the Shema asks for the divine to spread upon us the shelter of peace. That’s what our allies are doing as they stand with us. They are spreading their shelter of peace upon us, and they are fighting for us.  And we will be called to fight beside them. 

In these times, solidarity and caretaking are radical acts. And even as I mourn, I have learned so very much from my allies who teach me what we as a people once knew and some of us have forgotten: how to live with fear, and also how to stand with care. 

The Pittsburgh shooting is the story of a people hunted and persecuted in our holiest of moments, during one of our most powerful of rituals.  But it is also the story of a people supported. Of a community of allies coming together.  Of being sheltered. Of care as a radical act. Of resistance.  Of finding in our collective fear and our unique traumas a way to love one another.

This is our new reality. This is a wake-up call, but it is also a call to stand in support of others, because we know, others are going to need it. This evil in our society is only spreading.  Let us spread our shelter of peace as far and wide as we can. Let us stand with those who are standing with us. We have no choice.  This is what it means to be human, and what it means to be sacred.  And we, along with our allies, are both.

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