Can We Save Our Lives By Not Going To Shul?
This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.
In the course of my Baby Boomer life, my social reality has had two names. One, post-Holocaust. Two, post-9/11. But after participating in an “active shooter drill” in shul on a Shabbat earlier this month, I can now talk about my life as “post-Pittsburgh” too. Hating Jews has become so unapologetic, so ubiquitous, that the next shooting rampage could come to a synagogue near you. Given the ever-optimistic Americanism that is my birthright, I’m finding the new reality not so easy to process.
Between the left’s various anti-Israel campaigns and the right’s old-fashioned antisemitism, shul-going Jews are living in an old new world of violent Jew-hate. For a little person like me, it’s tempting to feel some perverse pride in knowing that my tribe is singlehandedly responsible for everything in the world, good and bad, but mostly bad: The fluctuations of the stock market and global economy; the killjoy agenda of monotheism; male genital mutilation AKA circumcision, corruption in the Arab states and the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, to name a few. If there’s a social or spiritual ill soon to be aborning, we Jews are sure to be behind it.
And that’s why shul-going Jews worry that the attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in late October might just be the start of something big in the world of Jew-hate. Attackers in training — so inept when it comes to earning a living or sustaining personal relationships — are so wily when homing in on what it takes to gun down unsuspecting worshipers who gather as much to chow down on pastrami lox and cheesecake as to study Torah. I won’t lie: When I was following the specific instructions of our Community Security Service (CSS) team lead during the active shooter drill, I asked myself, “I need this? What’s so terrible about staying home Saturday morning and doing the Times’ crossword puzzle?”
This is where the aspiring attackers are smart. They know that Shabbat for us non-haredi Jews isn’t just about religion. Shabbat is the one day in the week when we seek out like-minded people to talk about the novels we’re reading, the movies we see with each other, the concerts we go to, the theater trips we take together, our journeys to Costa Rica and Scotland. For most of us, opting out of Shabbat shul-going isn’t practical. Without Shabbat, without shul, we are lonely and isolated.
We had a second unannounced drill during our study session on the topic of a woman saying kaddish for a dead family member (a late seventeenth-century rabbi named Yair Chayim Bacharach argued that indeed a woman has the same right as a man in this regard. Thank you, Rav Yair, for a ray of light on a dark morning). After this drill, a nurse practitioner friend of mine said, “Barbara, you’re a child of Holocaust survivors. You’ve got good survival instincts. I’m sticking with you.”
“Hate to break it to you, but my mind’s a muddle and I’m still trembling,” I said.
The reality is, neither one of us wants to spend our Shabbat alone in a bunker. But neither one of us knows how to prepare psychologically for mass slaughter in shul either. A shooter is always going to have a three-fer advantage over us of firepower, surprise and hate. The only thing we can do in an active shooter situation is rely on our brave volunteer CSS team.