Confessions Of An American Jewish Teen, After Pittsburgh
When I was younger, I never liked being Jewish. To me, my religion meant Hebrew school after normal school, fidgeting at Torah services, and being told to believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent entity without sufficient space to question. And so, after my Bat Mitzvah in 7th grade, I stopped going to Hebrew High School. Without that forced interaction with the religion, I was as separated from my Jewish identity as never before, and I discovered that I really, really missed it.
I missed running out of Saturday morning services early to be first in line at the dessert table for kiddush; I missed flipping the siddur with my closest Hebrew school friend, stopping on a random page, and seeing who could read the Hebrew the fastest; I missed my cantor slipping me fruit snacks when the Rabbi wasn’t looking; I missed running up and down the plush, carpeted red staircase in the mahogany library; I missed the hauntingly beautiful cantillation of the prayers; I missed the piercing sound of the Shofar. I missed it all.
And it was then, nearing the end of freshman year, that I realized that Judaism is so much more than a religion. It is a culture. It is a community. It is a home, a blanket of security that shields me from the lonely, unforgiving world. That is, until a man named Robert Bowers walked into the home of my people, a home with dessert tables at kiddush, the cantors with fruit snacks, mahogany libraries, and piercing shofars. A man named Robert Bowers walked into my blanket, my shield, my protector, with an assault rifle and multiple handguns and shot as many Jews as he could, his only regret at the end of his rampage being that he wasn’t able to kill them all.
I don’t feel safe anymore.
I’ve always worked hard. My parents were always motivators, and so was school, grades, college, but my largest drive was always me. Or, future me: I’m a political correspondent to a national newspaper working on Capitol Hill. Or a diplomat, an ambassador to Israel or the United Nations. Maybe a lawyer working for the ACLU or taking pro-bono cases or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice or even the president. The point is: in the future, I am someone who is respected, listened to, creates change. I am someone. It never occurred to me that, if I rose through the ranks, wrote powerful articles or eloquent speeches, checked all the right boxes and smiled at all the right people, it wouldn’t matter. It never occurred to me that my religion, a source of pride, a source of community, a source of happiness, would cause people to determine that I am evil, dangerous, or worthless. That I deserve to die.
It never occurred to me because that was history, that was my great-grandparents, that was a little girl named Anne Frank whose diary I read with analytical detachment, that was the past.
It’s not history anymore. I am terrified that it is my future.
I fear that, soon, the rest of the world will move on and leave the Jewish community to pick up the broken pieces. And I also fear that we’ll never be able to fully do so.
I fear that as the discussion in our community shifts from one of love and unity to one of policy, it will devolve into pointing fingers and red-faced screaming. I fear that, because the conversation is so focused on how we got here, instead of how we can effectively move forward, a compromise will not be reached and, in the bleak blanket of tension that will become the new normal, a person will walk into a house of worship, a school, a place with normal people doing normal people things, and shoot everyone within range because hate has become legitimized and differences are to be feared.
I fear for college. I fear that an environment so intent on accepting all opinions will inadvertently allow anti-Semitism to flourish through movements that delegitimize Israel. I fear that the intersection between my feminist and Jewish identities will pose a “problem” for my liberal friends. I should not have to choose between progressivism and Israel. I should not have to tear myself in half.
I fear for my career. I received my first anti-Semitic comment anonymously on a personal essay that I wrote for my high school newspaper on the shooting: “You only need a handful of influential Jews to direct US’ invasion of Iraq. The whole world is scared.” My friends brushed it off, shook their heads at the stupidity of online trolls, and continued doing their homework. I tried to move on, I really did, but I couldn’t. I fear that the betrayal, the hate, will never end.
I fear for my children. I fear that they will grow up feeling like I do right now, and I wouldn’t wish this terror on my worst enemy. I had a childhood where I could go to Hebrew school without fearing for my life. It chills me to think that they will never know that basic human right.
I fear for my future. But, more than that, I fear for the future. I went to a memorial service the day after the shooting occurred in a synagogue in my area. At the end of the service, we all sang “God Bless America” in unison. We were one voice, one quaking, tear-filled, raw, proud, terrified, voice. This is the America that I want to spend the rest of my life in, the America where love, light and goodness prevail. I fear any future where that America does not exist, but I fear that she is too far gone. I pray that I am wrong.
Madison Hahamy is a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois. She is the Fiction Department Head of the editorial board of jGirls Magazine, as well as co-Editor-in-Chief of her school’s newspaper, The Acronym. She hopes to ultimately pursue a career combining law, journalism, and diplomacy, all while remaining unapologetically Jewish.