It happened, again, and this time it’s even closer to home. This past Saturday morning, as my extended Jewish community in Pittsburgh was praying during the Sabbath, an anti-Semitic madman murdered 11 congregants and injured six more. As everyone should know by now, the killings occurred as this animal yelled, “All Jews must die.” Among the murdered was a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor. The global response was immediate. Leaders and people of all faiths condemned what is the single largest mass killing of Jews in the United States. Except for our own President who, although he condemned the murders, also suggested an armed guard at the synagogue might have prevented this tragedy. Additionally, he spent much of the weekend tweeting about the World Series, mocking elected leaders, tooting his own horn and calling the news media the “true Enemy of the People.” And this is a man who has a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren. I am heartbroken, devastated and hardly know where to begin to express my outrage and sadness.
As many people here know, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Until 2007, when I relocated with my family to Nashville, I had been a member of two very large synagogues and was very involved in the Jewish community in L.A. The threats to the community there were all too real and following a 1999 shooting at a local Jewish Community Center, my synagogue Board decided to install bullet proof glass doors, a wall around the perimeter of the property, and hire an armed guard to be stationed at the entrance to the parking lot. Entry to the parking lot was by permit, issued to synagogue members, and visitors had to be placed on an approved list. For the High Holidays, no one can enter the premises without a valid ticket. There are security buzzers at the entrance to the administrative and rabbinic offices, which are entered through heavy bullet proof doors. This was our family’s reality for many years. We adjusted and carried on. My sense of safety and welcome in this country began to crumble then, but nevertheless, we continued to show up, to participate, to celebrate and to live our most basic value of “repairing the world.”
When we moved to Nashville I was surprised to learn our synagogue, which faces one of the busiest and most visible streets in town, had no walls, no tickets are required and only a door buzzer with a camera signals to the office who is interested in entering the building. We do employ a security consultant who is on duty during school hours, services and other special events. During High Holidays, there are more officers, but the doors remain open. And then, a few years ago, in the early morning hours, someone drove by the synagogue and fired a gun at the building. Thankfully no one was there yet, but we began to take a more serious look at our own security.
But here’s the thing: no amount of “security measures,” can stop the hate that filled that maniac’s head and heart. It’s like trying to stop an old leaky ship. You can plug each hole as it springs open but sooner or later, the ship will need to be completely repaired or rebuilt, or it will surely sink. And today I feel we have reached that point. This country is broken at its core. The leadership spends more time bashing each other, name calling and avoiding responsibility. No one is even home when it comes to making hard decisions about gun control, mental health and basic human rights. As I write this, the administration is sending over 5,000 troops to the Mexican border to stop a caravan of people looking for salvation here.
And, let me address the media bashing. As a former news reporter, I can attest to the honesty and integrity of those who cover the stories we read, watch and listen to. Yes, there are always going to be those who go after the sensational, those who embellish the facts. Just like with anything, a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch. But make no mistake, the vast majority of the news media takes their job as a sacred obligation. Trust me, there’s not much money or glamor in chasing down leads, digging up information and waiting patiently for a source to call back. But there is holiness in sitting and bearing witness to someone’s pain as they describe a tragedy. It is an honor to tell the stories of those who have no other voice. And it is a privilege to be the Fourth Estate. Without a free press, we would indeed not be the nation that we envision ourselves to be.
So, where do we go from here? I’m not sure. A couple of years ago I was at our synagogue’s monthly Board meeting. During a discussion about attendance in services our rabbi charged each of us with the responsibility to lead by example. He encouraged us to take our leadership roles seriously and to live the values we want to see in our congregants. It’s something I’d heard before. My late father, Judge Fred Rimerman, used to tell us to always be good citizens. He taught my siblings and I to live by the laws and values of our community, our city, state and country. If we aren’t happy with things, there are lawful, moral avenues for change, beginning with our right to vote. I have tried to live my life by those lessons. My dad’s voice rings in my ears when I face a moral dilemma.
Today I’m struggling with how to process these latest events and what to do about my own feelings of anger, despair, sadness and horror. I’m relying on my childhood lessons to be a good citizen, my rabbi’s admonishment to lead by example. Yesterday I was at a meeting at the synagogue and the rabbi stopped in to say a few words. What stands out for me was his encouragement that we all keep showing up, we continue to be proud of our Jewish and American identities. And he reminded us that there is always new life and new hope emerging. Just before he came to speak to us, he’d officiated at a baby naming and circumcision ceremony for two new babies, and following his talk he would officiating at one more. Three precious new lives entered the community of the Jewish people and there are more coming.
So, I pledge to carry the memories of those who perished Saturday at the hands of evil, just as I carry the memories of the six million who were murdered by the Nazis, those murdered in the pogroms of Russia and the many others in our history. I will remind myself that the perpetrators are gone, but we are still here. Those that sought to wipe us off the face of the earth were foiled in their attempts and we endure and thrive.
Today I will mourn and cry. Tomorrow I will pick myself up and go on with joy and gratitude.
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood. Check it out at www.nashvillepilatescompany.com. She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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