Just over two weeks ago, I was sitting in my apartment playing around on my computer, looking at Facebook when I found out about the shooting. A middle-aged man walked into Tree of Life synagogue just miles from my home in Pittsburgh and shouted “All Jews must die” before killing 11 people and injuring more.
It brought me to tears. I was in shock. I called my mom and she had a very similar reaction. We immediately tried to see if we knew anyone who had been killed. We were in the dark for over a day before we heard the news about Melvin Wax.
He was the father of one of my mother’s friends. They had even spent break the fast together. While they weren’t the closest, the horrifying thought that crosses your mind every time you hear about a new shooting became very real: Who do we know? Unfortunately, this time we did.
This whole situation has been especially difficult because of the way I express my Judaism. It is a huge part of who I am, and my whole life I have been expressive and open about being Jewish. In fact, every time I meet someone, I introduce myself as Jewish, I have been to Israel twice and work at the Hillel on campus.
My father was raised Jewish but my mother was raised Lutheran. After they had me, they decided that they wanted to raise me Jewish, and my mother and I were both converted when I was two. Being Jewish wasn’t just something I was born into, it was also something I chose. I went to Sunday school from ages five to 14, had a bat mitzvah and taught the kindergarteners at my temple. I was in youth group, went to Jewish summer camp and babysat for families I knew from temple.
When looking for colleges, a Jewish presence was at the top of my list. I wanted to be surrounded by the same people I had been with my whole life; those who brought me comfort and taught me how to be brave, speak up and trust what I believe in.
Oct. 27 was a huge shock, but only brought a small alteration to the way I lived my life. The shooting fueled my fire to continue living brazenly Jewish and to fight for those who can’t speak out about who they are.
From here, we have to fight on. While it is now not as safe to flaunt my Jewish identity, I will continue to do so with the same pride I had before, if not more. We have to stand together and fight for our lives.
It is now more important than ever to be exceptionally Jewish, so that people like Robert Bowers are knocked down by our wall of impenetrable faith. For my non-Jewish friends
and family, it’s your time to stand up too. Don’t
sit idly by as those who are different from you
are being killed.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
—Martin Miemöller, Lutheran Pastor and Holocaust survivor
Leah Popkin is a guest columnist. Contact her a [email protected]