A high school full of teenagers in Parkland, Florida, a newsroom crowded with reporters in Annapolis, Maryland and now a congregation in Pittsburgh suffer the same loss.
On Oct. 27, 46-year-old Robert Bowers interrupted a Saturday morning bris and shot 11 innocent people, just because they were Jewish. What was supposed to be a joyous ceremony of a boy being welcomed into the Jewish community quickly turned into one of the deadliest anti-Semitic massacres in American history. It was a chilling message for Jews around the country that ignorance and hatred still exist.
Pittsburgh may be 300 miles away, but there is nothing stopping someone else from committing the same hate crimes in other synagogues, churches or mosques around the world. Anyone can walk into a place of worship without being questioned, and that’s how it should be. The doors are opened for anyone looking to pray, which is why many people call it a second home, and it’s unfortunate that they’re now under attack.
The attack in Pittsburgh hit very close to home for me. I grew up in a reform Jewish household where the synagogue was always meant to be a safe place. I spent many years learning and even educating others in a synagogue setting, and I never thought of it as a place so vulnerable to anti-Semitic attacks.
I became a little distant from the Jewish community since starting college, but the rest of my family is still very active. My mother and two younger sisters teach Hebrew school at two synagogues very similar to the one in Pittsburgh. I should not have to worry every time they go to work or when my family goes to Friday night services.
It is truly heartbreaking that this tragedy occurred in a community that is not much different than mine and that the only way to improve security is to make it more exclusive. Places of worship should be inclusive places for anyone in the community, but safety is still a priority.
In response to the shooting, President Donald Trump suggested that places of worship should hire armed guards and there are already places of worship with tighter security in some areas in New York. Many people might agree with this statement, but it should not be the first step in improving security.
Increasing security is the ultimate goal, but there are other ways to prevent future attacks before fighting fire with fire. One idea would be to have only one entrance into the building and having congregants and worshipers buzz in upon entry. By monitoring and limiting the ways people can come in and out of the building, it will make it harder for intruders to enter under the radar.
There also should be more active shooter drills, just like in schools and other businesses.
There is something I learned throughout my years of Jewish education when the topic of anti-Semitism is brought up in the news. It is very important to never forget what happened in Pittsburgh, but it is also important to educate and to accept people’s differences.
History keeps repeating itself, but with the help of a larger community, people can take a stance against ignorance and not let it be an excuse to commit similar acts of violence.
My thoughts and prayers are with the congregation of the Tree of Life Synagogue and the rest of the Jewish community.
“עם ישראל חי Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live.”