How many times will we hear those words until it is true?
Will each of our communities, each of the people we hold dear have to experience loss at the hands of bigotry?
Never again, just one more time. And again. And again.
Saturday, Oct. 27, eleven lives lost. A shooter gunned down eleven people in the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Saturday, eleven lives were lost. Sunday, vigils were held across the country, one of them on the steps of Memorial Hall at the University of Delaware.
“This was the worst attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States of America,” said Rabbi Jacob M. Lieberman of Temple Beth El, Newark, Delaware.
As American Jews, we all fear it. We see anti-Semitism seeping through the cracks. Synagogues around the country have considered some form of security, and each one of us reads the news each day with a sinking feeling, wondering when it would be our turn, when we would be targeted.
On Saturday, our worst fears came true.
Not only is anti-Semitism on the rise, if we do not admit to the increase in fascism and address its core, it is only just beginning.
“We humans are so vulnerable,” said Rabbi Lieberman. “Our lives are stitched together with a thread that is easily broken.”
Eleven lives, gone in a moment of chaos. Easily broken. How long until the next thread breaks? Until the next community is shattered in minutes? How long can we carry on like this?
We must not isolate ourselves. We must march, we must vote, we must raise our voices so that the echoes of the names of these eleven lives lost still reverberate on the walls of the next community to face unspeakable tragedy.
“We just had this conversation,” said Rabbi Nick Renner, Senior Jewish Educator at the University of Delaware Hillel. “And in a tragic sense, at some level, it’s also a Jewish conversation. Ours is a people that has known loss.”
Indeed, loss is the most Jewish of conversations. I have never known what it is to have a family story not punctuated by tragedy. Like many of my Jewish friends, I will never be able to truly understand the atrocities my ancestors faced.
I remember visiting the plaque commemorating the Jewish lives lost in the Ukrainian village from which my great-grandfather left for America. I do not know their names, I do not know their faces. I know only that they were shot, one by one, and are now commemorated with a plaque on the side of the road on the outskirts of town.
This cannot be the reality today. We must remember. We must discuss. We must articulate our fears, speak the names of those we have lost.
“Let those conversations be lights that illuminate our way forward in the midst of the tragedy and the darkness,” said Rabbi Renner. “For if those conversations can come alive and lead to action, they can lead to deeds of goodness and healing.”
When my great-grandfather came to America, he never again spoke about his family left behind. It was too painful to face reality.
We must face reality.
Eleven innocent people were shot, like my ancestors. Gunned down in a place of worship.
“Last year ADL tracked a 57% increase in anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, giving 2017 the second highest number of anti-Semitic incidents on record,” said Robin Burstein, the Senior Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League in the Philadelphia area. “ADL recorded 13 anti-Semitic incidents across Delaware in 2017.”
To say anti-Semitism is not on the rise is statistically incorrect. But it is not only on the rise, it is increasingly normalized to the point where it is not questioned.
“Violence against Jews does not occur in a vacuum,” said Burstein. “It is only made possible by the slow and insidious normalization of anti-Semitism.”
This is not an isolated act of violence. This violence, Burstein emphasized, aims to intimidate. It aims to make us fear gathering together in worship, to bring a stop to inclusivity.
“But with all of us standing together as we are today, he [Robert Bowers] will fail miserably.”
We will never give up. We Jews are resilient people. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are fewer Jews today than there were before the Holocaust, but our community has persisted. We have been persecuted for centuries, but this has never stopped us.
What will continue, if we let it, is violence.
“Take the hand of the person next to you,” requested Senator Tom Carper as he led the crowd in the Prayer of Saint Francis. The interfaith nature of the vigil was particularly prominent. Multiple speakers referenced the importance of the fact that we did not stand alone.
“I needed to be here this afternoon to see my friends, my neighbors, and the Jewish community across our state,” said Delaware Governor John Carney. “I needed to be here to see our Christian or Hindu or Muslim or Protestant or Catholic brothers and sisters. I needed to see Delaware coming together, standing up.”
We are standing together, but we should not be standing together only after each tragedy. We must stand together throughout the fight.
When I checked my phone on Saturday morning and saw the headline, I could not articulate my feelings. It seems that every day, every week, every month, a community is targeted.
“I know as your governor, I’m probably expected to come up with some kind of words to touch your heart and console you and make you feel better,” said Governor Carney. “And I tell you, I have felt speechless since yesterday morning.”
The truth is, there are no words. There is no right way to describe the violence we have seen in the past years in this country we call home. There is no comfort, no solace, for it never is truly never again. And we know it isn’t.
“Just breathe right now,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester. “Breathe in the breath of love, breathe in the breath of unity.”
Today, we breathe. Tomorrow, we dread — which one of us is next?