American Jews, Pittsburgh, 9/11 and the days after

Whether or not you lived in New York City or almost 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, the day after the 9/11 attacks was like no other day we had ever known. Our lives had changed.  Not just for the immediate future, but from that day forth.  For many of us it is hard to even remember how we looked at things on September 10, 2001, because the events of 9/11 were so profound and so devastating that it changed our entire way of thinking.

A reality in life is that innocence will get shattered at some point. Life comes with its ups and downs, celebrations and tragedies, moments of joy and moments of sadness.  What is not always to be expected is that there will be an event of such enormity that we are forced to make wholesale changes and how we think and how we live.  When we woke up on September 12th we knew that was what had happened.  Our world was different and it always would be from then on.  There is a magnitude to the 9/11 attacks that sets it aside from everything else that has happened in this country.

October 28, 2018 was for American Jews what September 12, 2001 was for the entire country.  There was, and still is a sad numbness, a shock and angry emotion that can make you cry at any moment.  There was, and still is an anger that makes you want to take action and offers you a focus to get involved and do what you can do to help.  There is this strong desire to be unified with the other good people of the world. There is the question of how this could happen, and there is the fear.

I can’t speak for what degree of fear people felt after 9/11, but I know that the fear I felt was more for the well-being of others than it was for my own safety.  Not because I am any kind of hero but because you just don’t know when and where and even if anything will happen. The knowledge that more people could get injured or killed or that your loved ones could be in danger is enough to scare anyone with a heart.

An incredible irony is that even though the State of Israel is seen as the safe haven for Jews, the place we can go if it ever gets untenable where we live today, the reality is that even though many of us always knew it could happen, the place Jews always felt less likely to be where an attack of anti-Semitic terror could happen was the United States of America.  That all changed in 20 horrific and tragic minutes this past Shabbat, October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In one terrible morning, many Jews in America went from feeling safe to feeling threatened.

To what degree what we feel today is justified we really do not know, but the whole idea of an act of terror is that it is just as much about the feeling it leaves you with than the consequences of the action. Our feelings of sadness and horror are understandable and to be expected.  Our feelings of fear are normal as well, but can be turned into something more constructive.

We need to be vigilant, focused, but most of all we need to be united.  Each time we feel a a feeling of division with our fellow Jew we need to go back and imagine, to the best of our limited abilities what it would be like between 1940-1945 in Europe.  That fellow Jew you ostracize because you don’t like their politics, their level of religious practice or their lifestyle choice, that Jew could have been lying next to you in Auschwitz, dying of malnutrition or disease until they were tortured or gassed because to Adolf Hitler all that mattered was that you were Jewish, or even some part Jewish.  Remember that before you go after someone and instead offer your hand in unity and offer them words of support.

Nothing will ever be the same and today it feels like it is at the beginning of only getting worse, which is why we need to do everything we can immediately to make it better.

About the Author
David Groen is the youngest of 5 children and the author of "Jew Face: A Story of love and heroim in Nazi-occupied Holland"