Showing up, not dumbing down

In the wake of the gun massacre during Shabbat services at a Pittsburgh synagogue, we’re all (including me) about to #ShowUpForShabbat.  Good … provided we resist the urge to oversimplify what happened at Tree of Life last weekend.

I’ve been struggling with what “Show Up For Shabbat” means.  I was asleep in China at the time of the shooting, and without much news access anyway; I woke up to my friends’ text messages, and felt so desperately alone, far away from the Jewish community that my life revolves around.  I was inspired when I started seeing all the “Show Up For Shabbat” posts, and excited that I would be home to “Show Up For Shabbat” this week.  Yet, I felt a little unsettled by the slogan and accompanying hashtags.  Why?

I’m honestly not completely sure what’s driving my unease – that’s how feelings tend to be, right?  After crowdsourcing my coping a bit, I’ll start with what I love about this concept –

  • Rejecting fear.  Making the statement “we reject your attempt to scare us out of synagogues” is very important to me – even before this, there’s always been a sense of vulnerability in Jewish spaces because violent anti-Semitic hatred has never been far away (and of course has been inching closer and closer as Trump’s rhetoric has soared among the radical right-wing extremists).  And of course, we want to show the world what a veritable force we are and that we will join together against those who would destroy us.
  • Communal self-care.  Jewish worship is fundamentally community-based, requiring a minyan for prayer.  We must show up as a community to grieve, to feel fear, and to comfort together.  We must open our tents and our arms to Jews that don’t always feel comfortable in a synagogue (this is a real thing and may have included me if my life had played out a bit differently).
  • Spiritual connection.  I am heartened by our spiritual leaders reaching out to us to embrace our faith in this time, in hopes that we do not feel abandoned by it.
  • Pluralism.  There are many divides within Judaism these days, both religious and political, and I am glad to seize this opportunity to come together.

Despite my genuine support, I fear that these facets of #ShowUpForShabbat are too small a part of the tweets and memes and event pages that are flying across my various screens–I fear that the Pittsburgh shooting tragedy will be written off as “just another, particularly horrific, instance of anti-Semitism,” and that certain important things will fall quietly from the dialogue.  So as we show up, let us not forget that this isn’t as simple as anti-Semitism (or even the more global term “hate” that I’m seeing in most of my emails penned by the Jewish community):

  • The shooter used legally-purchased weapons (including a semiautomatic).  Why is almost no one talking about gun control?  (See my post here.) Even though many within my Jewish community feel the way I do about gun restrictions, almost no one is talking about it because we are (understandably) riled up about the obvious anti-Semitism.  I would love to tell you that anti-Semitism is something we can vanquish.  But history shows us that hatred doesn’t work that way.  On the other hand, putting war weapons in the hands of people who openly hate — that’s something much closer to within our control.  And yet – I don’t hear a specific rallying cry about guns the way we have in the past, even from gun advocacy groups that have been texting me regularly – is it that people worry that this will “distract” (!) or have we just given up?  Regarding non-Jewish gun control groups, it can’t be the case that a mass shooting is of less interest to them because it was in a synagogue, can it? (!)
  • This was about right-wing radicalization; not just anti-Semitism.  After posting violent vitriol on a public right-wing social media page, his man said “enough is enough” and shot up a shul when he saw something about a Shabbat initiative for non-Jewish refugees (who he calls “invaders”).  There’s a lot to unpack here – including the common anti-Semitic trope that Jews control everything, as well as Jews being killed for Jews’ affiliation with a cause that some Jewish groups actually disagree with.  To boot, this man employs Trumplike rhetoric but says he hates Trump ostensibly because of Trump’s Jewish connections.  I don’t see many people unpacking it.  I am predicting and hoping that we’ll get into the details more after the initial rawness wears off, but I don’t want it to be forgotten or subsumed.
  • “Showing Up” on an existential issue should not make us complacent on the other related issues.  Relatedly, I wonder if the “Show Up” slogan could blunt the nuances and that we’ll internalize the wrong message.  We must show up for ourselves – but we must also show up for others, and we must extend our advocacy beyond “we are against those that are against us.”  That involves difficult conversations.

The Parkland shooting survivors adopted “Never Again” as their movement, without any obvious affiliation with what I better know that phrase to mean – in commemorating the Holocaust.  And this anti-Semitic gun owner’s social media postings consisted almost entirely of genocidal rhetoric against Jews–littered with Holocaust-denialism memes and references to “oven dodgers.”  This is a tragedy that joins the two “Never Again”s together like none other, but no one is saying it out loud.

So I will.  Like Pulse, like Charleston, this was a crime of hatred, incited by the xenophobia of the current administration and made possible by guns.

#NeverAgain

#ShowUpForShabbat

About the Author
Bonnie Levine is an attorney and musician, as well as a wife and mom of a two-year old son and a four-year old daughter. She writes about Jewish spirituality, parenting, and Jewish resistance to the current administration - views are her own and not those of her employer or any organization.
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