After the mass murder of Jews who were praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday morning, much of the world has rallied together against hate. The outpouring of love, support, and donations has been a beacon of light after this tragedy. There are a lot of hateful, dangerous people in the world, but far more compassionate, helpful ones.
This is the message I try to impart to my children. Like Mr. Rogers and his mother, I tell them in times of danger and sadness, look for the helpers. There are always helpers. Thousands and thousands of helpers have shown up with their feet, voices, and dollars to prove this in the last week. May we all continue to do so.
In that spirit, there is an organized movement to #ShowUpForShabbat this Saturday. Whether you’re a regular synagogue goer, occasional attendee, non-affiliated Jew, or not Jewish, the idea is to show up. Put your body in a synagogue on Saturday to show solidarity and to show that fear will not keep us from going to synagogue.
But fear is keeping me out of synagogue this week.
And since I won’t be going, I want to explain why.
I’m not afraid of violence this Saturday. I’m not afraid of a terrorist coming in. It is clear that we need better gun laws, but I’m not afraid that an angry, entitled, white, Christian, man (by far the greatest statistical likelihood) will burst into my services on Shabbat and shoot us up. I actually believe that the synagogue we attend is a safe place for our bodies to be while our hearts are in prayer.
The reason I won’t be going this Shabbat is because I don’t want to expose my young child to the fear, sorrow, and confusion that will dominate the talk and mood this week. I understand why it will be the mood. I feel that as well, and I sincerely understand the power of grieving and processing as a community. But I also understand that synagogue really is a safe place. What happened last week was the exception.
Are there things we need to do to prevent future occurrences? Of course. Am I mourning? Of course. I am also making the conscious parenting choice to not expose my young child to the onslaught of emotions that will dominate the synagogue this Saturday. She is old enough to feel the mood there. She is old enough to understand the words that will be spoken. And she is old enough to draw conclusions and be afraid even when she is safe – even when I tell her she is safe.
I have two children. One of them is a teenager and knows what happened in Pittsburgh. We have talked about it, processed it, made donations to helpers, shared words of love. My little one doesn’t know what happened and I’m afraid that exposing her when she’s too young to integrate it safely will send her into an abyss of fear that she can’t handle right now.
There will be a time when I can no longer shelter her from the bad guys of the world. By that time, hopefully she will have a solid knowledge that most people are helpers, including us. She will know that bad things happen and it can feel scary, but that we are usually safe and helping to make the world safer.
I’m not going to #ShowUPforShabbat in a synagogue this week because I’m afraid of what it will do to my child. For all of you who will be there, I thank you and I assure you, I am and will be showing up as a helper in other ways. To paraphrase Pirkei Avot: It is not my responsibility to finish the work, but neither am I free to remove myself from it.
May we all know peace and have a shabbat shalom this week and every week.