To the Teen Who Just Wants to Understand

I am with you.  I don’t understand. How does someone have so much blind hate and rage?  How does someone scream “all Jews must die”? How does someone shoot so many innocent people in a house of worship? I don’t understand how such hatred completely consumes someone that it drives them to murder eleven innocent people and wound several more.  I don’t understand why the Squirrel Hill community was forced to feel so much pain. I don’t understand.

I am with you. I have questions. I wonder how we can respond together to ensure this doesn’t happen to our community, or to any other community, ever again. I wonder how G.d could let something like this happen to a group of people praying. I wonder why horrific and senseless violent acts continue to happen. I wonder when enough will truly be enough.

We need to face an uncomfortable possibility:  there may be no convincing explanation as to what drives people to act this way.  There may be no adequate way to explain why people think that because someone is “different” they are wrong or evil.  There may be no way to truly process the heinous crimes committed against a group of people. Who can fully illustrate the sheer pain that the gunman inflicted on the Tree of Life community,on the entire Jewish community?

There might not be an answer to these questions.  However, there are so many things that we can do – things we must do.  We must show defiance to those who hold any shred of hate in their heart.  We must show that we are not backing down and we are not going anywhere. We must show that the Jewish people are here to stay.

Attend Shabbat services, wear your kippah and your Magen David (Jewish star) necklace proudly. Do something small to show that you will never be silenced or ashamed of your religion. One small act alone can, and will, speak volumes.  

Speak with your non-Jewish neighbors and friends. They may not understand why we are always watching over our shoulders, why we are hesitant to tell others of our religion, and why we are so passionate about our community and history. Help them understand – help them come into our world, even just for a brief moment. Show them that while we practice different religions, eat different foods, and read our prayers in a different language, we are the same.

The heavy weight on your heart will never truly go away. It will be ever present when you walk down the street, when you talk to your friends in school, when you start college, when you graduate, or when you enter the workforce. However, it is what you do with that heavy weight that will make it just a little lighter.  

Stay involved with the Jewish community wherever you go. Whether it be through a Jewish youth group, camp, campus Hillel and Chabad, pro-Israel groups, or family – stay involved.  If there is no existing group, create your own – there may be a Jewish student afraid to speak up and show their voice. Continue to create that comfort and that space for the rest of the community to join and embrace. You can be that change in the community.

History is bound to repeat itself if we do not learn from it. Have those small conversations with your classmates, your teachers, your sports team. Tell them why you are not in school during Yom Kippur, why you eat matzah for eight days each year, why you proudly wear a star around your neck everyday. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Be unapologetically proud to be Jewish.

L’dor V’dor: from generation to generation. Our ancestors, who suffered under severe persecution, were still proud of who they were, the religion that they followed, and the path they were going. Their pride shines brightly through each of us. It has been passed down from our great grandparents, to our grandparents, to our parents, and, now, to us. Harness their strength and speak our truth. Pass the pride and honor to the next generation, and to the greater global community.

Stay strong and devoted to who you are. Lean on each other when needed, be there for each other, and remember to stand tall and always be proud of who you are.

Am Yisroel Chai.

About the Author
Alexa Rittenberg was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University. Along with her family, Alexa has participated in a number of trips to Israel and has found a deep passion in Judaism and advocating for Israel. She remains actively and deeply involved with the Jewish and pro-Israel community around the country.
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