When Tragedy Becomes a Wake-Up Call

I think waking up on Shabbat as an observant Jew is one of the hardest moments for me weekly. There’s no alarm blaring annoyingly at 8:00 AM to startle me out of my deep slumber, and I cannot turn the light on in my room to stimulate my brain cells; nothing but my own free will motivate my body to rise from bed and go to synagogue on the Day of Rest.

Admittingly, I have become a bit accustomed to the Shabbat routine throughout my lifetime. I currently work for B’nei David’s Rechov Yeladim children’s group until lunchtime, then take a few hours out of my day to schmooze with a multitude of guests during lunch prior to heading off to B’nei Akiva youth groups for the last sliver of the day. I try wholeheartedly to take it all in, to consume the holiest seconds left preceding Havdalah before life reverts itself back to that of a regular weekday and I resume my ordinary activities such as homework and texting friends about current drama and tidbits. To me, the mere notion of anti-Semitism sometimes seems like a theory that would never happen, not a reality.

So, one seemingly mundane Shabbat, my mind failed to wrap itself around the truth when hearing about the news of a terrifying shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, one not too different from my own. Every time I tried to conjure a reaction or fit my feelings into words, I was rendered completely speechless. My heart had sunken multiple feet already, before the action’s full extent had even been made clear to me and I’d begun to digest the situation’s full reality.

During the day’s remainder, it was immensely difficult to execute my constant Shabbat routine without a feeling of dread interrupting me. It took all of my power to resist the heavy urge to turn on the news and find out something about what had happened. Whether or not my deepest fears would be confirmed or debunked,

I desired anything resembling confirmation about what happened. So right after Havdalah, I hopped straight onto my cell phone and my social media feeds were filled with a plethora of articles breaking the details and posts scattered over my friend’s Instagram stories proclaiming ‘Pray for Pittsburgh.’My mind couldn’t fathom how such an atrocity happened on the holiest day of the week during a time of worship.

Over the past few years, we as a nation have almost collectively become absolutely destigmatized to the litany of mass shootings occurring much more often than they should be. Seeing headlines such as ‘Fifteen Dead in Florida shooting’ or ‘Thirty-Two Killed in Nevada’ leave many saying nothing but “not another one,” and then promptly resuming their everyday lives. It may have been outlandish a decade ago, yet now we brush away the news of the mass murders on American soil as if it has become a constant event we should be used to.

The shooting in Pittsburgh made me acutely aware of that fact that I myself had begun to take for granted. When the names of the victims were released, those middle-aged and senior citizens who were not too different from my own grandparents similar to the one I’d attended that very Shabbat morning, and I was struck with both a sense of grievance and anger-fueled empowerment. There comes a time when solely Psalms of Tehillim do not suffice, and I think that this horrific atrocity conspicuously sends a call to action for collective American Jewish community.

Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

As far back as my mind can remember, I’ve attended a Jewish day school in Los Angeles and made myself a prominent member in our community from charity events to youth councils. My personal life and identity, as so many others here would agree, revolves around my Judaic identity. Every day I eat, sleep and breathe the core Jewish values that I have learned through religious education. Nothing I do could ever cause me merely forget that I am ostensibly a Jewish woman; no matter how much I involve myself in secular studies and tireless activities I’ll constantly be reminded of my religion and faith. And for me, like so many who can insert their own lives into a personal narrative similar to my own, this senseless attack in Pittsburgh was a tragic wake up call.

God created Shabbat as a holy day of rest. When even our most sacred day becomes broken harshly with an appalling attack by an anti-Semitic terrorist, it seems clear as day that we must undoubtedly do everything in our ability to prevent this from ever happening again. This attack, believed to be allegedly the largest attack on the Jewish people in American history according to the Anti-Defamation League, seems incomprehensible in the contemporary United States. And no matter their political stance, every Jewish person in America bears the urgent responsibility to take a stance and prevent such a horrendous event from ever happening again.

About the Author
Sarah Nachimson is a high school student from Los Angeles, California. She is an author, journalist, poet, and political advocate.