April 22, 2024

Column: That could have been me

News editor Vanessa Rodriguez reflects on the past shooting in Pittsburgh.
Columns represent the views of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Tennessee Journalist.

Joyce Feinberg, 75. Richard Gottfried, 65. Rose Mallinger, 97. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66. Cecil Rosenthal, 59. David Rosenthal, 54. Bernice Simon, 84. Sylvan Simon, 86. Daniel Stein, 71. Melvin Wax, 88. Irving Younger, 69.

May their memories be a blessing.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, the worst attack on Jewish people in the United States ravaged a Pittsburgh synagogue. The gunman decided to take the lives of 11 people peacefully attending a bris during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue for a sole reason: they were Jews.

“An attack against any Jew is an attack against all Jews. An attack against any innocent person is an attack against all of us. An attack against a house of worship in the United States of America is an attack against every American,” Rabbi Yossi Wilhelm of Chabad of Knoxville said.

Jews around the world mourned together. The Knoxville Jewish Alliance hosted an interfaith vigil on Monday evening in honor of the victims with an attendance over 600 people. On Wednesday evening, the University of Tennessee’s Hillel, a Jewish student organization, hosted a vigil and a ceremonial painting at the Rock.  The underlying message uplifted at both vigils maintained we must stand together in unity and we must not focus on hate. Instead, focus on love and that we are stronger together.

When I heard the news of the shooting, I sat in my car in a Kroger’s parking lot after grocery shopping with my mom. I read the news. Immediately, I cried. The first thought that came to my mind: “Why do they hate us?”

“That could have been me.”

I was born and raised Jewish. During my childhood, my family and I regularly attended a conservative synagogue: my second home. I studied at religious school three times a week, went to Shabbat services (not regularly, although we tried), observed all the Jewish holidays, went on weekend retreats with my congregation every year and celebrated coming of age in the Jewish faith with my bat mitzvah.

The Jewish congregation was my family.  

To know a crazed man could have entered my home, my synagogue, and hurt my family breaks my heart.

Like many other Jews around the world, I and those closest to me are no strangers to anti-Semitism. I’ve heard others tell Holocaust and other stereotypical jokes right in front of me. Sometimes, I am the first Jew people have encountered, and I always get the same reaction: a head tilt and response, “Oh, you don’t look Jewish.”

To this day, I still do not know what that means.

In third grade, my sister had her first encounter with anti-Semitism. A boy in her class ran up to her and said Hitler was going to come find her and our family and kill us. No third grader should vomit that rhetoric at such a young age or ever after. Sadly, that young boy grossly learned that Jews were to be treated that way.

No one should be treated that way.

Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept that acts of kindness can repair the world. Repairing the entire world might seem like a faraway concept, but in reality, it starts with you. A simple act of kindness, such as a smile or a hello, could have a ripple effect. It may start with your neighbor and go on to your community and then the world. I am not naive enough to believe no darkness penetrates the world, but I do believe light is more powerful, surmounting the darkness.

From this day on, I am going to make it my mission to spread acts of kindness. To create the ripple effect in my own community.

From this day on, I hope you make it your mission as well. Maybe someday we can repair the world and make it whole again.

The values, traditions and history of great joys and sorrows belonging to past Jewish generations resonate impenetrably in me. I hope to make them proud, and I hope future generations will, too. May we act in light and love to honor the 11 names above and all who suffered before.

I am proud to be Jewish. I always will be. And I will always remember: it could have been me.


Featured image by Vanessa Rodriguez

Edited by Lexie Little

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