From Pittsburgh to Poway: The Terror, Horror, and the Hope

Wow. I am in utter disbelief. It was Pittsburgh and now Poway– another synagogue shooting, another anti semitic crime. This happened not only in my country, but in my city, in my very own community. I could never imagine a hate crime occurring at home, in my San Diego community. There are no words to explain the shock, nor the amounted fear I am feeling. No words to express the pain of our San Diego Jewish community. No words to hope nor to expect a future without hateful people who convey their ideas through violence and destruction.

On Saturday, the 27 of April, a 19 year old male armed with a semi automatic rifle, barged into Chabad Poway Synagogue and shot one dead and left three wounded. This crime not only took place on Shabbat morning, but on the last day of Passover, one of the highest holidays in the Jewish tradition.

I reflect and think, that could have been me. The victim could have been my grandmother who was about to attend the service that morning (she is a regular member, but woke up late and did not go). My parent’s lives could have been taken. My grandparents, cousins, and friends were all at risk, and still are. I cannot seem to wrap my mind around the fact that these crimes can happen anywhere, anytime, when you least expect them. Knowing that someone was aiming at you, for what you believe, the values you stand for, and the beautiful people who bring your culture to life is incomprehensible, yet absolutely terrifying.

As Jews we pray in synagogue to God for protection, yet we continue to be the moving target for hate. One of my closest friends, Hannah Rappoport, attends Torah High School in San Diego California. She writes, “it’s truly difficult to comprehend how something like this could happen to us, right here in San Diego…My dad got home safely from shul this afternoon, but sadly that is not the case for some of our brothers and sisters. We go to shul and daven for the health, happiness, and safety of the Jewish people, and then tragedies like this occur where we are most connected to God.”

In a country where we are granted basic freedoms– those of speech, religion, and expression, we are still victims of violence due to intolerance. We continue to believe that God is watching over us, but we lose faith as these crimes are becoming normalized. Day after day, another crime driven by hatred is a news headline; soon enough, those reports will be on second or third pages of news publications. Jews are not the only ones at risk. We saw just last week, with the church bombings in Sri-Lanka, that we are all victims of hate. Something must change: now and fast.

In moments of horror that infuse us with lost hope for a better tomorrow, we must still strive to achieve the Jewish mission of Tikkun Olam– to repair the world. Despite this lost light and the darkness that has looms over our societies and casts shadows over our liberties, we must stay strong. While we must pray, we must act. While we must think about change and say we must change, we must take action and advocate. Nothing will be done if we only standby and bear witness to these incredulous crimes.

My heart goes out to all the victims of the shooting and the Chabad Synagogue in Poway. I am confident that our San Diego Jewish community can stay strong.

* I would like to thank Rabbi Zevi New and the Youth Action Movement Organization for organizing a Challah bake and discussion forum this coming Thursday, May 2, to commemorate the victims and bring our community together. If you’d like more details, please contact me @sabrina.soffer@gmail.com or 8587618844.

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