Lights and lighted word
Photo by Ron Smith

Stefani Chudnow

A few months ago, I set out to write my Detroit Jewish News blog to talk about issues and topics I was directly involved or interested in. I knew I wanted to write about representation in the media as well as various facets of young Jewish life, like the Birthright trip. I’d love to be able to write another post about one of those topics this week, but right now it feels only right that I dedicate my fifteenth blog to the October 27 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

Flash back to 2012. On July 20, 12 people were killed in a shooting while watching a movie in Aurora, Colorado. In December, just a mere five months later, 26 people (including 20 children) were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. As a Jewish person who grew up in a primarily Jewish community, I never really faced anti-Semitism or fear for my life. That’s why, when I was a junior in high school and these shootings happened, they symbolized the first time in my life that I didn’t feel safe in this country.

Six years later, countless more massacres have happened in the United States in places like churches, synagogues, grocery stores, concert venues, nightclubs and even yoga studios. You can only imagine how I, as well as most other Americans, feel now. Not only are we feeling more and more hopeless with every shooting, but we’re feeling more and more scared for the lives of ourselves and our loved ones.

In fact, I didn’t think anything could make me feel more scared than last year’s shooting in Las Vegas where close to 60 people were murdered while watching a concert at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. That changed a few weeks ago when a white supremacist took the lives of 11 Jewish people while they were at Shabbat services. Not only am I scared to be in public, I’m scared to be anywhere. I went to a concert last week, and there certainly was a thought in my mind of not making it home. You just never know anymore.

Countless times, I’ve heard of anti-Semitic attacks happening in our country, and even our own state. The first thing to come to mind is an attack by KKK members near Michigan State’s campus back in 2012, though by no means has this been the only one over the years. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League notes that anti-Semitic attacks are steadily on the rise each year, with the number of anti-Semitic incidents being nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than it was in 2016.

I think what touched me so much in the Pittsburgh shooting was that it seemed to confirm that anti-Semitism really is on the rise every single year. In addition, I saw myself in the people who were murdered. I saw a younger me attending services regularly on Saturdays. I saw my dad, who goes to Saturday morning services every single week, always taking along my brother with autism. I saw my friends and neighbors, my family and my rabbi.

With the spree of shootings and other horrific events happening in my country, sometimes it’s hard for me to even want to leave the house some days. That said, it makes me feel infinitely better to see how people of different backgrounds come together through protests, marches, and vigils. We have to be there for each other, because if we’re not, our country becomes even more divided than it already is.

One of my professors at Michigan State once said that real change doesn’t happen overnight; rather, it takes generations and generations. More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we’re still dealing with anti-Black racism. Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust ended, we’re still dealing with Nazis. Even though it’s hard to hold out hope that things will change one day maybe even decades from now, I try to remain optimistic.

While I know I don’t have all the answers, I hope I was able to properly articulate the thoughts and feelings of Americans, particularly Jewish Americans, through my words above. If you have anything else to add in the comments, we’d love to read it.