Mourning, Responsibility, and Outright Exhaustion in the Wake of the Pittsburgh Mass Shooting

I’m starting this post with links for finding support for Jews who are hurting from this event.
I’m ending this post with links for where to send support for those who want to help.

I don’t think I ever feel more like an outsider than when there’s been a brutal tragedy in the Jewish community. Being Jewish means trying to fix the world while also waiting for it to turn on you. It’s an idea that is woven into the cultural and religious education of most Jews. It may never be more obvious than during outright acts of anti-Semitism, like this mass shooting and the Charlottesville march, but never does it cut so deep as when it makes itself evident during the act of mourning.

Being Jewish means trying to fix the world while also waiting for it to turn on you. It’s an idea that is woven into the cultural and religious education of most Jews.

Dealing with the shooting was incredibly hard for me. I currently exist is sort of a liminal space, not sure how much this event belongs to me and how much it doesn’t. I’m Jewish, but no longer attend services, so this particular event is not likely to happen to me. I used to live in Pittsburgh and was part of the Squirrel Hill Jewish community, but haven’t been for years, so is it still my community? I have my friends that still live and/or work in the area, so by taking it personally am I overlooking or usurping their connection to this? I know on a cognitive level that I have every right to take this as a personally as I feel, but emotionally I still worry about issues of belonging on all those fronts, and it’s pulling me in so many directions.

Dealing with that would be hard enough, but even the world at large has been shit about dealing with this. In our time of mourning I have seen so many Jews called upon to explain themselves, teach gentiles, and do so much emotional labor when we are in need of support. I’ve seen calls for arming not just security at synagogues, but also the congregation. In a moment when not only are black people mourning their own travesty, but also within the Jewish community (yes, there are black Jews), this tragedy seems incredibly white-centric. Carrying a gun and feeling safe about it is currently a white privilege and responding to shootings by advocating for more guns is stupid on countless levels.

I’ve also been pulled into comment threads to educate (presumably) well-meaning but oblivious gentiles about some of the most basic facts of Judaism. I’ve seen people across Jewish Facebook, Jewish Twitter, and Jewish Tumblr likewise pulled into similar efforts. Who counts as a Jew? Corrections to how to pay respects, as most Christian gentiles presume that Jews have similar views on death and the afterlife (we absolutely do not).

But those are actually the most innocuous of missteps when seeing how people are addressing the Pittsburgh shooting. You may (or may not) be surprised to find out how many people are offering conditional condolences. People reserving the concept of shared humanity for after conditions regarding Zionism have been cleared.

In a similar vein, Trump is already pulling the White House platform back to his own white Christian base, but claiming that the shooting is a result of “anti-religiosity” rather than anti-Semitism, and even saying that it’s news reporting that is creating the division and violence rather than his own White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi leanings.

There have been silver-linings and moments of real comfort from outside of the Jewish community. Local Muslim groups have stepped up to raise funds for the Tree of Life synagogue congregation as well as to offer safety and security. This is welcome and also unsurprising, as Muslims and Jews tend to be the quickest to provide support for each other in this country, despite what the religious right would have you think. There’s also been some reaching across the aisle from the LGBTQ+ community, as this has touched them as well. One of the victims, doctor Jerry Rabinowitz, was apparently a compassionate AIDS and HIV doctor.

All of this has drained me. The support to the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill has been heartening, and I’ve had some amazing friends reach out to check up on me. When I ask my friends out in Pittsburgh if they’re okay, the answer is yes. All my friends have checked in as safe. But also no. No one affected by this is okay. I’m no longer in Pittsburgh, but that was still my Jewish community. So I’m also not okay. And the fact that we have to expend effort during this period of mourning to deal with ignorance, erasure, and antagonism means that our path to okay is consistently being delayed.

o there are things that people out there can do to help. And that’s take responsibility. When clergy steps across the aisle to show solidarity, it’s often black pastors and preachers who are first to arrive. When a religious community comes to stand beside us, it’s often the Muslims we see first. And when we march in the streets for the safety of whoever is currently being threatened, we tend to find ourselves marching right alongside LGBTQ+ people. And when there are people to slow our recovery, shirk responsibility, and try to erase the Jewish particulars of anti-Semitism it is generally cisgendered heterosexual white Christians. And when I say Christian I mean of all degrees of observance, from highly observant to nominally secular who simply grew up with the cultural safety-net of the Christian label.

I have (had?) a friend who falls into the latter description. He voted for Trump, though never considered himself a Trump supporter. I told him when things go bad, he bears the responsibility, and he brushed me off as being overly dramatic. And then things went bad, and I told him he was enabling all this. He again tried to evade responsibility. When I pushed, he asked what I expected him to do, and I said he needed to take to the streets and join the protests. His response was that I was asking a lot.

I was asking for less than the bare fucking minimum. His protected status, his safe space in this country, his privilege has allowed him to become this entitled and fragile creature who benefits from white supremacy and Christian supremacy while shirking all responsibility for perpetuating the system. And the Jews, the LGBTQ+, black people, and brown people are all paying for the luxury and comfort of people like him. Our blood is in the streets. Our blood is on the floor of our houses of prayer, spilled during our holy day of rest. Our blood is in the parking lot of a grocery store, and it’s along the southern border of this country, and it’s in the shadows because this administration is doing its damnedest to erase some of us from even existing in any legally recognized capacity.

Joining the protest is no longer enough. For everyone who allowed our government to get to this point, marching is not enough. To get the trust back for us to feel safe enough standing next to you in a protest, you need to ask forgiveness. You need to tell us why you used to feel that our safety was worth less than your comfort. You need to convince us that you know what you did wrong in order for us to possibly believe you when you say you want to do right.

That is the bare fucking minimum. Some of us are dead, and some of us will be dead, and I am asking for all of those who want to be on the right side of history to make just enough effort to be able to see where the delineation in those sides actually lays. Because if you don’t know where the line is then you can’t step over it. If you don’t know what the right thing to do is, then you can’t do the right thing. So what we need in our time of mourning is this: for cishet white Christians to take an active stand for equality and protection of minorities rather than just mouthing along to other groups calls for for justice.

You can send donations to the Tree of Life Synagogue

Or to HIAS, an organization founded to assist those fleeing persecution, a cause which directly enraged the shooter because he is a piece of shit, may his name forever be a curse.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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