It’s not that the shooting happened at my elementary school. It’s not that the gunman was wielding a weapon outside of a place where I still spend most of my Sundays. It’s not that the blood spilled where in a place where I gained a sense of idealism, where I believed that peace was possible.
This time, it wasn’t just another mass shooting on the news. It wasn’t a terrifying, random act of violence. That hatred was planned and calculated. And it was aimed directly at me. It was aimed at everything I believe in, everything that makes me whole.
Right now, everything feels broken. That wholeness is gone. I fully admit that a piece of me broke on April 13, when an anti-Semitic gunman murdered three people outside of the JCC and Village Shalom. For the first time in my life, there is something in me that I don’t know how to fix.
I will never again find a home like I did at 115th and Nall. My heart remains at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, within the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. Even when I transferred to public school in seventh grade, the JCC was still my second home. I I took my SAT there. I got lifeguard certified there. I studied for my bat-mitzvah there. I spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there every year. My youthgroup is in that building. I volunteer there. I’ve lived a great majority of my life at the JCC.
Maybe we all see our elementary schools that way. Glorious, worry-free, a sort of hazy and dream-like memory of recess, Legos and picture books. But for me, it was also a place where I learned about myself and my faith. I learned Hebrew. I studied the Torah. I began to understand Judaism. Beyond my faith, I began to understand religion as a whole. We learned about pluralism, about the importance of diversity, about understanding others different from us. Even though we were small in number, they taught us, it was our job to help repair the world.
But that picture of peace and acceptance was suddenly shattered that Sunday, when my deepest and darkest fears materialized. It’s a nightmare that I haven’t yet accepted. There are people out to get me, in a place so familiar, so safe. It’s a fear that I learned before I could walk. I was the “other.” I was a Jew. I was different.
Anti-semitism is a fear I have spent years shoving away. I didn’t want to let it get in the way of my daily life. I didn’t ever want be the victim of a hate crime.
Hate-crime. Two words. Two simple words that have been trying to ruin the Jewish people for centuries. The timeline ticks off events in my head; the Romans, the Spanish, the Germans. They tried to ruin us. They tried to squelch us and rip us apart. We’ve been brutalized and villainized. But we withstood. Little acts of courage and rebellion kept us around. We’ve outlasted the longest form of bigotry.
We all thought that was over. America the free, right? Maybe for some it’s easy to turn the T.V. off when the images from the shooting flash up on the news. Most will avert their eyes. It’s a random act, they’ll say. It will never happen again, they’ll say. Apathy is easy.
But for me, it’s not that simple. I can’t just shut it all out. I wish I could. I so badly wish that this was a horrible nightmare that we could all wake up from. But we won’t.
I know that I can’t fix this entire world. I wrote a 20-paged paper about the rise of modern-day anti-semitism last semester. I know what’s out there. I’ve seen the swastikas drawn along the sides of synagogue walls in Eastern Europe. My friend in Serbia wears a cross to school, because if he wore a Star of David, he would get punched in the face. I’ve watched massacres and bus bombings and hostage situations unfold on television. It all seemed so far away.
And then one day, it was in my city. My school. My home.
Maybe I get on people’s nerves when I passionately rant about how much I wish there was peace and prosperity for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe they think it’s weird that my friends from camp stretch the continental U.S. and most of Europe. But to me, it’s not weird or strange. It’s pride. Pride in my people and my religion. So when my home is desecrated, I will not take a back seat. It’s my time to drive my generation in the direction of acceptance.
I won’t ever understand why it happened and I’ve decided to stop trying. I don’t want to move on and forget. Instead, I want to move forward and progress. I could say a million words or I could say none. I could mourn the loss of not just the humans who were murdered but of my youthful idealism. I could mourn that I once thought the world could grow. Hopefully it will. But for now, all I can be is scared, and sad and prepared to rid the world of hate.
No one deserves to live in fear. Maybe I’m not fully broken. Maybe I am temporarily mis-shapen. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll at least find a way to fix myself and in turn find a way to help fix this world. It’s ours to shape, and the clay isn’t dry just yet.