How to Grieve When the Rest of the World Has Moved On

Synagogue shootings are the new normal, but it still does not feel normal in my heart.

The day after Yom Kippur, I did my daily phone call to my best friend who is studying abroad in London for the semester. Our chats are usually filled with talk of crushes on NJBs, Big Mouth, her amazing boyfriend, and a decent handful of jokes about our Jewish mom personalities. But the Thursday after Yom Kippur, our tone was different.

I turned my phone on after the holiday only to learn of yet another anti-Semitic attack on our people on the holiest day of the year. I had just spent the day in synagogue praying for my soul and the soul of our people only to return to a world that hated me just as much as it did 25 hours before.

When I called her Thursday night, she was waiting to get on a plane to Germany to be with the Jewish community of Halle for Shabbat, where a gunman killed two people near a synagogue while livestreaming an anti-Semitic tirade. Sprinkled in between talks of the awkward interaction I had with one of the boys I like and the message her boyfriend sent her, we joked about which of us the neo-Nazis would choose to kill first. We landed on me, being queer and Jewish. We laughed a little too hard at our pain and trauma while ignoring the painful truth: We had spent the majority of the day on different continents crying.

I paused at one point in our conversation, took a breath, and said, “When do I get to be numb to this? This is the third anti-Semitic attack in less than a year and it all still hurts the same.” Every anti-Semitic attack leaves my heart raw for at least a few days, sometimes weeks. I look over my shoulder more during services, worry about my visibly Jewish friends walking home from synagogue, and cry a lot.

I know this is how so many Jews feel, which it makes it all the more painful when the rest of the world seems to easily move on.

I have watched three vigils happen at my university. One for Pittsburgh, one for Poway, and one for Halle. Each time I have watched the number of people in attendance get smaller and smaller. I’ve watched the world care less about a pain that still feels so great to me. The vigil for Pittsburgh packed our student center. People from all communities were overflowing from the balconies offering support to my community. After Poway, 50 or so people, mostly Jews, gathered under the arch in Washington Square Park to stand with each other.

But the Thursday after Yom Kippur, I couldn’t help but look around and see only 20 Jewish faces at the vigil for Halle. I almost feel a sense of wrongful jealousy of those whose hearts do not break at another anti-Semitic attack. I feel jealous of those who do not feel the need to show up to feel whole. Synagogue shootings are the new normal, but it still does not feel normal in my heart.

And it shouldn’t.

Why aren’t people still showing up for the Jewish community in the way they did after Pittsburgh? Do they not feel the pain anymore, or do they just not care? I yelled into the Twitter void, begging progressive Twitter to care about anti-Semitism in the way they care about other issues. I was left feeling disheartened by the response from the non-Jewish community who did not show up for Jews in the way I have watched them show up for so many other communities. Who is left to care about my community but my community?

The Thursday after the Halle attack, I went to a vigil and held my community tight and close to my heart. I leaned on them and cried. Then I walked to my Hillel to build three sukkahs for the holiday of Sukkot that came the following week. I was acutely aware that even when the world does not make room to protect the Jewish community, we will continue to build our own shelter.

The Friday after the Halle attack, I went to services and prayed in the same minyan I pray in every week. The tunes we use echo the ones I heard in services as a child. Our traditions have survived generations. They have survived inquisitions, the Holocaust, and pogroms. I find strength in the fact that we are not going anywhere. That if my ancestors could flee pogroms and survive, I can survive this moment in history.

A week after the Halle attack, I threw a party in my apartment called the “Havdalah Hoe Down.” There was so much Jewish joy in that room, a room full of young Jews wearing kippahs and tzitzit and Stars of David with so much pride. I looked around at the faces of my Jewish friends and I knew that we were going to be okay. That even if two people were murdered on our holiest day of the year, I was surrounded by people who were so proud of their Jewish identity. No one can take that from us.

I still sometimes think it would be nice to be numb to anti-Semitism, but then I remember the feeling of holding my community. It is these moments I remember the beauty of feeling, of grieving, of not ignoring the pain.

Image in header is flowers and candles in front of the Jewish synagogue on October 10, 2019 in Halle, Germany by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images.

Olivia Sher

Olivia Sher (she/her/hers) is a dual degree student at New York University getting her masters in Public Health and bachelors in Women’s Health Policy. She is passionate about feminism, fighting antisemitism, and tznius fashion.

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