My Husband Was On Lockdown During the Jersey City Kosher Market Shootout

I don't want your thoughts and prayers.

It hasn’t been quite two years since I wrote about how my best friend could have — but didn’t — die at the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where she teaches. It hasn’t been quite two years since helping her compose eulogies for her students, of trying desperately to help her come out of the deep psychological damage that was caused by gun violence in her workplace.

It hasn’t been quite two years since I spent that day refreshing and refreshing the internet, waiting for it to tell me my best friend was alive.

As an educator, I know better than to text a beloved on lockdown — the vibrating phone, of course, could alert the shooter to their next victim’s precise location. I learned that in grammar school, when I was a teacher there.

Today, it also hasn’t been quite two years since I met my husband. In those two years, in addition to everything else, we met, dated, got married, and immediately got knocked up. Go us!

My husband works at a university in Jersey City, and has worked at many universities over the years. He’s a higher ed guy, nearing the end of his doctoral studies. Yesterday, I said goodbye to him curtly in the morning (I’m no good that early), and he left for a dentist appointment before work while I was getting ready.

That afternoon at work, when my colleague asked if my husband was okay, I asked what she was talking about. I’d left my phone plugged into my charger while I wandered around the floor, as I do multiple times a day, asking people questions. I scurried to my phone to find that he had texted me (and posted online, which is how my friend already knew) just a few minutes before — he was on lockdown at work.

Okay. I’ve been here before. Just another one of the most important people in my life in some kind of mass shooting situation.

Over the next two hours, a number of things unfolded. The truly unreal situation in Jersey City with shootings, SWAT teams, and a kosher grocery store. Was it anti-Semitic? Was it coincidental? Were there pipe bombs parked outside his office? My husband, sitting under his desk, locked in a room with a student who had been near his office. On the other side of his office window, he heard gunshots. People died. I don’t even know all the facts yet — the investigation is ongoing.

Over a few texts, I heard from him what was happening. I knew the shooter wasn’t in his particular building, so I kept up the texting. He saw one of the SWAT teams.

“I have to get through this — there’s kosher chicken in the fridge I have to cook tonight,” he said.

“I’m cooking your child right now, so also, that’s a thing,” I retorted.

“You’re too cute to be on lockdown,” I texted.

“I love you and our baby,” he said. “Also, I didn’t know there was a kosher grocery store this close to my office! How come I didn’t know!?”

You know, usual workaday love notes in textual form. And then, a big ask, “I want a big steak for dinner. Today was hard.”

You got it, buddy.

I toggled between Twitter and texting and two phone meetings I’d had scheduled. I called Lauren so she didn’t have to see this was happening on the internet — the only trigger warning I could offer her as a gun violence survivor. I took a field trip to discuss a project in another department. I told my colleagues that Jeff was on lockdown. I updated a spreadsheet that should’ve taken five minutes, but took two hours. My boss, jokingly, offered to get me some hard liquor, knowing that even when I’m not gestating, I almost never consume alcohol.

I grabbed a ginger ale.

I told the Governor of New Jersey to stuff his thoughts and prayers into laws that protect people.

(NJ has pretty good gun laws from what I can understand, but did you know you could take a gun from one state into another one, like how I always have lollipops and candy in my purse?)

Toward the end of the day, my husband got to go home, safe, and in one piece.

We met up for dinner, and over fried pickles and brisket gnocchi, expressed gratitude while talking about the police officer they’d identified. Jeff’s age, father of five. May his memory be for a blessing.

Turns out, squads of good guys with guns cannot always stop bad guys with guns.

So here I am again.

I’d already had it not quite two years ago with thoughts and prayers — and I have not gotten over the hollowness of those words. Jeff was luckily so safe today on lockdown, but the reality of gun violence hasn’t gone away. Walmart, synagogues, markets, navy bases, schools — nowhere is safe. People are advised by their governments not to visit the United States, unsafe as it is, constantly erupting in gunfire.

I’m growing a person, and much like all of the living people I care about so deeply, I’m concerned about bringing this one into a world so full of hate, white supremacy, violence, anti-Semitism, and climate change, now that I’m thinking about it.

At the end of the evening, full of many foods and the five glasses of ice water I insisted on drinking over dinner, Jeff and I plopped down next to each other, grateful to be sharing space, to be breathing next to each other.

We all have to figure out how to help people keep living, because as the Jewish teaching goes, “to save one person is to save an entire world” or, as I like to translate, “everybody is somebody’s somebody.” I grabbed his hand, and placed it on my belly. For the first time, the protohuman kicked him, driving that message home even more clearly than before.

Header Image: Emergency personnel on the scene of a shooting that left multiple people dead on December 10, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

Sara Beth Berman

Sara Beth Berman (she/her/hers) is a writer, educator, consultant, and advocate. Some of Sara Beth's great loves include her family, Brooklyn, good NY pizza (and honestly, bad NY pizza), summer camp, podcasts, music, books, gender equity, salary transparency, Jewish cultural literacy education, and golf carts.

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