In Judaism, we have a concept called tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.” The concept is to leave the world a better place than we found it.
It seems to be the opposite for those who support our current administration. The factions of people sharing actually fake news stories on Facebook while polishing their gun collection are the people who frighten me the most. At least most of those who voted for Trump in honor of their wallets and bank accounts know to keep quiet about it.
I was only eight years old the first time someone said something anti-Semitic to me. Jessica cornered me and the two other Jewish kids in the class to let us know that her parents said she couldn’t be friends with us because we were Jewish.
I was so hurt and confused by that. First of all: I wasn’t even friends with her in the first place. But to not be allowed to be because of a culture I was born into? That seemed like the most outlandish thing I’d ever heard of. I went home and told my parents, and while I don’t remember what they said in response, I am sure this was not the first time they had dealt with such an occasion.
Thankfully, I went a decade without it happening again.
In college, one of my freshman suitemates called me a “kike dyke.” I brushed it off like she was joking, because she was, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone over so well had I turned around and called her the n-word back, “But just joking!”
Recently, an ex told me about how she was sitting next to a couple of Belgians in a bar who were talking about how “the Jews are nasty, disgusting people and orchestrated the Holocaust so that they could claim Israel.” It blows my mind that people believe such preposterous things, let alone have the audacity to say them out loud.
With WWII in our not-so-distant memory, it’s no surprise that Jews in America are speaking up in support of accepting refugees. We were the refugees with nowhere to go not so long ago. But the current administration refuses to see the similarities of these situations and is deaf to the pleas for sanctuary and safety — just as they are deaf to our pleas for common sense gun laws.
Daily, I read comments saying that Matthew Shepard’s murder was part of a drug deal gone wrong and that transgender people should all rot in hell before being able to use the bathroom that matches their gender. During the last two years, I have seen more swastikas than when I took a “History of the Holocaust” class or visited an actual concentration camp in Europe.
This is all to say: Please do not be surprised that an anti-Semitic neo-Nazi went and shot up a synagogue in 2018.
As an LGBTQ Jewish female who works in hate crime prevention in 2018, and a person who lost a very close friend at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, I am simultaneously numb to the realities of gun and hate violence in America and constantly anxious about if it will happen close to home yet again.
Each day, an average of 96 people die from preventable gun violence in America. That equals TWO Pulse Nightclub attacks a day. The work that I do as a common sense gun violence and LGBTQ+ advocate is inextricably bound to the concept of tikkum olam, but if all of us are not pitching in and doing this work, we cannot leave this world a better place than we found it.
We should not have to accept thoughts and prayers as penance for the loss of our loved ones or the attacks on our communities. We have to take back our safety and our livelihood, and the only way to do that is by voting between now and November 6th.
When our safety is constantly under attack, we cannot prosper. When we cannot prosper, we fall behind. When we fall behind, the atrocities that we point at in other countries become our own. Black lives matter. Transgender lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Believe women. How many times do we have to repeat these things before they can take hold?
Our place in the history of this country can only be guaranteed if we work towards leaving it a better place than we found it and stop letting those in power chip away at our rights. Our chance to be heard is now. The answer is voting — not arming Rabbis or teachers or grocery store clerks.
I take moments out of my day to remember Matthew Shepard, to remember the 49 from Orlando, and specifically, to remember my friend Drew Leinonen. The 58 in Las Vegas. The 17 from Parkland. The countless others. And now, we have 11 more people to remember and honor. 11 people whose grandparents likely fled Europe and ended up in Squirrel Hill — a community so much like my own. May their deaths be a blessing and lead us to change and tikkum olam.
Image via Getty