“I am only one person. How can I change this?”
Reflecting on the strength of community in the wake of the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue
Beth Steiner, director of student activities for Loyola University Maryland, offered this reflection at a “Stronger Than Hate” prayer vigil held on the Quad on Oct. 30, 2018.
This past Saturday started out as a joyous day for me. It was my birthday, and I spent it surrounded by my family in the morning, and then in community here at Loyola to celebrate our first Homecoming. I was unplugged from social media and the news during the day in order to keep my focus on people and the programming. I called my mom on the way home, and she shared the horrifying news about Pittsburgh. I was, and still am, devastated.
As an American Jew, I always knew in the back of my mind that antisemitism still runs rampant in some circles, but I also am very aware that my privileges can offer me a certain level of protection from that. On Saturday, that illusion of protection was shattered.
On Sunday morning, I walked my son past the security guards into Hebrew School. Security at synagogue is nothing new to us. His Jewish preschool had a bullet-proof reinforced steel panic room large enough to fit all the kids and teachers together. We’re always prepared, but you never really think it’s going to happen.
I spent the remainder of my Sunday morning in community. We gathered together at another local synagogue—singing, praying, and talking. Asking questions. Where do we go from here? What do we do now? Why does this keep happening? How do we stop this when we feel so helpless?
I am only one person. How can I change this?
While I don’t have the answers, I am reminded of a quote from Jewish teachings: “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatelmimena.”
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
To me, this means that we have to exist in community. We can not be alone to fight against these evils. I can not forget that my neighbors can suffer the pain of terror and loss as keenly as I do, despite our differences in identity. In my grief, I can not abandon the work to fight against the violence, racism, and xenophobia that others experience.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
In Judaism, you do not mourn alone. The very prayer we recite is meant to be said in community, in a form of call and response, reminding the mourners that they are not alone in their grief. Today, in this community, I will recite the mourners kaddish, the blessing, in honor of those who have been killed by violence, hatred, and terror:
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba. B’alma di v’rachirutei, v’yamlich malchutei, b’chayeichonuv’yomeichon uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’im’ru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach l’alam ul’almei almaya.
Yitbarach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar v’yitromamv’yitnasei, v’yit’hadar v’yitaleh v’yit’halal sh’mei d’Kud’shaB’rich Hu, l’eila min kol birchata v’shirata, tushb’chatav’nechemata, daamiran b’alma. V’imru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya, v’chayim aleinu v’al kolYisrael. V’imru: Amen.
Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu, v’al kolYisrael. V’imru: Amen.