Dismay, horror and disbelief were feelings shared by many in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday that left 11 people dead and six wounded.
And to borrow the title of Sinclair Lewis’$2 1935 political novel, which seems eerily topical these days, “it can’t happen here” was another common sentiment.
Yet it happened. And the American Jewish community is coping with the fact that something they feared for years – an attack inside a synagogue – is now a horrifying reality.
Amanda Golden, a producer for CNN and Jake Tapper’s show, “The Lead,” shared on Twitter the text messages that her mother, a first-generation American and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, sent to her in the wake of the tragedy when she attended an interfaith service at a reform synagogue in San Francisco.
Golden believes the messages capture what many American Jews are feeling right now: a delicate balancing act between the urge to remember what happened in Europe in the 1940s, a somber look at the present situation in America and the need to go forward, despite the worsening outlook.
Going to the Congregation Emanu-El on Sunday, Golden’s mother spotted massive security – and extraordinary attendance.
Many there had parents who fled racial persecution in Europe and the Holocaust, and feel it’s now their duty to be vigilant.
“We all felt the same thing: how glad we were that our parents weren’t alive to see this happen in America; how we always felt safe as Jews living in the US and going to services, and how we must be the voices for our parents to make change and hold those who incite hatred accountable,” Golden’s mom wrote her.
The hard part, she adds, is knowing this can happen anywhere, anytime. A new vulnerability, she calls it.
“My mission as you know has always been to keep us all safe while still going forward. Harder to balance in a world that is not playing by the rules/laws we hold dear,” she wrote.
Inspired by her own parents’ strength, Golden’s mother feels she can look forward.
“They looked forward. … So if they could do that surely I can,” she wrote.
“This is so personal. I think of how this happened in Europe in 1940s but never thought it could happen now. I think of all the older people killed who couldn’t run or understand what was happening. Important not to be alone. That is why I go to temple. Not to feel alone with these feelings,” she concluded.
Golden, who now works in Washington, says she grew up really involved in the Emanu-El temple community. “It was so important to my mom, and I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I left home for school and ended up living across the country,” she said.
After the attack, Golden sent a message through Facebook to her rabbi, who told her they were working on bolstering their security as well as participating in vigils for the Pittsburgh victims.
“We’ve had mags (metal detectors) and guards around during high holy day services for years, and lots of cement blockers to stop cars from breaching the courtyard or hitting any of the buildings. Hard to think about how they’ll likely have to do even more than that now,” Golden said.
Sunday’s interfaith service at Emanu-El saw Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and nonbelievers gathering to offer comfort and unity after the shooting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many people responded to Golden’s tweet, which went viral, by sharing similar thoughts of grief and resilience:
“I too have not stopped crying. My parents are gone, but I suspect if they were alive, they might die yet again,” said Bob Gershberg.
Gustav Lamy wrote: “My husband … son of Holocaust survivor, has secondary PTSD from father’s trauma. We are so thankful Heinrich (father) mustn’t face this.”
Similarly, Jon B. Wolfsthal: “My father was a survivor. I have been wondering if what I feel is similar to others in my place and in these difficult times.”
He added: “We are not alone. We are strong enough. We will never yield and we will lead this world to a better place.”