At the same moment my brethren at the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, Penn., were being gunned down during a Saturday morning Shabbat service, my husband and I were studying Torah at Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick. It could have been us.
The parsha, or portion, we were studying was Genesis 18:1-22:24, which begins with the arrival of three strangers to the tent of Abraham and Sarah. When a worshipper is attending a temple, or church, or mosque – whatever house of worship an American chooses to attend – they are supposed to welcome the stranger, as did Abraham.
In an odd way, I am reminded of a recent tragedy in Charleston similar to this one in Pittsburgh. The mass shooting that took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church just three short years ago. Those kind, devout people welcomed a stranger to study with them. They had no idea he was filled with hate, intent on destroying life and lives. Simply for the color of their skin.
I learned of the mass shooting at the synagogue later Saturday afternoon, after my husband and I left our Temple and stopped for lunch. I checked my Facebook page and my cousin, Karen, who lives in Pittsburgh, posted a breaking news story about the horrific hate crime. She said she was calling several friends, making sure they were safe.
I fought tears. I am saddened and disgusted each time there is a mass shooting. One is too many, and now our country is plagued by them. But this one hit home. Because I am a target. My children are targets. My religious community is a target. I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was only a matter of when. It could have been us.
And when you think about it, it is us. It is all of us. Whether you’re a child in a Massachusetts school. Seeing a movie in your Colorado town. Enjoying an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Young people going to a nightclub in Orlando. The faithful attending a small church in Texas. This can happen to any one of us. This is happening in our backyards.
I won’t address concrete solutions here. Most synagogues, schools and churches do have security today. Arming more guards and barricading ourselves behind concrete walls isn’t the end-all to this creeping societal illness. What my rabbi and fellow congregants have suggested is to face hatred, head-on. Respond by refusing to live in fear. Respond through civil discourse. Be kind, be loving. Reach out to those who are disaffected and alone. Tone down angry rhetoric. Erase hate.
It doesn’t have to be us.
Etheridge is the editor of the Coastal Courier. She and her husband have two grown children, a grandchild on the way, a teddy bear of a rescue dog, and a grumpy cat that guards the house.