Sunday morning, I received one of the worst wake-ups of my life.
I got up, brushed my teeth, showered, picked out an outfit, and eventually decided to check my phone.
I immediately was hit with a flood of messages, my lock screen completely covered. I first looked at my WhatsApp, where the most recent message displayed was from my mom and read, “just heard on the news that Jon is OK.”
My initial thought was of BYP Jon, who I’d been with the day before. Confused, I opened the chat.
“Naomi, there was an active shooter at Tree of Life and 8 people have been killed, others shot. No other news yet. It’s unbelievable.”
Sunday morning, I experienced the hardest morning so far in Indonesia.
Along with the shock and grief that registered from my mom’s message, there was the overwhelming guilt. I was hearing the news 8 hours after my community was broken, after my loved ones had already began grieving. Mourning. Congregating. And I was peacefully sleeping.
I hope there is never another Bridge Year student that needs Google Translate to search for “shooting”. They should instead learn how to express sentiments of peace, progress, and diversity. When their Ibu sees them step out of their room, shaken, it should be because of a problem that she can understand, not something that is incomprehensible in this compassionate country where civilians are not easily able to obtain guns. I envy her confusion. I feel safer walking alone in a country that I have lived in for two months than I do in my hometown of 13 years.
There was a period of time that Sunday in which I wanted to be on the next 30-hour flight back to Pittsburgh. I had answered so many texts, Facebook messages, and emails from friends concerned for my family’s well-being. Though I always sent back the reply “thankfully my family is okay”, I now realize the injustice in minimizing the effect of the shooting. My family is not okay. Though physically fine, we are hurting along with the rest of our community, from which I was more than 10,000 miles away.
Sometimes the best way to deal with pain is to hurt together. I spent a large portion of the morning discussing, worrying, and crying with one of my best friends, who was just as, if not more, upset than I was. Her father was the Rabbi of one of the congregations at Tree of Life, and three of the members of her congregation were killed. This was the Jon my mom had been talking about. He managed to hide the majority of his congregation when he first heard shots fired, saving many lives Saturday morning. I would like to share a video of an incredibly moving speech he gave at a vigil back home: https://youtu.be/6A2kF_KCoFE?t=4140.
There is nothing else I have to say about what happened this Shabbat other than that I am disgusted. I had to watch absolute hate manifest itself less than a mile from my house in a community that, for the past 13 years, has pushed me to become the person I am today. At every event I attended at Tree of Life or New Light congregations, I was graciously welcomed and included. It is devastating to see so many grieving for the members of the community that upheld the beauty in these congregations. There is no gentle way to explain how I feel; there was nothing gentle about the attack this past Shabbat. It is fucking terrifying to me that such inexplicable violence occurred so extremely close to home and caused so much pain, and I think that I speak for my community as well.
I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me, my family, and my community. I would especially like to thank my Bridge Year community, who made it abundantly clear that they were there to support me in any way possible. Now more than ever, we need to spread compassion and empathy through every aspect of our lives. We have thoroughly discussed “speaking beautifully” throughout these past months on Bridge Year, and I encourage you to take this idea to heart. Spreading hate is effortless; it means immensely more to spread love and support.
It is easy to feel powerless after going through a tragedy that I in no way could have prevented, and from which I am now extremely physically detached. But our power is in our voices. If you are of age and reading this, please, please, please VOTE. As my friend put it, “it’s time to end this madness. Gun control should NOT be a politicized matter, it’s common sense and I’m confused how that is not clear to all”. Gun violence leaves a lingering trail of pain and confusion, and I hope that my community will be one of the last to grieve in its wake.
Attached are pictures of letters my friend wrote to the families of the three members of her congregation who were killed. These people were pillars of the community, mensches who were tremendously dedicated to the New Light congregation and whose love left a lasting mark on its members. May their memories be a blessing.