There is a particular horror to waking up and discovering your hometown on national breaking news. I woke up on Saturday to a slew of messages asking if I was okay, if my family was okay. I had no idea what anyone was talking about. I clicked on a link and saw photos of SWAT teams outside my synagogue, recognized the blocks around my house.
The rest of Saturday was a blur. I passed myself from friend to friend, terrified to be alone with my thoughts, feeling very little of my body in space. I called home immediately, unable to breathe. I waited for the media to release the names.
I’m learning a lot about trauma. I used to think grief came all at once, like a giant iceberg that pressed down on you and slowly, slowly melted. I’m discovering it’s less linear than that. That at first it feels a lot like being underwater, like moving in a world all your own without seeing anything else. That grief is a lot of sobbing until you can’t feel your fingers, but also laughing until you feel guilty for letting yourself forget for a moment.
I think I have yet to truly come to terms with what happened this weekend. I don’t know that I will be able to until I can go home, and see in person the building plastered all over news sites, the one I grew up next to and learned inside. I feel that nothing can ever be the same, but I’m not yet sure in what way.
They’ve added us to the list, my mom tells me. Newtown, Parkland and now Squirrel Hill. That’s how they’re saying it on the news. I’ve lived in Squirrel Hill my whole life. I was Bat Mitzvahed in the Tree of Life building, and grew up in the congregation Dor Hadash. There’s a surreal quality to it all — seeing classmates here post about my home, about my congregation. I’ve been so thankful for the outpouring of support, for the vigil on Sunday, for my friends who have gotten me through the last few days and who I know I will continue to rely on for many days to come. It is strange to be so far from home, though, and to be surrounded by people who only know Squirrel Hill through this tragedy. They mourn for Squirrel Hill as a national event, as the worst anti-Semitic crime in the United States. I mourn for my home.
My congregation was targeted for doing humanitarian work by a hate-filled man who was permitted to own ten weapons, including the assault rifle and three handguns he brought into my synagogue on Saturday. I know that once the shock of the initial trauma settles into a new normal, the anger I feel will bubble up into something productive. This was preventable. Every time a tragedy like this occurs, we talk about it for a few weeks, read articles about the victims, about the vigils. And nothing happens.
Since Donald Trump became a candidate for president, he has accepted and sought the approval and support of white nationalists. He has stoked hatred and racism for his own political gain, and he has legitimized violence, xenophobia and prejudice. Even if he hasn’t attacked Jews specifically, his rhetoric, and his America, is a direct threat to the Jewish population. Any time that white nationalists are legitimized, Jews are at risk, as is any minority group.
And I don’t even know how to begin talking about guns. Every time there is a mass shooting, the conversation reopens for a week, maybe two. And nothing happens. Gun violence happens every day, and mass shootings are occurring more and more often. When will anything change? Assault rifles are weapons of war, created to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. Not deer, not paper targets. People, like the 11 members of my community murdered on Saturday. Why is anyone’s right to own a weapon created to murder human beings considered superior to the right to live?
Trump suggested there should have been someone armed in the synagogue. I cannot even begin to address that comment. When I was in high school, I remember noticing that at the High Holy Days, which are the most-attended services, there was suddenly a police officer present. I remember this distinctly because of how awful it made me feel, to know that I was at risk because of my identity, to realize that coming together as a community to honor one of the most integral traditions of my faith was a dangerous act. Trump’s suggestion is not a valid solution, and the fact that he suggested it on the day of the shooting reflects a cold-blooded political calculation that simply advances his agenda.
Yesterday, the president traveled to Pittsburgh. Even though our mayor asked him to honor the victims by waiting until next week to visit, so as to not unnecessarily burden the police force, which needs to be present for the victims’ funerals. Even though Trump’s tweets — and comments during the campaign stop he refused to cancel — only added to the horror, pain and anger of that day.
Mr. Trump, you do not get to grieve for my community. You cannot get political mileage from thoughts and prayers for the people of my congregation, for the trauma of my city. Because your rhetoric, and the America you have created in order to keep yourself in power, is an America of hatred and of violence. And it has changed my city, and my life, irreparably.
Yesterday, I realized that the rest of the world keeps going. Everyone returned to their classes, their school stress, their responsibilities. Squirrel Hill was added to the ever-growing list of horrors in our country. I know it is trite to ask readers to not forget, but midterm elections are next week. This attack was a political incident. My congregation was targeted for its Judaism and its desire to support refugees. It was attacked because, right now, the leaders of our country are encouraging and condoning violence and hatred, pure hatred. The tragedy was possible because almost any individual in our country is allowed to own an assault weapon intended to end lives.
The Pittsburgh community is mourning. But in our grief, we are imploring the world to be political. To not let this incident fade from memory, to not let the list of names grow any longer. Something needs to change.
Carrie Mannino is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org . She is a former WKND editor of the Yale Daily News.