It has long been a great fear of mine that I would write this op-ed. For the past few years, I have had a lingering horror that I would one day stand around the Women’s Table with my community, crying and holding candles. In the spring of 2017, I wrote in these very pages about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America, the anti-Semitism that still has a foothold on our very campus. At the time, I wrote that “there has yet to be substantial physical violence” against the Jewish community. That “yet” haunts me.
On Saturday night after the close of Shabbat, I and so many in my community turned on our phones, beginning to grapple with the largest violent attack on Jews in America’s history. Since then, I have felt both embraced and alone, all at once. The beautiful Jewish community to which I have dedicated so much of my love and energy at Yale, and the leftist Jewish community in which I have built relationships and power, were more equipped to handle this moment than I could have expected. We have built deep connections, we have worked to understand anti-Semitism, and we have the infrastructure to confront tragedy together.
In the embrace of my own community, I have also seen solidarity from others. On Saturday night in New York, Muslims encircled a vigil of Jews mourning and praying, offering safety and support. Some of my Christian friends have offered prayers, logistical support for vigils, and, most powerfully, reflections on anti-Semitism within their own communities, challenging them to better understand and confront it. But I have been surprised, nevertheless, by the depth of the need I have felt for comfort from the wider community.
Both prior and during the Trump administration, it is more than likely that I walked past people on the street who felt like the entire world had broken open under their feet. Many of these may even be my own friends. Even when I have, vaguely, managed to see this, I was always hesitant to reach out to people I didn’t know well in the wake of their communal tragedies. I worried that it would look like performative allyship to send a Facebook message to someone I had simply been in class with for a semester, or to email an acquaintance to tell them I was praying for them. It seemed intrusive.
What I want so desperately right now is to feel loved and to feel safe. I have been reduced to tears in past days, not only by articles about the shooting victims, but also by songs, by hugs, but also by an Edible Arrangement sent to Slifka with a note from Saint Thomas More, by a kind email from a teaching assistant, by a sign at Blue State Coffee. Our whole world, it feels like, has been torn open. I crave company as my community stands in that rift.
In that light, I am sending love to the trans community, whose physical safety is being placed so acutely under threat. I am sending love to the black community, as I mourn the two lives lost in the Kroger shooting last week. You are so loved.
The defining emotion that accompanies my mourning is fear. I cannot bear to be anywhere, these days, except at the Slifka Center. Yet, there is no place I fear more for my physical safety than the “center for Jewish life.” Yesterday, I walked into the lobby and found a meeting of Slifka staff, security personnel and uniformed police discussing how to make the building safer. Even though I believe that police are dangerous to communities of color and desire safety that does not involve them, I felt a rush of relief. If someone with ill intentions walked into Slifka at that moment, they would be stopped.
The Jewish left — led by organizations like Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, of which I am a member, and IfNotNow — have been calling for “safety through solidarity.” They advocate for the safety that we can find when we stand side by side with other marginalized groups, groups with which we have deep and mutual relationships. “Safety through solidarity” acknowledges that while I, a white Jewish woman, might feel safer near police, Jews of color will not be safer in Jewish spaces with a heavier police presence — nor, indeed, will non-Jewish people of color.
I am struggling so much to feel safe at all, to not walk into rooms in Slifka and begin to look for hiding places. I am having a hard time imagining what safety through solidarity can look like in the face of such visceral fear and violence. But I want to begin to imagine. Text a Jewish friend today, or that kid in your class in a kippah who you’ve never really spoken to. Come leave a note on the board in Slifka’s lobby. Help us begin to imagine what can be.
Avigayil Halpern is a senior in Silliman College and a staff columnist at-large. Contact her at email@example.com .