By Gabby Tropp
This past weekend, as Jews across America and around the world commemorated last year’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, with the movement #ShowUpForShabbat, my synagogue received not one, but two bomb threats.
My parents were visiting me for Family Weekend and I was about to lead Shabbat services at my college’s Hillel when my mom got a frantic call from my sister saying, “Please, please don’t go to Temple tonight. There’s been a bomb threat.” My stomach sank and my heart raced as my adrenaline spiked. Not my community. Please, not my rabbi, my cantor, the Friday night regulars I’ve known my whole life, the Torah I chanted from at my Bat Mitzvah, the building where so many of my formative memories took place.
The threats turned out to be unfounded, but I can’t say they weren’t real. Because to me, to my rabbi, to the preschoolers and their teachers who were evacuated from the building, to the office secretary who answered the call, it was all too real. It was scary, traumatic, demoralizing – all those things. It was a reminder that in the place where we form sacred community, a place we are meant to feel safe, protected, at home, watched over, in commune with the Divine, we were threatened, our very lives at stake, for entering – both at my synagogue and everywhere Jews congregate.
That night, as I led the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing for my Hillel community, it felt unusually powerful to me. I felt those words in my soul. It brought tears to my eyes thinking that only 140 miles away, another congregation of mine was singing the same words, trying to heal each other with their voices, their presence, and their communal strength.
The next morning, news outlets attributed the bomb threats to “a Florida man in his 60s.” He was not arrested. He was not charged with a crime. Why? He has a history of mental illness and a history of making these same kinds of calls. His family is reportedly now – why only now? – restricting his telephone access.
My visceral reaction to this news was anger. He committed a hate crime, threatening the lives of a whole community of Jews on a particularly painful Shabbat because of malice he holds in his heart. And he’s not being punished? How could this be?
Now, a few days later, I wonder if perhaps that Mi Shebeirach was so powerful because we weren’t praying only for healing and wholeness for our own community, or my congregation back home, or Pittsburgh, or even Jews all around the world who face acts of anti-Semitism. Maybe we were also praying for that Florida man in his 60s, and for all those all over the world who have malice in their hearts, to reach a place of wholeness. Maybe we are hoping to heal the world of the hatreds that divide us, bringing a sense of sh’leimah, wholeness, to the entire world. Perhaps then too our own wounds may heal.
Gabby Tropp is a senior at Lafayette College, studying History, Spanish, and Jewish Studies. An aspiring Jewish Educator, she tries to bring Jewish learning into daily life.