This past weekend, as Jews across America and around the world commemorated last year’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue with the movement #ShowUpForShabbat, my synagogue received two bomb threats.
My parents were visiting me for Family Weekend and I was about to lead Shabbat services at Hillel when my mom got a call from my sister saying, “Please, don’t go to Temple tonight. There’s a bomb threat.” My stomach sank and my adrenaline spiked. Not my community. Please, not my rabbi, my cantor, the worshipers I’ve known my whole life, the Torah I chanted from at my Bat Mitzvah, the building where so many memories formed.
The threats turned out to be unfounded, but I can’t say they weren’t real. To me, to my rabbi, to the preschoolers and their teachers who were evacuated from the building, it was all too real. It was traumatic and demoralizing. 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 Lafayette Hillel, it felt unusually powerful to me. 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 or 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 restricting his telephone access.
My visceral reaction to this news was anger. He committed a hate crime, threatening 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?
A few days later, I wonder if perhaps that Mi Shebeirach was so powerful because we weren’t praying only for healing for our own community, or my congregation back home, or Pittsburgh or even victims of anti-Semitism around the world. 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 wholeness to the entire world. Perhaps then, too, our own wounds may heal.
By Gabrielle Tropp ’20