I need help processing the recent hate crime against Jews in Poway, CA.
May 1, 2019 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Last Saturday an alt-right shooter attacked the Chabad in my hometown, Poway, CA. I didn't hear about it until yesterday night, and I am devastated. I don't know how to process my grief.

The shooter graduated from my school district. The people who attend that Chabad are likely the family members of some of my former classmates, of my favorite teachers' current students. I am stricken over how badly I have always wanted to be 100% Jewish instead of just a quarter and how whenever an anti-Semitic hate crime occurs, that want skyrockets. Would it be wrong of me to seek out a local temple and ask for guidance? Should I grieve another way? What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total)
As a Jew, my thought is that since a primary focus of Chabad is outreach, I'd definitely reach out in that spirit. To a temple near you, to a chabad near you. AISH is another group that is very, very welcoming to newcomers. (I know those are fighting words to some but this has been my experience.) If the idea of reaching out to groups on the orthodox end of the spectrum doesn't work for you, try a reform temple. Many (most?) religious Jews believe that bringing Jews into temple is a good thing, even if the impetus was something awful.

You can also google for your town + liberal Judaism, Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Renewal.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:48 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

It would be absolutely right and okay for you to seek out a local temple and ask for guidance. If you are nervous about approaching in person you can usually find an email address. I am certain that this incident is big in the minds of most congregations this week and there are likely to be special memorials, sermon topics, things rabbis are organizing to help their congregants process that you would be more than welcome to participate in or just learn about.

You can grieve in more than one way. Getting in touch with your Jewish identity can be part of that, reaching out to the people in your hometown can be another. One thing I have always loved about Judaism is the mourner's kaddish. It is so beautiful, the Hebrew especially. I say it when I grieve, and when I say it I grieve, if only for the moment in which I'm reciting it. If you're unfamiliar with the prayer there are many resources online that can give you texts and readings - pick one that resonates with you.

What you're feeling is normal and okay. Wanting to connect with your community, no matter how tenuous the association, is a healthy response to tragedy. You will get through this on your own path, but you don't have to be alone - you already know where people are who would walk alongside you.
posted by Mizu at 6:50 PM on May 1 [7 favorites]

I had similar sense of conflict in being a somewhat stealth white trans man experiencing from afar the Pulse nightclub shooting, and below is how I ended up understanding it. (Also, I'm not jewish, so can't comment on how welcoming that community would be).

First, everyone gets to have whatever emotional reaction they have to the horrid violence in this society. There is no right or wrong way to feel (I think there are right and wrong ways to act). If that means you feel a stronger identification with your jewish identity, so be it.

Second, part of the point of hate crimes is the isolation and fear they instill in a swath of society. But, that means that the swath suddenly gets defined/delineated, which can feel exclusive to those on its margins.

It's really natural to feel isolated - you identify in some way with a group of people who have been actively targeted. You would like to commiserate and feel connection to other people who feel similary. On the other hand, one goal of the violence itself is to separate us from them and so that part of your idenitity can feel more precarious.

I spent a while reading Audre Lorde, which happened to work for me at the time.
posted by lab.beetle at 9:23 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]

I think getting more in touch with your Jewish heritage would be a very appropriate way to respond to this incident. People getting in touch with Judaism is the opposite of what the shooter wanted to accomplish. Getting people in touch with Judaism is Chabad’s thing, so it is presumably what they would want.
posted by Anne Neville at 4:15 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]

You are generally conflating your genetic heritage with what defines jewishness. You can be 100% Jewish with only one Jewish grandparent, just as you can be 100% Jewish without any jewish parents. (A swell thing about judaisim is that there are also a whole lot of folks who are 0% jewish despite having 4/4 jewish grandparents. Or like .1% jewish, when its convenient - lets be real its usually for the jokes and/or food).

You sound interested in exploring your jewish identity, so yeah, contacting a synagogue or JCC and saying just that would be a great first step (very few might care about your parents/grandparents, but you should be able to find some who dont).

Beyond general interest in exploring Judaism, you might want to explore why you feel you would prefer to be 100% jewish? do you feel guilty that you are un/less likely to be subject to hate or discrimination for not "looking" jewish enough? some other concern?

My aunt just commented in a family text thread that she was surprised to find out my elementary aged cousin (her grandson) thinks of himself as Jewish (he, too, has only one jewish grandparent - the aunt in question). He'll be the 4th generation of our family to make jewish-american lives in this country and while it is beyond question that the role of judaism in our daily lives is completely unlike it was in those of my great-grandparents back in the shtetl, but that doesnt make him 75% less jewish than they were.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:33 AM on May 2

Hi there. I don't know if this is helpful but it might be, I think I would have liked to hear it six months ago, so:

Hi. I live in Pittsburgh, where I work and have at times lived, and where currently many of my dearest friends live, very close to the Tree of Life synagogue. I'm also what I have called, with varying degrees of humor or bitterness at various times in my life, "wrong half Jewish." My biological father is Jewish, and was mostly absent from my life, with most of his family refusing to ever meet me at all because my mother wasn't Jewish. My heritage is a source of complex and difficult feelings. Always has been. Therapy has helped some, not entirely.

It got a lot worse and really hard to work through six months ago when the shooting happened in Pittsburgh. It was difficult to know what feelings I had the right to have as a Pittsburgher, as someone not directly affected, as someone Jewish enough for neo-Nazis to hate but not Jewish enough to have any sort of community, and as just a person who is human and therefore of course affected by awful hate crimes. It was hard to know what I was allowed to feel and where I was allowed to express that.

I think I would have liked someone to tell me that that whole mess of longing and fear and isolation and regret was a valid and understandable response to a terrible event that tapped into some long-standing personal demons. I think I would have liked to be told that it would be okay to seek solace and understanding, and to want to give some sort of support to a community that I did not currently have active close ties to.

So: Boy, are you feeling a big and scary and human set of feelings right now. I'm so sorry. It's a lot to be sitting with, without a real outlet for most of it. Some Jewish communities may be choosing to turn inward at this time, to process their grief and loss, and that absolutely should be respected. But I am certain that there are other communities working through their loss by reaching out to strengthen ties with the larger world around them. You are absolutely allowed to look at the Jewish communities around you, see what sorts of outreaches or offerings they have for people who are questioning, and visit communities that seem like a good fit. There may be ways that you can give back to those communities as well as learning from them, and whether or not that leads to any long-term religious changes for you, I think that would be a valid and wonderful way to honor some terrible losses, and to seek out some healing for yourself.

I'm so sorry for your hometown, and I hope you find some ways to process these feelings that help you to find some peace.
posted by Stacey at 10:45 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]

You are generally conflating your genetic heritage with what defines jewishness

This is a very important idea! If you read Jewish history, you will learn that for thousands of years, persecution of Jews was based on fear/rejection of their religious practices (not their parentage or heredity), and various conquerors demanded conversion to whatever the dominant religion was. It was actually the Nazis who invented and obsessed over the concept of "genetic Judaism." The very idea of "1/4 Jewish" or "1/8th Jewish" didn't exist until the Nazis came to power. True, the Orthodox demand an Orthodox conversion for anyone whose biological mother was not Jewish, though other branches do not -- but even the Orthodox would never use a phrase like "1/4 Jewish," they simply see it as one is a Jew or one is not a Jew, according to what they see as Jewish law. The other branches put more emphasis on the actual practice of Judaism than who your biological mother is/was. For instance, a child of whatever genetic heritage adopted by a practicing Jewish couple and raised as a Jew is considered 100% Jewish. And if someone decided to convert to a non-Jewish religion, they are no longer Jewish. OTOH, Nazis had no interest whatsoever in converting Jews -- since they viewed Jewishness as a genetic thing, someone with the (purportedly inferior) "Jewish gene" could NEVER stop being Jewish, and would never be accepted into society.

Conversion to Judaism, while not as common as in other faiths, has always been practiced. Once someone converts (which requires a good deal of study), they are considered 100% Jewish. As a data point, my daughter-in-law is a convert of Mexican heritage, and she is now 100% Jewish, although her parents and sisters etc. are Christians. My grandchildren will be 100% Jewish. Ancestry DNA and such things are of no interest to me or to my son and his wife.

Also keep in mind that many temples and other types of organized Jewish gathering places, welcome interested non-Jews to participate without any pressure to convert.

So, if you feel a connection to Judaism, by all means explore it, learn more about it, and if you desire, begin living a Jewish life in whatever manner you connect with.
posted by RRgal at 11:11 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]

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