I was sitting in the sanctuary of a local synagogue, surrounded by upwards of 500 women. It was late afternoon on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which Jews mourn the long line of tragedies that have befallen our people, generation after generation. Most of us had not eaten or drunk since nightfall the previous evening; we would be fasting for another six hours.
In the morning, we had recited tear-inducing laments written throughout Jewish history, sitting on the floor or low chairs, as one sits for the week following the death of a parent. We recounted the tragic accounts of many massacres, among them those in York, England in 1190, the Spanish Inquisition that began in the late 15th century, persecution in both Tsarist and Communist Russia, and Nazi Germany. All these led back to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem that took place on this date millennia ago.
Foremost in our minds was the new wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe. Our cousins in France were fleeing that country as the police stood by while raging Moslem mobs destroyed Jewish stores and attacked lone Jews. The U.N. “peacekeeping” forces turned a blind eye as Hamas stockpiled rockets to be aimed at Israel’s civilian centers. The international press and even America’s Secretary of State and president trotted out the traditional double standard that (intentionally or not) erased the line between criticism of Israel and hatred of Jews. Despite gratitude to a few staunch friends, among them Canada’s premier, Stephen Harper, we women were on edge as fighting continued in Israel and hatred of us was being spewed out in pro-Gazan rallies throughout America and the world.
We were sitting silently in the sanctuary, riveted by the eloquent words of a local rabbi as he discussed one aspect of the day. This still atmosphere was shattered by a menacing voice bellowing something about “Israel” and “Holocaust” and “get out Jews” from behind us. I was sitting towards the front of the room. Along with those around me, I hit the floor in an instinctive reaction. We heard sharp bangs and screams. Later, we found out that what sounded like shots was actually the sound of folding chairs crashing to the ground as the young women who had added extra rows in the back of the room fearfully raced away from the door.
In what, in actuality, was only a few moments, a lot can race through your mind. Was there an alternate exit from the room? Were there any elderly or pregnant women near me that needed help? And yes – bitter thoughts towards my state’s governor and legislators and all others who left us defenseless by their obsession with taking guns out of the hands of good, trained and responsible people.
As things calmed down, it turned out that the disturbance was caused by a single, mentally disturbed, Jewish man. That was hardly reassuring. While we were relieved that this disruption wasn’t what we had most feared, mental illness is frequently a factor in tragedies.
All in all, it was nothing more than a scary experience. Yet, it reinforced how vulnerable we are, and how much safer I would feel if our culture legally enabled us to protect ourselves.