I’m afraid of plenty of totally irrational things: robots and zombies and spiders and raw tomatoes, to name a few. I’m afraid of a few slightly less irrational things: the deaths of those I love; anything at all that could take my children from me; trying to educate a complicated and emotional child; losing my wedding ring or glasses. Okay, and spiders: nothing makes me run in terror like a quarter-sized spider.
I’ve discovered recently that there’s another type of fear I have very little experience with. The fear inspired by terrorism, or by public violence, is a specific and unexpected fear I had no relationship with until this year. Like most Americans, I remember September 11th, 2001 vividly. But I was on the West Coast, age 14, on that infamous day, and while it changed things, it was also distant and disconnected from my everyday life.
I was raised in a secular family, despite my Jewish heritage. We lived in a small town in northern Nevada, and despite my mother’s significant mental health concerns, I was raised in a loving environment. It wasn’t until I was into my twenties and found myself working in a Jewish communal organization that I really started to connect with my heritage. I discovered that other people really do have this hair. My devotion to bagels suddenly seemed less bizarre. I found myself with a lot to learn, but also connected to a culture and group of people in a new way. I grew rapidly from Systems Administrator for my local Hillel to Development Associate at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center and Portland Jewish Academy.
It was there I found my family. Our team was unique and connected and I loved them, and still do.
I left a little over a year ago – shortly after our 2016 fundraising event – because I had a chance to work in a community organization serving the homeless population. It felt right, but I was heartbroken to be leaving my team and my community behind. I still have the card they gave me on the day of my departure hanging up on my desk. Right next to my Peace Love J magnet. When the first wave of bomb threats came, I was astonished. I knew anti-Semitism is a real thing – you can’t work in a Jewish organization without learning a lot about that, or experiencing vicariously the terror of friends and family in Israel. Even still – I was astonished. And afraid.
I listened to the recording of the threat call that somehow made its way to the internet. I felt nauseous. And I was afraid, very afraid.
I watched tentatively each week as further reports came of dozens more Jewish community organizations called, evacuated, searched. And I waited. We all waited. I still have close friends there at the J and PJA, so I knew I would know.
And then – on a Monday – it came. An email this time: to oregonjcc.org.
Reading the headline about the threat was like a gut punch. The only thing I felt was nausea.
For the first time in my life I was paralyzed by fear. I didn’t know what to say to my family and friends who wanted to lend their support. To a large degree, I still don’t.
I did know that I felt frustrated by the acquaintances and colleagues that didn’t get it. “Why do they hate you so much? Is it because you guys have all that money?” The secular community I live in won’t get it – we are separated from Portland by a river, and a small town mentality. I got a lot of love, and also a lot of “Oh, well.”
My team – because they are still my team – handled it impeccably. The building was evacuated, closed, and searched. They put the message out: we are still here, we are safe, and we will continue to be vigilant. This Community Center continues to be an open and safe place for people of all faiths, races, genders, and orientations.
Now though, I am afraid for their safety. I am afraid of another call. Another email. I am afraid that the next time it won’t be just harassment.
Just harassment. As if that isn’t enough.
This is a new kind of fear for me. In this new instance, it is my community. My family. And even though I’m moving forward, I am afraid.