Yesterday, my biggest Monday woe wasn’t scalding my tongue on my coffee or getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my morning commute: It was starting off the week under the heavy shadow of a bomb threat.
The day started off in the typical fashion — making sure my child remembered to put the lunch and snack I packed him in his lunch box, making a quick coffee to go, and then scrambling to engineer a last-minute “holiday headwear” for his school’s festive spirit week that we both failed to remember until that morning, all before jumping onto the interstate to drive to the synagogue where I work.
However, my typical morning commute took a sharp turn when I got a text from one of my coworkers apologizing profusely that she wouldn’t be coming in with her own toddler child because she didn’t feel safe doing so. With a sinking feeling, I bewilderedly wondered what headline I had missed. (We had already sat through the heavy atmosphere and scarcely-attended school day of the Hamas call to global violence earlier this fall.) After a quick call, I was caught up to speed: An email from the school director had gone out the night before, informing our community that multiple synagogues in the Atlanta area had received bomb threats. School was still open and the police were involved; the email informed us that the threat was believed to be a hoax (though they would still do their due diligence by deploying extra security measures).
After I got to work, I sat in my parked car for 10 minutes weighing the odds and thinking about how, if anything happened to me, my 10-year-old would be an orphan. Talk about a way to start your Monday.
I’ve spent virtually my entire professional life working at synagogues (and always in Jewish organizations). I wish I could say that I hadn’t spent half that career sitting in monthly staff meetings, discussing protocol for where to hide children’s small bodies to protect them from harm in case of an active shooter, or where to evacuate in case of a bomb threat.
I wish I could say I hadn’t sat at my desk in a synagogue on a daily basis, answering emails to the white noise of my brain running through scenarios of my son growing up without parents if today was the day that the synagogue was attacked.
I wish I could say that I’m so used to it by now that it’s not scary, that it’s not like playing a morbid game of daily roulette in which you are most likely to spin “boringly routine,” but could still possibly land on “fatally life-changing.”
I wish I could truthfully say any of the above. But, unfortunately, I cannot.
While no one should have to make everyday life choices in this context, I still went to work yesterday — because, ultimately, it’s more exhausting to live my life based on fear than it is to do my due diligence, make smart choices and accept that some things are just out of my control. The hate others weaponize is outside of my control; thriving and living joyfully in spite of it is not.
Realistically, it’s not as easy as “just think happy thoughts.” These are dangerous times and real world threats. There have been synagogue attacks. Antisemitism in America has been on the rise over the past few years. And all of this is an added layer on top of the threat every American family faces on a daily basis because of the ludicrous number of mass shootings.
I doubt there’s ever been an era in which being a Jewish parent hasn’t been inherently stressful, and our generation is no exception: This shit is hard. It’s stressful in a real-world-dangers kind of way that never fully shuts off. The blows keep coming, far beyond the point when you feel like surely, surely it can’t keep getting worse. You’ve shouldered so much more since the point when your exhausted, weary heart groaned “there’s no way I can take even a tiny bit more.” All the while, the world keeps going — dental appointments still need scheduling, lunches still need to be shopped for and packed, and lines must be waited in to fill prescriptions for pink eye.
While this paints a bit of a bleak picture, it’s really a portrait of our strength: We’ve gone far beyond what we were certain would be our breaking point. In fact, some of us have been broken. Yet, we are still here, still showing up for our children as best we can — and doing pretty damn well (despite how little credit we give ourselves). Rather than a people of victimhood, I see us as a steel link in the chain of a people of remarkable strength and resilience. Our children are watching us, learning by example how to emulate undying fortitude while living b’simcha, with joy.
Our joy can be loud and with abandon, like our wedding celebrations — but the louder joy is sustained by a more stable, wisened presence. It’s the subtle joy passed down from one aged-but-steady hand to another that shows up in lighting the Hanukkah candles and seeing the glow reflected back in our children’s wide, innocent eyes; in the blessings they sing along with us; and in the traditional Jewish comfort foods that warm us from the inside when the outside world seems so cold. It is in the first time we ever try kneading challah, whether as children with our mother or as adults from a recipe we found online; in a Jewish community coming together to celebrate the naming of a new baby on Shabbat morning at synagogue; in the tears of joyful pride shed watching a child enter their teens by reading from the Torah at their b’nei mitzvah service.
This is our tradition of unbreakable joy. The spirits of our ancestors stand invisibly all around us, reinforcing our unshakeable resolve. Hate never stood a chance.