By Meredith Jacobs
I remember it so clearly. In September 2002, I was volunteering at my synagogue’s preschool, answering phones for the director, when the switchboard lit up. “Someone is driving around Potomac, shooting from his car.” It was the first time, I heard the term “lockdown.”
It was the first day our community would be under siege by the D.C. sniper. For weeks, we lived in fear of being shot during the normal course of the day — filling our cars with gas, going to the market, dropping our children off at school. And, while this particular shooter was not motivated by antisemitism, there was a particularly heightened sense of fear that our Jewish institutions would become targets.
Was it 9/11 or the sniper that made armed guards as expected at synagogue doors as a mezuzah? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that my children grew up in a world where when walking into any Jewish place — a synagogue, JCC, day school — we are reminded that far too many wish us dead.
Every year, I get a phone call from the D.C. police department, checking in, introducing themselves, offering to hold an active-shooter drill for our staff. We get the calls because the word “Jewish” is in our organization’s name.
This past Shabbat, in Colleyville, Texas, was just another in a list of antisemitic attacks that is part of what it means to live as a Jew. I watched, helpless, from my couch, horrified but not surprised. The Chabad of Poway. Tree of Life. Congregation Beth Israel. Each attacker coming to his hatred of Jewish people from a different ideology, but hating us nonetheless. Let’s not make the mistake of focusing on where the hatred is coming from — the reality is, it’s coming from all sides.
We are only 2 percent of the U.S. population and yet according to FBI reports, 58 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes target Jews.
Just the day before, I was invited to a Zoom call with the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the Department of State to discuss global antisemitism. I was asked how JWI engages in the work. I answered something about our being one of the original Jewish American organizations. How we speak out in the intersection of misogyny and antisemitism.
I would fill out that form differently today. I’m no longer worried about “mission creep.” The reality is that as Jewish Women International, we owe it to our community to do more. What that is, I’m not sure. I do know our work convening the Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence makes a difference. That working in partnership and community with 40 other faith groups makes a difference. That speaking out and standing as allies when other faith groups and communities experience hate makes a difference. That proudly and loudly declaring our Judaism makes a difference.
It is far too easy for those who seek to do violence to get a gun. We saw this on Saturday. And, restricting guns from violent people is part of the work JWI does every day through our Interfaith Coalition, Faiths United to End Gun Violence, Everytown’s Interfaith Advisory Group, and JWI’s Jewish Gun Violence Roundtable. More needs to be done and we must enact legislation that calls for background checks and closes dangerous loopholes.
Those who hate have been emboldened. The same day four members of Congregation Beth Israel were held hostage, an Asian woman was pushed onto New York City subway tracks and killed.
As we learn more about how things unfolded we are in awe of the kindness of Rabbi Charlie Cyton-Walker, when he opened the doors to one he thought was in need and his brave actions that saved his congregants. We are grateful for the work of Secure Community Network of which JWI is a part. We thank the brave responders and pray for healing for the members, clergy and staff of Congregation Beth Israel and the entire community. And, we pledge to do more.
Meredith Jacobs is CEO of Jewish Women International (JWI). At 125 years, JWI works to end violence against women and girls.