It was a beautiful fall morning. The sun was out. The sky was clear. A perfect day to go biking. "Did they call you back yet?" I asked my mom. Ever since my two friends and I had biked to a cafe for drinks in the spring, I’d wanted to do it again. It seemed like every Saturday there was something. Either one of us was out of town, or we had some activity, but for one reason or another, since we got back from summer vacation we hadn’t had a chance to do it. I was determined to meet that day. "Did they?" I nagged my mom again. "Not yet," my mom said patiently, "but it’s still early." I was just beginning to give up on it, when my mom told me that it was all arranged. I didn’t have long so I hurried to get ready. As I brushed my hair, I thought about how much fun we would have. I wondered what interesting stories my friends would tell me and what they would order at the cafe. I was planning to get apple juice. It is my favorite.
"Oh, wow!" my dad exclaimed from the living room sofa where he was reading the news on his computer. “What?” my mom cried out coming in to the room. “Somebody shot people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.” my dad replied. Oh no, I thought. Why do such horrible things happen? It is so sad. Usually, I don’t like to think about sad things. They depress me. That’s why I don’t like to read sad books. But this is real life. I can’t just close it and put it back on a shelf. But as sad as it is, I was thinking, does it really affect my life? I know that there was a person there, in Pittsburgh, who hates the Jews, but I didn’t feel like it applied to me, here where I live. In my world, nobody hates me because I am Jewish. I don’t know anyone who would do something like that. Pittsburgh is far away, what happened to the Jews there, doesn’t affect my life in any way here in Illinois. I hear about anti-semitic acts in Europe a lot. How is this so different? “Are you ready, Maya?” my mom calls, her voice cutting through my thoughts. “You need to go. You don’t want to keep your friends waiting.”
I went biking with my friends, and then I went to my math club. I was thinking about other things and I even forgot about the shooting. But, later in the day, it came up again. Apparently, my grandfather had called and said that I shouldn’t risk going to Sunday School at the synagogue the next day. Then the Rabbi sent an email about added security. “I don’t understand,” I thought at first. Why is everyone panicking? Like I said before, there have been similar situations in Europe and nobody panicked then. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear. The kind of people that live in Europe could be very different than the people who live in Illinois. But this happened in our country, the one that we live in.
I went to Sunday School the next day. I wasn’t scared to go. When I got there, the doors were locked. Police were standing near the front. Instead of regular Sunday school, we talked about what happened in Pittsburgh for part of the time. That was when I realized that some of my friends were scared by what happened. Should I have been scared too?
The doors are now locked at our synagogue. You cannot get in unless someone opens the door for you. But it does not make you feel any less welcome. Inside, the fun, the excitement, the joy, and celebrations still go on, just like always. We celebrated Chanukah this whole week. Tonight there is a special Chanukah party for teens. I am going to meet my friends there. As I am getting ready and brushing my hair, I am thinking about how much fun we will have. I wonder what interesting stories my friends would tell me and what games we will play. I wonder who will win in dreidel.