In Hebrew, chai translates to life. It is a word, a religious marker, and a numerical symbol. It is also my middle name after my great uncle who passed shortly before I was born. It teaches me about my heritage and connects me to my family and ancestry.
My dad worries a lot. He still texts me occasionally to see if I’m home safely at night, and when I see him in person he instinctively reaches for my hand when crossing the street. When I told him a couple of years ago that my sisters and I wanted matching tattoos of the chai symbol, I watched his face cloud over. He told me that he didn’t want me ‘branding on my body’ my Judaism, that we couldn’t predict our safety in emerging political climates, that it would scare him to know that I plan to travel intercontinentally with a visible marker of my culture. I laughed. I trivialized his concerns. I thought he was worrying unnecessarily. I realized the graveness of his words this week
I should first disclaim that I am not a racial minority. I am granted the immense daily privilege of being in spaces without fear of discrimination due to my physical appearance. I recognize how fortunate I am and how this has shaped my lived experience. I should also reiterate my stark awareness and acknowledgement of previous racially charged hate crimes which have occurred both prior to and over the course of my life. This being said, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting affected me in a manner dissimilar to past acts of anti-semitism that I have witnessed. It made me reexamine how I go about presenting myself in relation to my cultural identity – something my white privilege has often enabled me to disregard.
There aren’t words to describe the complexities of dealing with intergenerational trauma. Mourning for individuals who you did not personally know is a strange thing. It is saturated with confusion, grief, and a lot of anger. It involves replaying scenarios in your head imaging your loved ones in the position of the fallen. Every time I consider that my dad and my beloved, matriarchal aunt are the same ages as two of the massacre victims, I feel paralyzed. I have spent my week largely unable to attend classes, hold conversations, or eat entire meals. I am not alone in this. My experience is not unique whatsoever. An entire community of individuals at this school, in this city, across the country, and across the globe have been grieving just the same.
To every reader, please check in with your Jewish friends in these upcoming days. Refrain from prying or demanding their cohesive or politicized opinions on the subject; simply offer support, be patient, and let them come to you. Be willing to listen to any thoughts they may have or feelings they want to share. Ally-ship can be complicated and I myself am still often unsure of how to show solidarity at times, but mutual understanding and respect are the foundations of this healing. Additionally, take initiative to further educate yourself on the web of social issues which demonstrate how expressions of violence are intrinsically linked. Acts of anti-semitism are closely interconnected with other acts of racism, fascism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Different hate emerges from the same fear.
I have an unspeakable amount to learn in this field, and I am so grateful for both the academic resources provided by Queen’s as well as the abundance of knowledge across my familial and social circles that continually allow me to educate myself. I cannot offer expertise – I can merely share my own feelings with hopes that they might provide comfort to other students in my community.
The week progresses as I talk to family members, attend vigils, and reflect independently. I keep coming back to the chai tattoo. It feels somewhat trivial to spend time disputing this portrayal of life in the aftermath of so many Jews losing theirs. I am still unsure whether or not I want to get it. This is a challenging and nuanced decision. Right now, all I can do is envision and work toward a world in the future where it hopefully will not have to be.