Dear Family, Friends, Charlestonians, and NFTY community,
Two nights ago I had just walked away from a group of fellow staff members to head to bed at the URJ Kutz camp when surprisingly, considering my lack of service in Warwick, a notification popped up on my phone. It was a CNN snippet describing a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina with 9 fatalities. I paused for a second and read it again; shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. A cute, boutique ridden town, swarming with tourists, filled with history, the holy city, and my home town. A shooting in my town. I walked back over to my group of fellow staff members confused and shocked. I explained what had happened, did a little preliminary research, reassured everyone I was fine, scribbled a few sentences in my journal, and exhausted, I crashed on my bed and went to sleep.
The next morning I conducted research. To my disgust this crime was not only violent and cruel, but driven by an obscene hate that is deep seeded in so many minds of the south. This shooting was at a historical black AME church, across the street from my middle school, four blocks from my synagogue, on a street my car has gained many miles driving down.
I didn’t think it would happen to my community, but often what I think, a young, open-minded, reform Jew, is contrary to the status of a southern community filled with many people holding onto old prejudices and racism. I didn’t think it would happen to MY community, but now I understand how too many communities in the United States share this feeling too often.
Wednesday night marked the third nationally recognized act of racism in the Charleston community in this year alone, and I think something is incredibly wrong with that. I find myself challenged each and every day to live in a place I love while being surrounded by ideas I simply cannot tolerate. Racism and hate are wrong, but how can I claim the community that is my own is despicable?
Being a Jew in the South is a challenge in its own right, but being a jew in a community berated by negativity, hostility, and hate should be impossible. Honestly, the current status of Charleston and the perpetuating prejudices of the South leave me feeling empty. Many members of my community contend these acts are isolated incidents, but when something is done over and over even though its is clear it is wrong, it is insanity. I feel pity for the state that can’t seem to move to the 21st century and be a progressive and pluralistic community. Nonetheless, this state is my own. I live in a dichotomy, blessed to have had opportunities from my parents, my friends, my school, my Judaism, and NFTY to stray away from the negatives of Charleston, but am cursed to love a community classified as so.
Gun violence is wrong and racism is wrong, and to me that idea is crystal clear. It is time for me to not exhaust myself figuring out how living in Charleston and being open-minded can work, and it’s time for everyone to pack on to that bandwagon.
With hope for a brighter future,
NFTY Programming Vice President, 5775-5776