Trigger warning: violence, hatred, antisemitism; murder; hate crime
I was at a conference when a friend texted me that she stood in solidarity with me and that this shooting was an atrocity, as all were, or something like that.
I had no idea what she was talking about as I was at a conference learning about substance use. I was thinking about cannabis and working with families of substance users and wondering how I could find the speaker from the first keynote to ask him how he defines the category of women that he studies.
At first, I thought something had happened to my wife and kiddo.
My heart stopped.
Then, I thought something must have happened at a trans march. It never occurred to me that it would be an act of antisemitic violence.
With the few minutes I had in between conference sessions, I looked up “attack” and “violence” and learned of the shooting at the baby naming at a synagogue near Pittsburgh.
A baby naming?
We had just had a baby naming. It was such a special gathering. It was where my baby got her Hebrew name. Friends and family were there. People flew in from the East Coast to celebrate our little one. Our Rabbi was there. Fellow Jews and gentiles alike witnessed the celebration. It was one of the most special moments in my life as a Jewish adult; I was there as a Jewish mother, welcoming my child into the Covenant.
I barely remember driving home today.
I left early from the conference.
I couldn’t sit there a minute longer away from my family.
Saturday is Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of rest, and instead of doing no work on my weekly holiday, like I usually do, I was learning about how to be a better clinician worker bee. I was meeting new people, supporting friends, and, as a Member of the Board of Directors for the San Diego Psych Association, I made sure to also thank volunteers and appreciate people for supporting the work of the organization.
Today was also day of protest. There were rallies and marches scheduled in support of trans people and protests for 45’s memo about redefining gender as immutable as written about in the New York Times last Sunday. Instead of marching for trans rights, I was at a conference wearing my “I stand with trans students” t-shirt and talking about the importance of trans rights to anyone who would listen, including the people at my lunch table, colleagues I saw in between sessions, and volunteers at their organization’s information booths.
I wanted to be celebrating the end of the week with my family, at synagogue, in prayer, or at the beach, dancing in the waves.
But, as a Member of the Board, it was part of my responsibilities to be at the conference and since it is almost the end of my term, I knew I especially needed to attend in support and in appreciation of the immense amount of work that went into creating the conference.
There was no announcement made about the shooting at the conference. Why wouldn’t they tell us? Were we Jews not important enough to share this new violent incident with psychologists and other mental health professionals? Or did the organizers want us to learn about substance use unencumbered by the latest news of gun violence? Or, as a friend aptly mentioned, did they not know about it? (I’m going to hope that they didn’t know about it.)
Whatever the reason, I COULDN’T TOLERATE being around people who also had no idea that this violent act had occurred. I asked friends if it was okay if I shared about something new and terrible that had happened and once I got the okay from the people around me, I shared the news. I approached my Jewish friends first. We hugged and had a moment of silence as we contemplated what this meant for our lives as Jews and as clinicians.
Everyone around me was chatting away or nibbling on snacks provided by the conference organizers. There was laughter everywhere and no one looked the least bit out of sorts, like I felt.
Eventually, I realized that I was not able to be emotionally present at the conference for a second longer. I couldn’t focus when I had been able to before. This wasn’t about ADHD. This was about reacting to a traumatic event that felt so close to me, even living 3000 miles away from the actual crime scene itself.
I made it to my car eventually. I walked more slowly than usual. I wasn’t sure where the parking lot was for a second. My phone had lost all battery so I hadn’t been able to learn about the rising death toll of the synagogue attendees. I got to my car and started charging my phone.
Eventually my phone turned on again and I checked. 11 dead.
I took a deep breath and let it out.
I reminded myself that I was physically safe and that I needed to focus my attention on driving home so that I could get there as safe as possible (driving in Southern California is usually an adventure).
I started driving.
I couldn’t feel. I wanted to be home. Where had all this traffic come from? I felt like it was blocking me from home.
I couldn’t reach my family on the phone. I wanted to magically leap home. I couldn’t. I didn’t remember the reasons why I wanted to escape to home, just that I needed to.
Suddenly, I remembered why I wanted to go home so urgently, and I began to tear up.
I started retching. The physicality of the emotional pain gripped me.
I took another deep breath and kept driving, trying all that I could to get home safely so that I could see my beloved ones. I was lucky. I got home safe and sound. My baby was waking up from a nap. My wife’s arms were ready to envelop me in a hug. I sat next to my people and tried to be present with the lives in front of me. I was partially successful.
And then, as usual, my disbelief that on my holy day, someone killed my kindred, turned to anger, and then, to sadness, to disbelief again. I felt really scared and isolated.
I felt too scared to go back to synagogue, even though I usually love connecting with others there. I felt like I did on 9-11 when it felt like a huge act of resistance to gather with other Jews and pray. Today, I kept thinking, “What if it had been my family who had died today? How did I get so lucky so as to be here, writing a post, rather than directly affected by this heinous crime.”
As I contemplated my good luck,
I remembered that I identify as a survivor.
I remembered that as scared and targeted as I have felt at times, that I have always sought to connect with my communities and that no matter what, I would chose life over the isolation and fear of being targeted for being Jewish and/or queer and/or trans-identified.
My communities have come together after the deaths recently and from long ago to pray and to stand in solidarity. Relatively recently, there has been the death of the young woman at the Tel Aviv Pride March (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33752111) ; the murders at Pulse (my blog posts from my individual practice are here at https://www.doctorabi.com/search?q=pulse ); the Parkland shooting, and the deaths of activists marching peacefully, let alone all the other horrible school shootings and work shootings. After all, the shootings that are fresh in my mind are but a few community deaths we all have mourned together. We’ve lost so many beloved ones and still, we have continued to work for peace and justice. In these moments, when I learn of another black or brown person is killed by racist acts or the death of a queer youth or the demise of a family member, I have experienced seemingly endless times of mind-altering pain. Even when I scream at the incredulous horrors of my world and my faith shifted and wavered, I always come back to my roots and my spiritual and religious home(s). I go to synagogue when I need a congregation to rally with me and around me and a place to sing familiar melodies. In the past, I needed a spot to go and cry until no more tears came. And, you know what, I will return to synagogue again even though I’d rather weep into a pillow, alone because for me, it is best to take my pain to synagogue and to social justice action.
Therefore, I pledge to go back to synagogue as soon as I possibly can and to take my kiddo and family there again too. I pledge to take a stance against injustice wherever I see it. I pledge to stand up for others who are victims or survivors of others’ malice. I plan to be louder and brighter and bigger about Jewish life and to remind myself of these moments, when people try to convince me that antisemitism doesn’t exist.
This is my story and mine alone. You might have a totally different response to today’s shooting. And that is okay. I wanted to share my perspective because as a human being and a queer and Jewish human being who is a psychologist at that, and I wanted to model that it is okay to feel however you feel or don’t feel after a tragedy.
I encourage people to reach out to trained others for support. Call and make an appointment with a licensed therapist, psychologist, or mental health clinician in your area. If you are in the San Diego County area or live in California and can get to our area, I’d be delighted to support you personally. (I also offer tele mental health services for those who live outside of the immediate area but are still in California or those mental health clinicians who want to consult.) Please contact me to schedule an appointment using the orange rectangular scheduling buttons at the top or the bottom of the page or click on this sentence to be taken to our scheduling portal.
Attend a support group. Gather with friends and connect over how you are doing. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Eat as healthfully as you can for your body. Talk with a medical professional about the best ways for you to stay or become healthy physically. Keep your precious self clean through showering or taking a bath. Take care of your physical environment too; tidy your space and do your laundry and/or wash your dishes. There can be something very healing for people to do concrete activities to take good care of themselves.
I scoured the internet and came across some resources for how to heal after the aftermath of a mass shooting. These are not so much focused on the current tragedy, rather, on the ones that came before. As always, this is general advice; please get support from your own licensed clinician or medical provider and please listen to your intuition as well in order to honor what is best for you.
The American Psychological Association gives some tips here: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx
A psychology graduate student, Skyler Jackson, MS, gave more than 100 such resources and links to even more resources back in 2016 in response to the Pulse shooting https://psychologybenefits.org/2016/06/29/100-plus-resources-for-the-aftermath-of-the-orlando-mass-shooting-tragedy/
The Jewish Jconnect.org has some more ideas on how to support yourself as you wade through the latest mass shooting. They focus on the Parkland shooting but there are many links that apply to this tragedy as well.
In grief, sorrow, and in hope for peace, justice and full healing,
Dr. Abigail Weissman