Out Loud


by Olivia Baker, Co-Editor in Chief

I never said it out loud until this year. Maybe it was Parkland, or Charlottesville, or when Trump casually uttered the word “globalist” at a Houston rally that urged it forth. In any case, I said it that afternoon in the glow of the stained-glass windows. I had been thinking about it for a while. I was thinking about it as I turned the corner and faced Lakeshore Drive. I walk briskly because my family is always late to services and it’s windy and I can never remember my jacket.

The synagogue takes up one block on its eastern face and half a block on its northern and southern face. In fourth grade I learned that a city block is 660 feet long. I don’t think we have a metal detector when we walk in like the other temples, because if there is one, I can’t see it. The men in the black suits and the wires in their ears look at my ticket and look at me. I recognize some of them. Maybe they recognize me too, or maybe they just see it in my nose or my eyes. I look behind me before I walk in.

The synagogue fits 1,350 people.

I sit on a red velvet chair in the back corner because we’re always late and there are barely any seats left. I don’t really follow along in the book. I look around for familiar faces. Sometimes I stare at the ceiling. We always joked at Sunday School that it looked like a Hershey’s Kiss because it’s shaped like one and it’s cracking a little bit.

There are seven exits.

It’s noon so we leave the next time the Rabbi tells us to rise. I meet my friends by the staircase and the main entrance and the glass stained windows. I watched a documentary about Kristellnacht in a dingy classroom a few floors above. It told us that 267 synagogues were destroyed that night. “I feel like it’s kind of easy for someone to come in here and, you know, like…” I can’t finish because it’ll frighten them and I don’t want to do that. They tell me they think about that too. “There’s good security,” one of them says. But I’m anxious. I think there’s an inside job with the security, that they’re coordinating a lock-in through the wires in their ears, that they used their façade to infiltrate our place of worship and execute their plan to kill us. The receptionist laughs with the janitor, and I think they’re in on it, too. I want to tell him to please keep an eye on the entrance. Please don’t look down.

We’re not particularly religious and my dad has work so we leave the service early. I thought about what I said near the stained glass window as we drive home. I didn’t plan on saying it because it’s as if saying it aloud would desecrate my memories of the temple, that I would subconsciously go back into my memories and rebuke myself for how foolish I was to be so heedless of the hatred some have for me. I didn’t plan on saying it because I didn’t want to give someone the idea.

It’s October 27th, I’m straightening my hair, and I get the notification that there’s a man with a gun in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, so I hold my breath. I’m half prepared for it. I listen to the livestream and clamp my hair with the iron as the death toll rises. They said a Holocaust survivor was murdered so I turn it off.

The number on my grandfather’s arm was 99237.

I never really had hope. I didn’t need it because demolishing Jewish cemeteries, anti-Semitic rants on lowbrow internet platforms, and swastika graffiti under overpasses are normal to me—givens. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have an emotional reaction. I saw on Facebook the day after that director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Wasi Mohamed, gave a speech at a memorial service. He said that Jews and Muslims are family in spite of historical tensions. He offered to walk us to the grocery store. To guard our synagogues. To serve us whatever we need. He said small things. Solace came from a place I least expected, and I sobbed.