July 24, 2024
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July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Pittsburgh Revealed the Galut in My Backyard

I am the first to admit it: When I think of the concept of galut, I think of my personal galut. I think about my personal struggles and the yeshuot I daven for myself and my family. While I have a strong Jewish identity, I sometimes have a difficult time identifying myself, and davening, as part of our bigger nation. And what’s harder to believe is that I live in a national exile.

Perhaps it’s because living here is easy. When doing my Erev Shabbat errands I am wished “Good Shabbos” by everyone I interact with—both the Jews and non-Jews alike. For better or for worse, I live in a cocoon I have personally woven and kept tight. I don’t feel like I live in an exile like the Jews did in the time of the Yevanim (Greeks). But now I feel as if I was naïve because I felt that Jews are indestructible. We have risen so far in America and have seen so much success for Jews in both the economic and political sectors.

But now the world is different. I now live in a world where a person walked into a shul and killed people only because they were part of the same nation as I am. Even as I write this, I still can’t believe it happened. Over the past couple of days it has been brought to my attention that there are more hate crimes reported in this area against Jews than any other minority. How could that be? Am I so self-absorbed in my own personal galut to realize that Jews so close to me are being persecuted? I guess I am. After the shooting in the shul in Pittsburgh I want to believe that has changed. That I have changed.

We know from our history that our nation has experienced a galut from the time of Mitzrayim, but as much as we daven for Mashiach to come, am I the only one who’s pretty comfortable and is kind of nervous of how my day-to-day life will be once Mashiach is here and we have a Beit Hamikdash? (I’m the person who hasn’t even gone to a Nefesh B’Nefesh meeting. And when I hear about kids sleeping in bomb shelters in Israel, I still can’t truly relate, even as I feel my heart should certainly be bursting.)

I’m comfortable where I live here and I imagine that most readers are pretty settled as well. We’ve got all the conveniences to make living a Torah-oriented life pretty seamless. Often when I daven for Mashiach I’ve adapted the prayer to be asking for a personal yeshua and not for the ultimate yeshua for our nation. What makes this whole experience even more heartbreaking is that it took 11 Jewish lives lost in order for me to have a wakeup call. Did Hashem literally have to cause pain and death to many complete strangers so I can be reminded of my vulnerability as a member of klal Yisrael? That I must daven for our nation and not just myself?

There was an op-ed a few weeks ago in the New York Times written by a Jewish mother like myself. She referenced this phrase she kept hearing over and over again immediately following the shooting: “There are no words.” And I heard it too. So many of us just couldn’t even fathom what we were hearing. She continued by pointing out that it was her children who responded with, “Of course there are words.” It’s our children who have to remind us that this is all part of our own history of the Jewish experience. And how often we become too comfortable in our day-to-day lives that we forget that there are still people who just hate Jews.

Growing up we had a neighbor who used to tell her children each morning as they left for school two things: Do a chesed and make a kiddush Hashem. This person and her family made the ultimate kiddush Hashem when she made aliyah about 15 years ago. I used to think it was so corny, but as my own daughter started school I carried on the tradition. I’ve come to realize that living your life al kiddush Hashem is easier said than done. It should be a constant in our lives that we really are a part of something larger than our own personal lives. By no means is this meant to negate our personal struggles and those of our peers. But now, more than ever before, we have to strengthen our identity.

We are in the midst of reading the parshiyot of the birth of our nation and its development. From a young age we are told the stories of our avot and imahot and how they struggled with their developing their identity with so much adversity. Now more than ever we have to examine our original leaders to continue to inspire us to empower our identity.

May the neshamot of the 11 kedoshim be a meilitz yosher on behalf of all Jews.

By Rachel Zamist


Rachel Zamist has lived in the Passaic community for the past 32 years and has watched it grow and transition. She is the beaming mother of Mimi, a student at Rachel’s own alma mater, YBH.

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