Just two weeks have passed since a shooter killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. While the rest of the world is moving on to the next big story, the Jewish community is still mourning. As a Jewish student at Georgetown University, I have spent these past two weeks attempting to wrap my head around what occurred — but I am still struggling.
While devastating for the entire Jewish community, this hate crime has been particularly difficult for me to cope with. My best friend from high school is the grandson of Alvin Berkun, the former rabbi at the Tree of Life synagogue and a current congregant.
Dressed and ready to walk out the door that morning, Berkun had to take his wife to the hospital after she had a bad fall. That was the first Saturday in 35 years that he missed synagogue.
Every Saturday, Berkun sits in the same seat.
The people in front of him, to his left and to his right were the ones killed.
When I chose to attend a Jesuit school, I knew I would face difficulties because of the small Jewish community on campus. But, to my surprise, the difficult part about being Jewish at Georgetown has not been the lack of representation but rather Georgetown’s failure to address issues that affect different religious communities.
Last year, as I began my four years at Georgetown, vandals drew swastikas in bathroom stalls and on hallway walls across campus. Students and faculty talked and wrote about it, but as soon as the story was told, the incidents became old news. Though it seems like everyone on campus continued with their lives normally, the Jewish community was neither able nor allowed to. We had to be more careful about our surroundings and cope with the fact that many of us did not feel safe at our own university.
In the days following the shooting, I received several text messages from my non-Jewish high school friends telling me that their thoughts were with me, even before they knew that Berkun was affiliated with the synagogue. Yet only one friend at Georgetown reached out to me to see if I was okay, and none came to stand with me at the brief mourning service in Dahlgren Quad.
I am not mad — I know my friends here care about me. However, they do not realize that caring for me extends to caring about issues that affect the Jewish community, even if the events do not directly involve me.
During the mourning service, Georgetown classes continued, practices were held and lives went on as normal. No one knew to care about the shooting because, despite the mourning service that was announced through one email by campus ministry, Georgetown did not do anything to highlight the importance of this tragic event.
A campus that cares more about the return of a famous alumnus like Bradley Cooper (COL ’98) than a tragic hate crime affecting many members of the community must re-evaluate its priorities. Not only did University President John J. DeGioia fail to attend the mourning service due to a business conflict, but he made no attempt to address the community himself.
When drawings of swastikas and synagogues under attack do not affect your safety, it is easy to push them out of your mind. But some students and faculty on this campus —perhaps your close friends and mentors — fear for their lives. Positive messages chalked in Red Square and Facebook posts are important, but they are not enough.
The Jewish community feels itself under attack yet again, and I now regret all the times I did not speak out for those who could not do so themselves. I urge you not to make the same mistake I did.
Even if Georgetown’s administration does not work to keep students informed, everyone must become more aware, stand by their friends and speak up. It is time for all of us to take initiative about the things that truly matter.
Lizzie Hyman is a sophomore in the College.