In the fall, I’ll have to catch up with my high school students at a suburban Boston synagogue.
We’ll talk about their summer camps, youth group conclaves, trips abroad, visits to grandparents, work on farms. The standard Jewish teenage experiences.
In the fall, I’ll tell them that I worked all summer. Took a few days off at the beach. Saw family. Adulthood is so boring.
In the fall, we’ll catch up on current events. On the presidential election, Beyonce’s #Formation tour, Women of the Wall, the Democrats’ sit-in over gun control in the House of Representatives.
In the fall, I’ll have to update them about dead people of color, about 49 lost in Orlando, about Alton Sterling, about more than 200 Saudi Arabians. (They will know about the 13-year-old Israeli who died, horrifically stabbed in her bed while sleeping. They will bring it up because it will be a pain they can identify with. I don’t blame them.) They will have heard about the massacre at the nightclub in Orlando, but maybe not the others. They may recognize a name or a headline, but I doubt the leader of their Masada hike was paying close attention while keeping you all safe climbing a mountain.
We will dissect news and editorials. We will process guilt and pain and shame. We will ask how we can help, attempt to understand how, write letters and maybe lobby at the State House. We’ll talk about how the wide distribution of the video-recorded death of Alton Sterling was re-traumatizing for many people of color. We’ll watch Jesse Williams’ BET speech and realize that this is exactly what he was talking about.
We’ll wonder why we mourned for the massacre in Paris but not the summer massacre in Baghdad. But they will know why. They’re smart. They grew up in BrooklineBostonNewton and they get it, they’ve learned Social Justice 101 since kindergarten.
The night after the shooting at Pulse, a man was shot dead in Mattapan. Do they know where that is, I’ll ask? Can they point to it on a map? In fact, it is eight miles from their high school. There’s gun violence there too. And we’ll talk about the fact that gun control laws in this country disproportionately punish black folks. And we’ll try to figure how the law makes that happen. And maybe next time they go to the State House but they will think about it differently.
By the fall, there might be more bodies.* I pray there won’t be but history isn’t on my side. I’ll teach their names, but not the names of their murderers. Because we celebrate life in Judaism, I guess? Because I don’t know what else to do.
My challenges are nothing compared to the ones of my black, brown, Queer, Muslim colleagues. They are struggling to figure out how to stay alive in the face of mounting opposition to their existence. I am just trying to figure out how to teach young Jews about the tragedy of the day.
But my job is to teach them, the young suburban Jews, that attention must be paid. That justice must be sought. That peace is in their hands.
In the fall, we’ll talk about it. What a privilege to be able to wait.
*A tragic postscript: There was another body between drafts. #PhilandoCastile #SayTheirNames
**And now we mourn five police officers lost in #Dallas. May the bloodshed end soon.