In Judaism, when we lose a loved one, we are given a framework for how to navigate mourning. We are given a structure for how to deal with the overwhelming grief, the confusion, the devastation that comes with mourning the life of someone who has touched our soul. Jewish ritual holds our hand, tells us don’t be afraid, we will get through this together. In the first seven days after a loss we are given the space to be overwhelmed by grief, to retreat from reality in order to be overcome by sadness before returning to a world without. Before returning to a place of strength.
This week, I have been sitting shiva. I have been sitting shiva for the 49 lives lost in the Orlando shooting. I have been sitting shiva for Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright. I am remembering their names, reading their stories, and mourning their loss.
But in the wake of this tragedy, in the sadness of my mourning, I have been disappointed by the rhetoric of the Jewish organizations I am devoting my life and my work to. I am disappointed by the community that as a queer body, I have always had the privilege of feeling safe, feeling loved in. I am reading words like “radical Islam” and “terrorism” and my heart is sinking. By elevating the image of ISIS terror, we are minimizing the impact this act of hate has on queer communities, specifically queer people of color, trans folks, and those most often forgotten and ignored in our society. So while this tragedy might feel familiar, might remind us of the Tel Aviv shooting just a week prior, it is not familiar, Orlando is not Tel Aviv.
The worst mass shooting in U.S history happened at Pulse Nightclub, a gay nightclub, on Latinx night, a night celebrating folks who disproportionately are victimized, exploited, forgotten in our society and religious institutions. Queer people of color (QPOC) and queer trans people of color (QTPOC) are pervasively marginalized by faith based organizations, often told they are “less than” in the name of God, in the name of Jesus. To the victims of Orlando, to the queer community, the gay bar often fills the gap where religious institutions have forgotten them, serving as a spiritual haven where theirs might have cast them aside, when they were told God wasn’t listening to their prayers. This attack was an attack in a queer house of worship, in the space where queer people are told, come as you are, you are accepted here.
Love thy neighbor as thy self: a lesson I have been taught by Jewish institutions my whole life. In our rhetoric, we are doing our neighbors a disservice. We are perpetuating hate by not highlighting the stories of the victims, by not adding their names to our yahrzeit prayers, by only calling this tragedy an act of terror instead of what it truly is: a hate crime against the most vulnerable of minorities, carried out by an American citizen, empowered by US laws. We are erasing the queer, Latinx identities of those most affected by the Orlando shooting.
So where do we go from here? In Pirkei Avot we read “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” How do we use our Jewish values to ensure that this tragedy does not happen again? How do we love our queer communities, our communities of color, as we love ourselves? I believe we can start by sharing their stories. By not allowing history to rewrite or forget what actually happened at Pulse that night. By empowering those for whom society removes or minimizes the voice of.
In just a few, short days, when the period of sitting Shiva is over, I am having a difficult time imagining how to return to a place of strength, how to enter back into reality, when that reality is filled with so much hate. This Shabbat, if it is your custom, as is mine, to reflect on the week prior and plan for the week to come, I hope you join me in learning and understanding the stories and voices in the wake of this tragedy so that we can begin to reshape our reality. Try to turn away from mainstream news outlets and instead choose one or two (or all) of the articles below. Read the words from QPOC and QTPOC. Learn the names of the victims. Send love to your neighbors most deeply affected.
This year we are slaves; next year may we ALL be free.
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