Little did we know what was happening at that very moment in a virtually identical Shabbat service, in a synagogue just like ours, in the middle of an almost mirror-image neighborhood. The worst mass murder of Jews in American history. In a Pittsburgh synagogue that could very well have been ours.
And why? Because they were Jews.
I've been living with Jew-hatred my entire life. Almost as soon as I realized I was a Jew, my parents were carefully explaining to me what that really meant. That strangers who knew nothing about you would single you out in all sorts of subtle and unsubtle ways, and it would color your entire life.
For the record, I love being a Jew, and my parents nurtured that sense in our home. I love being part of a community that's been upholding its traditions for thousands of years. I love how that community circles around those in need, how the doors are always open and the light that emerges from inside is warm and enveloping. I love knowing that as I do my thing in my community, Jews around the world are doing the same thing in theirs. We're connected.
And here's the thing: it doesn't stop with Jews. Stand in the middle of any faith-based community and you'll see - and feel - similar stories playing out. It's why I feel so at home visiting churches and mosques, and why I do what I can to learn about their traditions, as well. Because understanding breeds strength. And stands against the forces of hatred that would threaten us all.
And yet, time and again, our being different is used against us, as if we deserve to feel fear because we had the temerity to not be among the majority. I can still feel the sting of being called a dirty Jew by a French Canadian kid who knew nothing about what made me, or my community, tick. I remember the fear when bomb threats were called into our Jewish school, standing across the street in the middle of winter while we wondered why anyone would want to hurt us.
At the age of 5, it was a sobering wake-up call.
And now this, the latest in a long line of attacks against people just like me. Simply because they were Jews. Because hatred won that day, as it did when six members of Quebec City's Muslim community were shot to death in their mosque last year. Because in all of these cases, someone chose to believe the lies perpetuated by others over the years, centuries and millennia instead of taking the time to speak, to connect, to learn.
Anti-Semitic acts have been skyrocketing worldwide - and in our own backyard - for the better part of the last half decade. Is it political? Draw your own conclusions, but it's hard to deny at least some connection between leaders who encourage violence and replay historic patterns of discrimination and the acts of a relative, murderous few whose triggers may have been set off by that same rhetoric. Discuss among yourselves, but we'd be naive to believe hatred happens in a vacuum.
We're blessed here in London to be surrounded by faith-based communities that have reached out in the aftermath of yesterday's massacre. Their words of support and comfort give me and others hope that perhaps tomorrow will be better than today.
But all the dialog in the world won't change the chilling reality that 11 people just like us were murdered because they went to shul on a Saturday morning. Because they were Jews. Or that I when I go to shul next week with my daughter and the rest of our family, the shadow of what might happen, because we're Jews, will hang over us all. It never ends, and humanity never seems to have the wherewithal to learn from history.
The vigils - including a number in our community - are already being scheduled and held around the world. As ever, we'll hear cries of enough, and never again. But nothing will change. Because those who hate will never be part of that dialog. And those who lead will never have the courage to do the right thing.