In the recent commemoration for the Princess Sophia sinking of 100 years ago, in describing the Sophia’s passengers the speaker repeatedly used the phrase, “They were us.” Their lives were our lives, those men and women and children, passengers and crew. They were southbound from Skagway and the Yukon during stormy October weather, just as those at the graveside service this past week stood in stormy October weather. They were us, those more than 350 people who died a terrible death on that ship with the tragic fate.
These words haunt me today as I contemplate the killings of Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh, killed by a hate-filled anti-Semitic American. They were us, they were worshipping in fellowship on their Sabbath with their congregation, in the safety of their synagogue. As I write this, I don’t even know the usual details that follow with stunning regularity these horrific killings: How many women, men, children. Four police officers were wounded. I’ll learn more painful details later, but what really matters right now is that they were us, their families are our families, their grief is our grief, their humanity is our humanity.
After the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a white supremacist rally, my husband and I, alarmed by the rising anti-Semitism and white nationalism in our country, reached out to our local synagogue and attended a service in solidarity with our Jewish friends and neighbors. We reached out to say that we stand with them, we are them. We reached out to stand with them.
My husband, with an openness that I am constantly humbled by, was so struck by one prayer during the service that he kept reaching out to Sukkhat Shalom, our Jewish community here in Juneau. He has been so moved by this beautiful and ancient tradition that he will soon be converting to Judaism. He will literally be “one of them.” I am not converting but I will remain right there with him, with them, with us.
This week with its mailed pipe bombs was terrifying already, and now we have beautiful, innocent people killed while worshipping in a synagogue. Both of these are hate crimes. This must stop. We must not allow ourselves to be numbed by this. We must not continue to make excuses and we must not tolerate hate and excuses. And we must hold those accountable who continue to tolerate this. And we must vote our conscience, vote with love and determination, vote with and for humanity.
• Michelle Bonnet Hale was recently elected to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.