What follows is a statement regarding the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that I wish I had posted last week. The fact is that it took me a full week to grieve, then to recognize that, as a candidate, I needed to respond, and finally to find the right words for that response. Here is that response:
In the wake of the recent shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, I am compelled to speak to one of my platform points: “supporting vulnerable populations for the well-being of all.” During this campaign season, Livermore residents have wrestled with problems related to the homeless, a vulnerable population which is at extreme risk.
Yet there are other vulnerable populations: the elderly poor, those living with different types of disability, and those at risk for hate crimes. The recent shootings of African-Americans and Jews tragically brought home the vulnerability of that last group. This October, it was Jews and African-Americans; next week it may be another minority group. Regardless of place, regardless of group affected, I believe that we are all stronger and better when we support each other in our times of need. And I believe that starts with our elected leaders.
Two years ago, I began wearing a kippah, a skullcap. Other minorities are identifiable by skin color or clothing; my minority status is hidden unless I choose to reveal it. The kippah made me visibly Jewish. One month later, someone vandalized the Hanukkah menorah in Livermore’s Bankhead with a white sheet and a crown of barbed wire. The message was clear and deeply hateful, yet it seemed an aberration in Livermore, where my kippah raised only curious questions rather than censure.
Yet Livermore is not an island. In August of 2017, the Charlottesville White Supremacists rally took place. Within a day, Livermore residents—200 strong—attended a vigil condemning hate. This summer, the Families Belong Together rally drew almost 400 Livermore residents, standing against the cruelty of separating children from parents. I moderated both events, because when one vulnerable group is a target, we stand together to mourn, to love, to protest. That’s what it means to be part of a community.
On October 27, eleven Jews attending synagogue services were shot. It was the worst hate crime against Jews in American history and it was the climax of a very bad week that included bombs sent to prominent critics of the current administration and a white supremacist shooting two African-Americans.
The shooter targeted the Tree of Life synagogue not only to kill Jews, but also because the congregation supports HIAS. Founded 130 years ago, HIAS helps refugees around the world find safe homes and build new lives in freedom and dignity. Tree of Life’s support for HIAS was both deeply Jewish—Jews know what it means to be refugees—and deeply communal—we humans are made to care for each other. None of us know when it will be our turn, all of us are stronger when we care for each other.
The Pittsburgh shooting brought that reality home. Sunday evening, October 28, my congregation hosted a memorial for the victims of the Tree of Life shooting. More than 200 people attended, both Jews and non-Jews, sharing grief, comfort, and support.
Earlier that day, I sat at a meet-and-greet in Rincon Park. I spoke with a Latino man, a laborer. He was an immigrant and a voting citizen, poor perhaps to the point of homelessness. He told me at great length how the police unfairly harassed him because he was Latino. I believe that the Livermore police force works to cultivate an attitude of compassion. I also know that in this, as with other city issues, perception and feelings are all that matter. This man didn’t want me to explain the goals of the police force. He just needed a listening ear. With no resources of his own, he had a seemingly simple request: would I, a white woman with the time, resources, and ability to run for office, speak on behalf a poor, Latino man?
That was the most daunting question I have yet received during this campaign. And yet there was only one answer I could give: I would do my best. How could I not try?
The two events of the day—mourning the dead while being supported by others and being asked to represent someone who felt powerless—exemplify what it means to “support vulnerable populations.” It means standing in solidarity with others. It means listening without judging. It means representing all the voices who need to be heard. Is it possible? How can I—how can we—not try?