I walked out of the synagogue just a few minutes before the assailant arrived.  I walked out the same door that the assailant tried to break in and shoot down, the same place where he brutally killed Jana L.  If I had walked out a few minutes later, I would not be standing before you today.  

What happened: 

After the Yom Kippur morning service, I decided to take a walk to get some fresh air.  I left my prayer book in my pew thinking I would be right back in that spot in just a few minutes. 

I walked out of the synagogue. I had nothing on my person except my clothes and my scarf.  I do not carry my phone or money on Yom Kippur.  I walked out the synagogue door, took a right and ended up in the Park Nordfriedhof across the street. 

If I look at the map, I probably crossed over Humboldtstrasse to Schillerstrasse, Herder-/Hollystrasse and then over Paracelsusstrasse and sat down on a bench in Park Nordfriedhof. I could see the water tower. 

I don’t know what time it was exactly, but I heard a loud noise, then it was quiet again for a short time. Then another loud noise and then silence again. I could hear the shots and I was close by. I didn’t know what was going on, but my impression was that it was not good. The sounds came from the direction of the synagogue. I thought something had happened, I did not panic but thought I was personally safe sitting on the bench for the time being. I did not see anything, I only heard the shots. 

About 20 – 30 minutes later I decided to go back to the synagogue. When I came back the police were already there and everything was locked. Many people were standing around, the police did not respond to my inquiries as to what had happened. I tried to explain my situation. They told me to leave the place. I said that I had no phone or money with me and everyone I knew in Halle was in the synagogue. 

I had no phone or ID cards with me because it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year and we do not carry phones or money on that day. Those items remained in the hotel where we stayed the night before. 

The police were still looking for the perpetrator. It was still a dangerous situation in Halle. The police recommended that I leave the area, but all the people who I knew in Halle were in the synagogue.  I did not know anybody else and did not know where to go, I tried repeatedly to explain my situation to the police, but to no avail.

Eventually, the president of the synagogue came out of the synagogue and explained to the police officers that an American woman was missing from the group inside the synagogue. The President had been informed by Yaffa F. in the synagogue that I was missing. I had not told anyone that I wanted to get some fresh air.  Yaffa F. realized I was missing and informed Max Privorozki.  At that moment the local police matched my details with those given by the president and I was allowed back into the synagogue with him. We re-entered the synagogue through the door at the cemetery. I do not remember exactly at what time I came back in, but I think it was sometime between 12:20 – 13:00. 

After the attack

The few days after the attack were tolerable – I still felt like myself, but then things began to unravel and feel like a blur – it felt like a major setback in my life. It was the Jewish New Year – I had so many goals and dreams for this new year, for my career, and for relationships in my life. Now, I felt a return to my teenage years. It was hard to perform everyday tasks. Just getting through the day became difficult.  Stress and anxiety plagued me at every turn.  

I then saw a mental health professional who diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. 

After many months of professional therapy, help from my friends and family, Faith and my own sheer determination, I entered a new phase, a new dawn.  I was feeling strong and powerful. I was returning back to myself.

I returned to be the person who is a builder of Jewish life, a person who is a builder of bridges between faiths, between people and “their other”. I returned back to be a person who has hope in humanity.  And still does. 

I know people’s attitudes and perceptions towards others can change. As an example, I coordinated a beautiful Kabbalat shabbat – Friday night prayer service at an interfaith conference.  One woman of another faith was crying. She said. “I was taught to hate Jews my whole life – I had no idea Jews were so joyous.”  I still have hope.

Survivor and Family Resilience 

I hear that the assailant is a Holocaust denier. He believes that 6 million Jews were not slaughtered by the Nazis. 

My grandfather survived the Holocaust. He was the sole survivor of his immediate family – his mother, his father, his three young brothers, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins – all exterminated. Over 100 relatives were killed in the holocaust. 

For so long, my grandfather was the only survivor in our family.  On October 9, 2019, I, too, joined the ranks of survivors. I stand alongside him. The strength that I exhibit today comes from my family’s faith and resilience. I do not just represent myself today.  I represent the generations of the Jewish People who came before me, and all of those who will come after me.  

I carry with me to the witness stand a picture of my grandfather and me.  I was his first grandchild, the new link in the chain that was almost completely broken. I was the sign of hope for our family. From the minute I was born, I became his greatest joy.  He was determined to shield me from all evil. 

Despite the evil he endured, he always exuded life.  He was a cantor in the synagogue, the one who led and chanted the Jewish prayers and liturgy, especially on Yom Kippur. He would sing Jewish songs to my siblings and me and in this way ,taught us to love Judaism. That is why home for me is the synagogue. Home for me is everything Jewish.  

Every Yom Kippur eve, my grandfather would bless me with the traditional blessing of the children: he would place his hands on my head and with tears in his eyes say:

May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה

Yesimech Elohim k’Sarah Rivka Rachel v’Leah

May God bless you and protect you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha

May God show you favor and be gracious to you.

יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו  אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka

May God show you kindness and grant you peace.

יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום

I will not speak directly to the assailant, but I will leave him with this:

He messed with the wrong person. He messed with the wrong family. And he messed with the wrong people. 

After today, he will no longer cause me any more personal turmoil. It ends today.