(Speech was given in Goettingen on October 13, 2019)

My name is Jessica and I was in the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur. And let me just put it out there, this is the hardest thing I have ever had to write, but I hope my message has a positive impact. 

First, I would like to take a few moments to remember those who lost their lives that day.

Jana Lange: A brave woman who confronted the gunman outside of the synagogue. She loved music and attended lots of shows and collected autographs.

Kevin S: Only 20 years old. He was having a lunch break at a kebab shop. He was a painter at a construction site and was a fan of Halle’s soccer team. 

I send my deepest condolences to their families and I hope that the souls of Jana Lange and Kevin S are resting in peace. They will never be forgotten. May their memories be a blessing.

It’s still hard for me to process all of this, as you can imagine. My thoughts are all over the place. On my way back to Goettingen the next day, I was thinking “I was almost killed by a neo-nazi. In a synagogue while praying during the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In Germany. In 2019.” No matter how many times I rephrase it in my mind, it still sounds unreal.

Sadly, this isn’t the first anti-Semitic attack this year. It has made a nasty global resurgence, with cases sharply rising over the past few years. At the moment, let’s focus on what’s happening in Germany alone. Just a week ago, a man tried to run into a synagogue in Berlin with a knife – and for reasons unbeknownst to me, was later released by the authorities. In July, a man wearing a kippa and Star of David was assaulted by two Syrian nationals in Potsdam. That same month, in Berlin, a Rabbi was insulted and spat at. A year before that, a 21-year-old Arab-Israeli man was beaten while wearing a kippa. Let’s also acknowledge that ignorant people are disrespecting the Holocaust memorial in Berlin by taking smiling selfies and jumping over the stones there – sights that break my heart every time I walk by it. This is more indirect of course but it still poses a huge issue in our society.

The gunman was hoping to spread fear, divide people, and inspire more attacks but we will unite and stand strong together to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. I know this sounds cliché but please LOVE ONE ANOTHER. If someone believes in something different, comes from another culture, has other interests – grab a beer and learn something new. Discuss. Grow. Just talk about it. At the end of the day, most of us are just human beings who aspire to live a comfortable life and achieve their goals. We need to work harder to create a more tolerant world (especially in these crazy times) and the fact that you guys all showed up here today speaks volumes – it’s a sign of hope and progress and from the bottom of my heart, I just wanted to say thank you all for coming.

If you want to do something and help, send letters to Jewish communities showing that you stand with them. Love one another (no matter the background). If you’re feeling brave, stand up when you see a hate crime happening. Visit Jewish museums and educate yourselves about what we’re all about. From Sephardi to Mizrahi to Ashkenazi to Beta Israel… we are a diverse group of people with so much history and yet we are all rooted to the same Torah. Be informed. And make racists afraid again!

Jewish life needs to thrive more in Europe, and to my fellow Jews (and allies), show up for Shabbat. Support the community. Don’t be afraid to go to the synagogue. I know it’s hard but we can’t let those who seek to destroy us win. I am proud of being Jewish and I will never hide it. Not after everything my ancestors have faced. Not ever everything I have faced. Not ever. We are a miracle.

Thank G-d for German gun control laws but now more than ever, synagogues need security. On our first day in Halle, our group asked the community leaders why there weren’t cops outside. They told us that it’s fine in Halle. It’s safe enough. And considering that it took 15-20 minutes for the police to arrive, it’s obvious that the lack of security and response time is sadly a huge flaw in the way things are run.

Thank goodness all of us were saved by a miracle – a locked door that wouldn’t open after being shot at dozens of times. It was thanks to that door (and the security guard watching the camera) that none of us were killed. It is because of this door that I am standing here today, giving this speech.

We were all still unaware of what was happening (including the fact that two people were killed). We were all just grateful to be alive. After the police arrived outside, we went back downstairs and continued the service. We sang with more passion than before and at one point, a woman turned to my friend and said “This is why the Jewish people will live forever”. Still unaware of anything, we were evacuated to the hospital and sang “Am Yisrael Chai”, or “the Jewish people live”, on the bus because we didn’t know what else to do. We only knew that keeping everyone’s spirits up and bringing light to darkness was the only way to continue – to persevere and process the trauma/confusion. 

We concluded the prayer in the hospital – singing and dancing, with the staff clapping along with us. One of the leaders of the group I went to Halle with, Rabbi Borovitz, said we decide when we conclude the prayer – we did not let those who sought to destroy us win. Looking back, that moment was a symbol of Jewish perseverance which is something that, in general, has been happening for thousands of years.

To conclude, I wanted to share a lyric from “One Day”, a song by Jewish-American artist Matisyahu, who had also been affected by antisemitism: “All my life I’ve been waiting for, I’ve been praying for, for the people to say that we don’t want to fight no more, there’ll be no more wars, and our children will play. One day. One day. One day.”

May that day come very soon. I don’t know how, but I have hope and faith that this day will come.

Thank you for listening.