September 16, 2019

I’m Really Starting to Lose It: Remarks on El Paso and Dayton

A mourner takes part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3. JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ August 04, 2019

Something is happening to me. Every day, I worry whether I’ll be a victim of a gunman with a manifesto.

I know that more Americans drown in bathtubs than die in mass shootings, but in this case, emotions outweigh statistics.

I’m devastated for the families of those who were killed in recent mass shootings. And I’m really starting to lose it.

I recently waited with our toddler for 20 minutes to enjoy a trolley ride at the Grove. When it arrived and the passengers got off, I stood paralyzed because I saw a duffel bag on one of the empty seats.

“Mama, come!” my son yelled as he ran toward the stationary trolley. I almost tackled him to the ground before I heard the conductor ask, “Did anyone leave a diaper bag?”

Is it normal to mistake a diaper bag for an explosive device? I never thought so until I became a mother.

I had been trying to think positive thoughts. Then a gunman killed three people — including two children — on July 28 at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The next weekend, a suspected white supremacist killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart, and hours later, a gunman killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. I considered locking my family inside our home and bolting the windows. But my family could never tolerate being locked inside for a long period of time with me.

My anxiety has even compelled me to act as a de facto security guard.

Several months ago, I attended a talk by a famous Iranian women’s rights advocate, who is loathed by the regime. I carefully scanned the venue for the best seat, which, for me, is closest to an exit.

As I listened to the speaker defend the rights of Iranian women, I saw that one of the doors had been left open. I went outside and saw a young security guard.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Have you been briefed on who is speaking today?”

“What?” he responded. 

“She’s a public enemy of Iran,” I explained. “Could you at least make sure that the entrance is closed?”

He raised his eyebrows, pointed outside, and said, “Ma’am, look around you. This is West Hollywood. We’re safe.”

I couldn’t believe it.

He called me ma’am.”

He also invalidated my concerns. I wondered if anyone had ever said that about the city of Poway before the April 27 Chabad shooting.

Is it normal to mistake a diaper bag for an explosive device?

I began to lecture him. “That doesn’t matter.” I said. “Iran has spies all over the United States. Two of them were just discovered by the Feds. They were waiters in an Orange County restaurant and they were doing surveillance on Jewish communities.”

Seeing that I’d have to protect the 500 attendees myself, I crossed my arms, stood outside the room and tried to look tough, which, at 5-foot-2, isn’t easy.

Am I a candidate for anti-anxiety medication? Yes.

I also have seating contingencies for restaurants and parks, and don’t get me started on places where Jews congregate.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to have only one seating criterion for synagogues: Where could I nap without being noticed by the rabbi? But between anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, Israel and the United States, I’ve changed.

Before turning to medicine, mindfulness or aromatherapy candles, I wanted to know how Judaism tackles fear and anxiety.

Rabbi Dov Heller, who’s also a licensed therapist, offered me a spiritual antidote to what he referred to as my struggles with “generalized existential anxiety and threats to one’s personal survival.”

Heller stressed that comfort may be found in truly trusting God and knowing that “everything is in God’s control, and ultimately, we have no control over anything that happens in the world. If someone can truly live on that level and internalize trust in God, then one’s anxiety will go down and they will have more consistent peace of mind.”

I’m really trying to keep that in mind, but whether we’re talking about gun control or God’s control, it’s horrifyingly obvious that one (or both) of them needs to do something about the estimated 390 million civilian-owned guns in my country.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.