On Oct. 26th, I pressed submit on my Early Decision application to Barnard College. The press of one button took my future out of my hands and into the hands of an admission counselor. It took a weight off my shoulders and allowed me to just breathe. The next morning, I sat in my synagogue as 11 Jews were killed in the Pittsburgh shooting. It was a surreal weekend that left me speechless.
Just months earlier, there was a shooting in a school in Parkland, Florida. Students like me were targeted. I sat in class the next day wondering: what would I do if someone came in with a gun? Would I be a victim? Would I lose my best friend, a classmate, a teacher, a sibling? These questions and more filled my head, but the one thing I did know was that I felt vulnerable as a student. How could I make this feeling go away? How could I change the system? Marches were held across the country, and I participated in one with my synagogue community, making sure my voice was heard.
Now, over eight months later, we are in the same situation. I stood in the back of my synagogue with my mom, listening to our Rabbi tell us the horrific news: a synagogue was targeted. I thought—will my synagogue be next? Will I have to hide my Judaism for my own safety? Is there anywhere that I can feel 100% safe? These concerns and more continued to fill my head, including that now, as both a Jew and a student, I felt even more vulnerable than before.
On the first Shabbat after the Pittsburgh shooting, I was able to pacify some of these concerns. I walked into my synagogue ready for normal Shabbat services, and there were chairs filled to the back of the room. I had never seen so many people show up for Shabbat services. I was proud to be there, with my family and my Jewish community, showing our support for each other.
I chose Barnard because of its supportive community, strong Hillel and dedication to activism. For my whole life, I have been a part of communities, many of them Jewish, that have made me who I am today. I am hopeful and excited to be both Jewish and a student at Barnard, where I can celebrate my Jewish identity at Hillel events. I look forward to joining other Barnard students in doing acts of tikkun olam, making the world safer and more just. I might not ever feel completely safe with the current gun laws and rising anti-Semitism, but I do know that I am, and will continue to be a part of, communities that are always there for each other.
Liora Reiken is a senior at White Plains High School. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.