People gathered to hold a prayer session Monday afternoon at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6 at the Tree Of Life Synagogue.
People gathered to hold a prayer session Monday afternoon at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6 at the Tree Of Life Synagogue. Jeff Swensen / Stringer
On October 27, a man named Robert Bowers broke into a service at my family’s synagogue in Pittsburgh and began firing. Because, in his own unminced words, he wants to kill all the Jews.

At 9:45 in the morning, there weren’t as many people in the Tree of Life synagogue as there may have been at, say, 10:15 or 10:30. That’s because Jews are always, always late to services. Robert Bowers probably didn’t know that. I would say "thank God," but I am not yet at the point where I can give thanks for a man screwing up the calculations required to carry out his evil mission efficiently.

Everyone who’s Jewish knows that Jews are bad at going to services in general. I am, you are, my mother is, your father is. None of us go as often as we should. The services, not to victim-blame, don’t do themselves any favors: They are always at least half an hour too long, they’re in a language that you can sort of read thanks to seven years of Hebrew school but you don’t understand the words, and you’re always a half-second late on the eye-covering or the heel-lifting and then you feel self-conscious because again, you should be better at going to services.

High Holidays services—that’s Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, for the goyim—are when you go. Those are the Days of Awe, when you sing dirge-like minor-key chants that are actually happy and celebratory of new beginnings, you catalog all the bad things you’ve done throughout the year, and if all goes according to plan, you’re inscribed in the Book of Life. That means you get to live another year. You like to have that reassurance even if you know it’s not literal, so despite missing fifty-odd services that year, you show up to those two.

That’s why on High Holidays services there are armed guards pacing back and forth in front of every temple I’ve ever gone to. It’s a precaution, you see, because a lot of people want to kill Jews. Ostensibly, these guards will stop them. And you want to protect the largest amount of people possible, so you hire armed security for the days when maybe ten times the normal amount of congregants will be there. It’s simple math.

October 27 was not a High Holiday. It was just a Saturday, a Shabbat—that’s Sabbath, for the goyim—and there probably weren’t hundreds of people there. It was just some Jews who wanted to sing some prayers and talk about the Torah, so there were no armed guards.

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Eleven people died. They went to services on one of the ho-hum days on which we’re all supposed to go to services but rarely do, because God doesn’t write your name in any books on a regular Shabbat. And since it was a normal day, there weren’t any guns at the door to keep guns out of the sanctuary. But they went because they didn’t have other Saturday morning plans, because they wanted to say hi to God, because they were just comforted by the dirge-like minor-key chants and liked to listen to them.

Eleven people died, because there is a man who wants to kill all Jews and he happened to decide that October 27, 2018 was the day he was going to do it. We did not plan for that day. We did not put armed guards outside to protect ourselves, because we thought it was a normal day. We did the math wrong, but the math was always wrong.

Eve Andrews (@eefandrews) is a writer born and raised in Pittsburgh and based in Seattle.