I was making a grocery list when the shooter opened fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

The initial reports on Twitter said there was a shooting in Squirrel Hill near a synagogue. I was mildly alarmed, but nothing to stop my day.

Then the tweets said there was a shooter inside the synagogue.

I rushed to my computer and started the WPXI livestream — the local news channel I grew up watching. They said there was an active shooter situation at Tree of Life with potential hostages.

October 27, 2018 (10:42 a.m.) Text to Jason Cell: “Is tree of life your synagogue?”

I wasn’t that concerned. I knew my brother, Jason, sometimes attended services in Squirrel Hill, but what were the odds he was actually there?

I never thought the answer to that question would mean the difference between life or death.

No response.

(10:42 a.m.) Call to Home. No answer.

Still no big deal. I went back to my dual screen of the WPXI live feed and Twitter. Now there were reported fatalities.

The Cheerios from earlier that morning were climbing the back of my throat.

(10:47 a.m.) Call to Dad Cell. No answer.

Still not panicked. Maybe he didn’t hear the phone.

(10:47 a.m.) Call to Mom Cell. No answer.

Now I’m scared. Where would they be?

(10:50 a.m.) Text to Lauren Silver: “What the hell is happening in squirrel hill?”

No response from my sister-in-law.

The reporters said a baby naming ceremony was going on when the shooter opened fire.

My niece’s naming. I’d forgotten.

My brother and his wife had a baby girl in June. The ceremony was delayed, but it was today. I had forgotten. What was the name of their synagogue? I couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t I remember?

I thought I knew what fear was. I was wrong.

I always understood that there was a good chunk of the population that hated Jews. In middle school, a group of football teammates cornered me in the locker room and said they were going to finish what Hitler started. It came with the territory of often being the only Jewish kid on the team.

But they wouldn’t shoot up a prayer service, would they?

Even at Northwestern University, anti-Semitic frat brothers made jokes and tried to start fights with me simply because I was Jewish.

But they wouldn’t slaughter senior citizens celebrating Shabbat, would they?

While I was living in Philadelphia, after law school, vandals destroyed hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery.

But they wouldn’t unleash an assault rifle at a baby naming ceremony, would they?

It all seemed too unfathomable. But in a way, it wasn’t. The hate was always simmering in America.

All I could do was wait. If my family was inside Tree of Life, I likely no longer had parents or a brother. My mind went to very dark scenarios.

Then the phone dinged.

(10:53 a.m.) Text reply from Jason Cell: “Temple Sinai.”

Dear Lord. They were all less than a mile away at a different synagogue in Squirrel Hill. I will have a chance to meet my niece and and hug my family again.

I later learned that my cousin Ina Sable was a regular attendee at Tree of Life. She would have been there, likely shot dead had my parents not asked her to come to Ella’s ceremony at Temple Sinai instead.

(10:54 a.m.) Text to Jason Cell: “Freaking out over here. Never thought I’d have to worry about you in a synagogue of all places.”

Unfortunately, this is America. We do have to worry about our family members in houses of worship.

Nowhere is safe in America. But we do not have to let that fear paralyze us.

Otherwise, the terrorists have won. That’s what these shooters are. They are terrorists. They want us to second-guess attending religious services. They want us to ponder whether we should remove mezuzahs from our doors. They want us to keep silent as white nationalism infects society.

Don’t let them win. Live. Live with love, not fear. It’s the only way to put a stop to this madness.

Steve Silver is a resident of South Portland.

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