On multiple occasions, I’ve been moved to tears while attending synagogue. Most of the time, this is because I’m overwhelmed with the love I have for my people and my culture. However, sometimes it’s because I’m imagining that a Neo-Nazi is about to walk through the doors and begin shooting. On Oct. 27, my worst fear and that of many others became reality. At the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a shooter, Robert Bowers, killed 11 congregants as they attended Shabbat services and a bris, which is a ceremony where a baby is given a name and is circumcised. What was supposed to be an intimate celebration of new life was turned into a massacre in a span of 20 minutes. The most terrifying aspect of this tragedy is that it could have happened to any synagogue. All it took was an antisemite with a gun, a weapon that is readily available to those in America who may wish to do harm.
The Jewish community across America and the world is grieving this tragedy. Many gentiles, who are non-Jews, have been supportive of us in these trying times. My synagogue is currently overflowing with flowers from a diverse group of Henderson County citizens.
Even with the outpouring of support, a startling number of people are mistreating this shooting and are using it as a discussion opener for gun control. While I believe that this is an important issue, it’s not the main one at hand when addressing the Pittsburgh massacre. Bowers was enabled by poor gun control, but he was driven by hate. That is why antisemitism needs to be the primary focus of politicians and activists in this case.
Amidst the other problems of this nation, such as racism and homophobia, antisemitism has been pushed to the background of America’s mind. Jews, who only make up two percent of the United States population, are the victims of over half of the religious hate crimes committed yearly. Those who aren’t Jewish tend to see each Jewish hate crime as an isolated event, failing to recognize the severity of antisemitism.
Just last year, Neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia and chanted “Jews will not replace us.” More recently, Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, called Jews “Satanic” and supported popular conspiracies such as Jews controlling Hollywood and the government.
Only a day after the Tree of Life shooting, a person on social media said that a positive outcome of the killings was that it prevented a baby from being circumcised. This antisemite, who remained anonymous, truly felt that the murder of 11 Jews was justifiable due to their own uninformed beliefs. Another user, hiding behind their anonymous status, asked whether the victims were Zionists, or essentially, if they supported Israel. If they were, then the user wouldn’t mourn them.
This mentality, that a Jew’s value is based on whether or not they support Israel, is prevalent across America. People assume that there’s some tie between American Jews and the Israeli state, and while that might be the case for some people, it isn’t the overall trend. This assumption is antisemitic because one would never ask someone of German descent how they feel about German politics. Because of this preconceived connection between Jews and Israel, people feel that they are entitled to know where we stand on the Israel/Palestine conflict, and thus judge us based on that. Again, the problem with this is that no one ethnic or religious group is held to this same standard, except for Muslims.
On a smaller scale, I see antisemitism almost every day. I hear it when people perpetuate age old stereotypes, such as Jews being greedy and controlling, because they don’t feel like it does any harm. On the contrary, a man just walked into a synagogue and declared that all Jews should die. This shows that words and actions do matter. All of these hateful events show an alarming pattern that everyone, not just Jews, needs to pay attention to.
The Tree of Life shooting serves as a stark reminder to the rest of America what Jews already know: that we are still just as targeted as ever. This shooting needs to inspire discussions on why hate seems to thrive in today’s culture, and what has to be done to change that. Philosopher of science Karl Popper, who is of Jewish descent, famously said that to create a tolerant society, we must not tolerate intolerance. To apply this to modern day America, we can no longer let hate speech be Constitutionally protected. In order to create a safer America for the Jewish community, we must address the cause of the Tree of Life shooting, as well as every other Jewish hate crime, which is not gun control. Rather, it is the antisemitism that has plagued the United States for decades that must come to an end through activism and government reform. I’m tired of having to worry about being killed for my ethnicity and religion. I’m tired of being afraid to be outwardly Jewish in case a Neo-Nazi takes notice. America is long overdue for a stand against hate to ensure that a tragedy like the Tree of Life shooting never happens again.
By: Sarah Monoson, Feature Writer