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 October 27, 2018, my worst fear and that of many others became reality. At the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a shooter killed 11 congregants as they attended Shabbat services and a bris. 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 anti-Semite 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 grieved this tragedy. Many gentiles have been supportive of us in these trying times. In the days after the shooting, my synagogue was overflowing with flowers from a diverse group of our town’s citizens.
Even with the outpouring of support, a startling number of people are mistreated 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. The shooter was enabled by poor gun control, but he was driven by hate. That is why anti-Semitism needs to be the primary focus of politicians and activists in these case.
Amidst the other problems of this nation, such as racism and homophobia, anti-Semitism has been pushed to the background of America’s mind. Jews, who only make up about 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 anti-Semitism.
Just two and a half years and ago, 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, an anonymous source on social media said that a positive outcome of the killings was that it prevented a baby from being circumcised. This anti-Semite truly felt that the murder of 11 Jews was justifiable due to their own uninformed beliefs.
On a smaller scale, I see anti-Semitism 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, and the subsequent attacks on Jews all over our country, 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 about 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 maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” To apply this precept 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 root cause of the Tree of Life shooting, as well as every other Jewish hate crime, which is not gun control. Rather, it is the anti-Semitism that has plagued the United States for decades, and 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. The Tree of Life shooting illuminated problems within the United States that go beyond gun control. A thread of deep anti-Semitism runs through some of society, and it is imperative that the country takes a stand to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.
This piece was originally published on Wingspan.
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