The mass shooting that took place this weekend at the Tree of Life Synagogue was personally devastating. Although a Jew, I have been fortunate to never have been the victim of anti-Semitism. I grew up in a tolerant town, the schools I went to embraced racial diversity, and as an adult, I was never subjected to mistreatment because of my faith.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for Jews across America. When I first heard about the shooting in Pittsburgh, I was heartbroken, somber, and like many, felt a sense of numbness because these tragedies happen so frequently. But it wasn’t until I read the list of the eleven victims from Pittsburgh that I was shaken to the core.
Joyce Fienberg, age 75, Rich Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, brothers Cecil, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, wife and husband Bernice, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69.
I had tears running down my face. These were parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters who were attending a baby-naming ceremony, something I will also attend in a couple of weeks. This happened to my people. This could have happened at my synagogue.
Part of me felt selfish and horrible for shedding more tears for these victims than the victims of the other shootings. But perhaps it’s human nature to feel stronger emotions when such a massacre occurs in your own town or to your own race or to your own religion. Black Americans might have felt similarly after Charleston; LGBT Americans might have felt similarly after Orlando. It wasn’t just senseless violence from a psycho––it was deliberate hate targeting your existence.
Anti-Semitism Still Festers In Our World
Jews around the world have hoped that widespread anti-Semitism was put behind us after World War II. It would have been naïve to think it was eradicated completely, but, in recent years especially, it does seem to horrifically be making a comeback.
Between the rise of hate crimes against Jews in the United States, the abominable headlines we often hear about Jews being murdered in Europe, the animosity on college campuses fueled by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, to the white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville last year, anti-Semitism had made itself known, yet there was never any national dialogue about it. It has been sort of brushed under the rug.
Anti-Semitism is a societal cancer that needs to be addressed, and it’s one of the very few issues that affect both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, the high-profile individuals who spread hateful rhetoric towards Jews aren’t shamed out of the public eye. The fringe left has Louis Farrakhan and Linda Sarsour, the fringe right has David Duke and Richard Spencer.
We set different standards for how they’re treated. Spencer gets punched in the face while Sarsour leads the Women’s March and pals around with celebrities and prominent Democrats. One president gets criticized for not immediately denouncing Duke’s endorsement while another president is allowed to appear alongside Farrakhan at a funeral without facing much condemnation. Yet all anti-Semites should be shamed and those who associate with them called out.
The question that we still grapple with as a society is how to end anti-Semitism. Frankly, that’s an impossible task, as is exterminating hate and pure evil from the world. They will always exist, but there are things we can do, many of which start at home. Spreading kindness to others, accepting those with different backgrounds and beliefs, and defining good from evil are lessons parents can teach their children just as my parents have taught me.
In The Age Of Social Media, That’s Not Enough
In the wake of these attacks, the digital footprint of these maniacs always leave breadcrumbs that suggested their hateful rhetoric could escalate into action. Yet hate speech is protected under the First Amendment and bigots have a constitutional right to bear arms just like anybody else.
We must do a better job at taking threats made on Facebook and Twitter seriously. That doesn’t mean, however, that the solution is to ban anti-Semites from social media. Kicking Farrakhan and Duke off of these platforms will only make them and their followers fester in the darkest corners of the internet. We must be able to differentiate who is hateful and who is a threat––something we continue to fail to do.
In the meantime, we should hug our loved ones tighter, mourn for the families impacted by the Pittsburgh shooting, extend olive branches toward people of different cultural backgrounds, and preserve respectful dialogue about how we can prevent such massacres from happening again.
If we want positive change, it’s on us.