Reflecting on anti-semitism after Pittsburgh

By ARIELLA SHUA | November 1, 2018

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I hate that these words need to be said.

A massacre against Jewish people took place last weekend. An armed shooter entered the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha synagogue, yelling that “all Jews must die” as he broke into the Saturday morning prayer service. Eleven members of the congregation were killed and six were injured, including three police officers who responded to the scene.

The attack took place in Pittsburgh — in America, a country that consistently prides itself on its acceptance of diversity in religious beliefs. It was a Saturday — Shabbat, the Sabbath day, the day of rest for the Jewish people. It was Oct. 27, 2018 — approximately 14 months after a group of neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Va. chanting “Jews will not replace us,” after which a riot broke out one block away from the city’s only synagogue.

The response was immediate. Some cast blame on the attacker’s ideologies, while others began speculating how to avoid future hate crimes. Questions also arose: Why did this happen? Who incited this man to violence? Could this have been prevented with different gun laws in place or with armed guards at the door?

I myself heard of the attack from my parents around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, less than two hours after it occured. Some Jewish people, unable to check their phones on the Sabbath due to religious law, did not find out until the Sabbath ended that evening. Many religiously observant Jews did not get a chance to react to the event, let alone formulate a statement, until hours after the rest of the world had a say. Though it is ironic that many Jews were inadvertently left out of the immediate conversation, at least members of the community from all sides of the religious spectrum are able to speak out now and have been doing so.

It seems that few have been politicizing the issue. The world has recognized the horror of the incident and is in mourning. The respect and grief have been overwhelming in a way that is absolutely justified. Our campus, too, has commemorated the lost lives. Hopkins Hillel, Chabad and the Interfaith Center hosted a vigil Tuesday night, attended by over 100 people.

It sickens me to think that my own reaction, when I saw my parents’ text, was shock and anger, accompanied by the thought, “Oh, okay, another attack.” That I wasn’t stunned and speechless is terrifying. That I felt like an attack on Jewish people in America wasn’t completely out of the ordinary is scary to realize. I was more surprised by the fact that this is the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. I was more surprised that nothing worse has happened in the distant or recent past.

Maybe it is because I have close connections with many Jewish people (over 750 of my Facebook friends, for a general idea), and when an attack on Judaism or Jewish expression occurs, I hear about it almost immediately. Maybe it is because the Jewish institutions I grew up with speak out every time an incident, deadly or not, takes place. Maybe it is because I remember all too well when, nearly two years ago, 2000 Jewish Community Centers in the U.S. received bomb threats, including the one less than a five-minute drive from my house.

In those cases, none of the threats came into fruition, and all were traced back to the same mentally disturbed individual. In this case, the ominous statements the shooter posted online became all too real.

To those who are wondering what actions they must take, there is no clear-cut answer. But there are a few things that everyone must do.

Admit that hate still exists in this country now. To say that this event happened and then just move on would be a mistake. Admit that there is hate, and keep doing so until it is eliminated. Admit that this is not just one sick individual acting out on his craziest whims. He had an online community to commiserate with. His statements on globalization have nasty ties to Jewish stereotypes. He acted alone last weekend, and hopefully none will follow him — but that chance cannot be taken.

And remember, too, that the perpetrator of the crime is a person as well. He has been labeled as a monster. While his actions were horrific, disgusting and inexcusable, he is not a monster. He is a person: a person who thought that shooting a synagogue was the right course of action to take, a person who told the police, even after he had been apprehended, that these Jews deserve to die. If we forget that someone, in their humanity, was able to commit such an act, we put the perpetrator on a different standard. He is monstrous, but he is a person who was willing to take such actions.

Remember those who lost their lives at a service, on the Sabbath. Remember their names, their ages, where they were. Remember that it happened here, in this country, in this year, in our time. Remember, so that it does not happen again. If you have thoughts and prayers, this community would welcome them. The congregants themselves were praying when they were mercilessly killed.

And remember, too, that it does not build from nothing. Hate is a weed, carefully grown, planted as an unnoticed seed and watered overtime, sometimes intentionally, sometimes indifferently. If you see hate — and if you’re not sure if a statement qualifies as a hateful one, then it very well might be — stomp it down, now, before it becomes greater deadly action. One case is more than enough.

May those who were affected by this tragedy be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Ariella Shua is a sophomore from Livingston, N.J. majoring in Writing Seminars. She is the Your Weekend Editor.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, N.C. The Unite the Right Rally took place in Charlottesville, Va. 

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