A seemingly common reaction to the shooting that occurred in a Pittsburgh synagogue this past weekend is to be rendered completely unable to articulate one’s emotions, feelings and thoughts on the events. The profound and cavernous grief of confronting the deaths of 11 innocent people, asserting their right and desire to openly and honestly express their faith in a place of worship, is almost too much for the human spirit to bear. Our hearts and bodies ache with the mere thought of the loss being felt by each of their loved ones. We grow heavier with each new article, tweet or post vividly recalling the full and rich lives of the ferociously generous, kind, brilliant, beautiful souls that fell victim to an act of pure terror, fueled only by hatred. More than anything, we hope they are at peace.
Anti-Semitism, however, has unfortunately always had a place in our society. Although many argue that hatred towards the Jewish people, whether outward or unconscious, ended with the fall of Nazi Germany, the lived experiences of our Jewish brothers and sisters and the events that tragically unfurled at Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning illustrate the ongoing presence of this deep prejudice. It should not take a crime of this magnitude for anti-Semitism to appear real to those who have not experienced it themselves. Simply said, we are confronting a deeply devastating reality that has been the fear of many Jewish people for a very long time.
This incident was not isolated. College campuses, often held up as beacons of progressivity and safe spaces for all, are not uncommon locations for anti-Semitic acts and gestures. On campus, nearly 13 percent of the student body is Jewish. Last year, a poster was put up outside Kirkbride Hall that displayed a slogan popularized in Nazi Germany. The administration did not provide a response to the verbal act of violence against Jews. This, however, was not surprising. Often, the connotation of Jewishness with the concept “other” or “less than” is too attached to the collective American mindset to even warrant a response from people in positions of power.
It is nearly impossible to address this act of hatred without considering the political context that we are currently being forced to inhabit and internalize. Our unabashed, unashamed president has never shied away from fiery rhetoric, encouraging division and hierarchy among U.S. citizens. He has repeatedly illustrated a blatant disregard for the principles upon which this country was founded, instead opting to cater to his racist and conspiratorial tendencies.
Trump’s response to the tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., where a neo-Nazi protest led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer last summer, was that violence had occurred on “both sides.” There are far too many instances of Trump’s complete disregard and disdain for Jewish and minority communities to list here; however, his leadership, or explicit lack thereof, and divisive rhetoric is undoubtedly one of the reasons that hate crimes against Jewish people and other minorities have been on the rise since his election to the presidency.
How many vigils must we attend, candles must we light, posters must we make, times must we chant “never again,” for it to be enough? Trauma has become commonplace. Our broken country no longer understands what must be done to heal, because of the pervading, nightmarish knowledge that this will happen again and again.
In the years to come, it is easy to imagine that this will be referred to as one of the darkest periods in American history. That is to say, only if we make it out alive. Those of us who approve of or merely allow for the hateful language utilized by our president to occur without resistance or continue to breed and believe conspiracy theories that are based in racism and anti-Semitism should be ashamed, to say the least, that they have personally allowed us to get to this point.
Even though hope for our future may currently seem a foreign concept, it is important to ensure that there is no literal or figural space for racism, bigotry, prejudice or anti-Semitism in our society. Denounce the president’s rhetoric, have uncomfortable political conversations with loved ones and vote unresponsive and complicit politicians out of office on Nov. 6. Do not forget Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irvin Younger.
If you are overwhelmed by the torment and despair of this tragedy, know that you are not alone. Find peace wherever you can and take all the time necessary to heal your mind and body. Reach out to Jewish people today. Do not do it because you feel like you should, but because showing love, empathy and compassion for those who look and pray differently than you is the only path forward.
Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the editorial board, led this week by Alex Eichenstein. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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