October 27, 2018 will forever be marked in infamy. On this day, on what should have been a typical day marked for observance of prayer and rest, an anti-Semitic terrorist armed with a semi-automatic rifle entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He killed eleven people, and injured at least six, including fours officers who responded to the scene of the crime.
The shooter had allegedly entered the building and shouted, “All Jews must die!” before opening fire on his victims. This event is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
In this day and age, this traumatic event has come as a shock but not a surprise, especially considering the political-social rhetoric surrounding ethnic/religious minority groups in this country, and particularly since the inauguration of Donald Trump into office.
Reports of increased hate crimes since the last presidential election in 2016 has been steadily marked by research facilities such as the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism who’ve noted in that “in America’s six largest cities alone, hate crime increased from 431 to 526, or 22% for partial year 2017.”
The account reports spikes in hatecrimes targeting ethnic/religious minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, with “significant variability by cityregarding the most frequent targets, with African-Americans, Gays and Jews the most common.”
In this country, Jews have often seen a precarious position between privilege and marginalization.
On the one hand, there area variety of us who possess light-skinned privilege, particularly Ashkenazi Jews, or Jews of Eastern European heritage, many of whom do not face the level of racial targeting that people of color do. However, this does not erase the existence of Jews of color, who face both anti-Semitic micro-and macro-aggressions as well as racialized prejudice.
Furthermore, alt-right groups in their definition of “white supremacy” have not associated Jewish people in this category, as seen in the targeting of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally.
As a Jewish person, this matter is linked to me on a very personal level. My parents and grandparents were born and raised in the Soviet Union in what is today known as Ukraine. They came to this country in order to gain better economic opportunities as well as escape the anti-Semitic prejudice that had classified them as second-class citizens.
Watching the news as a Jewish woman in this time and place in America, I am more constantly aware of the way my privileges linked to being light-skinned American grant me access to certain opportunities more than others.
I also know those privileges can easily be taken away by those who include me as part of the “foreign other,” or not pure white Christian America, someone like Robert Gregory Bowers, the Pittsburg shooter.
After World War 2, waves of Jewish immigrants traveled to the United States to escape the horror they had seen in Europe and find a better life for their descendants.
As the part of the last generation able to have contact with Holocaust survivors and hear their live testimony, it is part of our job as American citizens to be more aware of the hateful rhetoric coloring the speech of individuals, like Robert Gregory Bowers, or even politicians in office, and demonstrate that those ideas should not define America, a home to many immigrants.
Through political action and activism, including voting, rallies, journalism, etc., America needs to acknowledge its dark history of prejudice that continues to be present today and make an active choice to do better.
- “Jewish Resources for Coping with Acts of Terror”: Our ongoing list of evergreen resources to be used in the wake of tragedy includes:resources for parents and educators, resources for prayer, and resources for action. It will continue to be updated on an ongoing basis, during this incident and others.
- “Prayer for the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh”: The above roundup includes a number of prayers and pieces of liturgy for us at this time, but additionally, Reform Jewish liturgist Alden Solovy wrote this new prayer – an acrostic – to be recited in the aftermath of this specific tragedy.
- “Resources for Coping after the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shootings”: Following the attack in Pittsburgh, the Union for Reform Judaism has shared a roundup of resources for educators, clergy, and other synagogue professionals.