On the six-month anniversary of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building, scores of people gathered at the site of the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history to mourn.
Crowds of Pittsburghers devastated by the attack have assembled dozens of time since Oct. 27, 2018. There were memorial services grieving the deaths and celebrating the lives of the 11 Jewish souls gunned down in the midst of prayer in the heart of Squirrel Hill. There were communitywide vigils for those murdered congregants of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light and Dor Hadash. There have been panels of experts espousing on the roots of hatred, a sheloshim commemoration and communitywide holiday programs. At each event, the sentiment that “love is stronger than hate” rang out strong.
As the months have passed, the vigils in Pittsburgh have continued, shockingly necessitated by new massacres on people of faith. On March 24 community members gathered at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland to remember the 51 people killed during the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. After 253 Christians were slain on Easter in an attack in Sri Lanka for which the Islamic State claimed credit, hundreds of Pittsburghers gathered again for an interfaith vigil on April 24 at Heinz Memorial Chapel.
Last Saturday night, a crowd came together again at Tree of Life to mourn the anti-Semitic attack that morning on a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, which left one congregant dead and three others injured, including the congregation’s rabbi and a small child. Another vigil was held for the victims of Poway Monday night at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Led by Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, those gathered for the vigil on April 27 at Tree of Life chanted the refrain of a familiar Passover song: “Dayenu.” Enough.
We have had enough.
Anti-Semitic attacks are not a new phenomenon for Jews. But this time, we are facing a perfect storm of being targeted not only by white supremacists, who view us as outsiders trying to “replace” them, but also by left wing extremists, who manipulate history to justify their contempt of Israel, and use that as a masquerade for their underlying hatred of Jews.
Two unrelated incidents just last week are illustrative of the pervasiveness of the problem, differing by degrees. The international print edition of The New York Times featured a cartoon taken straight out of the playbook of the Nazis of the 1930s, depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog with a Star of David on his collar, leading a blind yarmulke-wearing President Donald Trump. And a 19-year old murderer posted a white nationalist open letter to the far-right message board 8chan, then stormed the Chabad of Poway with an assault rifle.
In addition to the murders of 12 innocent Jews in the last six months in this country, we face almost daily news of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated or swastikas drawn on playgrounds and school bathrooms. Hate crimes against Jews in the U.S. rose 37 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the FBI. The Anti-Defamation League recorded a 60 percent increase in anti-Semitic assaults in 2018.
Are we less safe today as a community than we were on Oct. 26? There is no way to know for sure. But to pretend everything will be all right if we only “call out hate” or “stand together” is naive.
Until our government can figure how to resolve the profound conundrum of how to control the proliferation of internet-fueled anti-Semitism without stomping on the First Amendment, and how to keep murderous weapons away from would-be assailants while respecting Second Amendment rights, we implore our political leaders to find ways to keep us — and other targeted minorities — physically safe.
We also call upon the leaders of our national Jewish organizations to make community safety their number one priority, to determine how best to protect Jewish buildings and events so that they are less vulnerable to attack before we find ourselves saying “Dayenu” again. PJC