People mourn the loss of life as they hold a vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018.
(photo credit: JOHN ALTDORFER/REUTERS)
There is no Right or Left when assessing the reasons for how the groundwork could be paved for such a horrendous act as Saturday’s Pittsburgh massacre.
In the worst mass attack on Jews in US history, 11 people, most of them worshipers, were killed when a gunman, apparently poisoned with timeless anti-Jewish tropes and vitriol, entered the Etz Haim Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill suburb of Pittsburgh and opened fire. When he was eventually subdued by police, he declared “all these Jews need to die.”
The shooter, Robert Bowers, has an active life on alt-right and antisemitic social media platforms, where he frequently engaged in Jewish conspiracy theories and trolled Jewish groups.
As the tragedy unfolded and Israelis became aware of the news after Shabbat on Saturday night, there was a sense of experiencing a death in the family. Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he would depart immediately to Pittsburgh, meet the local community and participate in the funerals of those killed in the attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video message Saturday evening saying, “The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead. We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.”
Opposition leaders like Avi Gabbay and Yair Lapid emphasized that although the attack took place in a Conservative synagogue, when Jews are targeted, the attacker is not looking at affiliations.
“If you are murdered for being Jewish, you are Jewish,” said Lapid, in a dig to those in Israel who do not recognize non-Orthodox Jewry as valid.
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There is no Right or Left when determining how it’s possible in 21st Century America – built upon the foundations of religious freedom and equality for all, where Jews have enjoyed unprecedented opportunity and enjoy unlimited access to all forms of American society – that there are still people who are intent on completing Hitler’s Final Solution.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s horrendous attack, while the victims’ bodies were still warm and identities unknown, there were those who couldn’t restrain themselves from immediately pointing fingers.
Some made a direct correlation between the hate crime and the policies and rhetoric of US President Donald Trump, claiming that through his “good people on both sides” of the Charlottesville march in 2016, he unleashed the gates of white supremacy and neo-Nazi Neanderthals to roam freely with the complicit acquiesce of the land’s top office.
Those who see things differently need only refer to the recent speech with its accompanying viral video by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – who has long fanned the flames of antisemitism in the US – in which he compared Jews to termites and called them stupid. In an earlier speech in May, he talked of “Satanic Jews who have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.”
Jew haters like Farrakhan have infected American society for decades, and mass killings that target specific minorities are not an invention of the Trump era.
People can tweet until their fingers fall off about the inappropriateness of Trump saying that positioning a security guard at the front of the shul would have prevented the attack from taking place, or about the proliferation of assault weapons in the US.
American religious institutions certainly do have to take a long, hard look at the realities and start providing professional protection for their worshipers. It shouldn’t be a political debate, however, but rather one of how to most safely secure innocent people in public places.
But it seems like in today’s America, that’s almost impossible. No matter which side of the political spectrum one identifies with, there’s a convenient and convincing argument that cynically exploits the deaths of the Pittsburgh Jews to put forth their own agenda.
However, there is no Right or Left when innocent Jews are slaughtered, simply for being Jews. There are only names of victims, who should be mourned and in whose name any person of compassion and moral clarity should forcefully shout out in voice and in action: NEVER AGAIN.
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