On the ‘shloshim’ of the Pittsburgh massacre

Pittsburgh was not an anomaly. It is consistent with every pogrom, every massacre, every holocaust that has befallen most every Jewish community over the span of 2,000 years.

November 22, 2018 21:18
4 minute read.
On the ‘shloshim’ of the Pittsburgh massacre

Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 3, 2018. (photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)


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Thirty days ago this Monday on the 18th of Kislev, I found myself spending Shabbat at a close friend’s in Teaneck, New Jersey. That morning the journalist took me to the end of his block to one of the many synagogues in his neighborhood, where milling about were congregants with walkie-talkies keeping an eye on the building; bollards surrounding the main entrance; and at the intersection there stood a police car blocking traffic.

“What does this say about American Jewry?” I asked him.

He didn’t know what to tell me, only that a lot of synagogues in town had beefed up their security in recent years.

Two hours later, the massacre of Pittsburgh took place.

That night he wrote a column trying to answer the query. “In a week in which a crazed Trump fan was arrested for sending pipe bombs to liberals and CNN,” he wrote, “and a year in which there were over 150 mass shootings, I am not sure what any of this says about ‘American Jewry.’”

He misunderstood my question.

I wasn’t asking about today, I was asking about tomorrow. Not about the state of American politics and the Jewish American community in 2018, but what will be the state of the Jews in two years or six years from now, when Trump will no longer be president. In 50 years. At the turn of the next century.

What I saw in America the week following Pittsburgh was scary – the extreme degree to which everything is politicized, where there isn’t a single topic that does not get filtered through the prism of the Democrat/Republican divide, or more specifically, the pro-Trump or anti-Trump divide.

The venom is everywhere. What more need be said, that when a president of the United States was coming to pay a shiva call, he was told not to come? How comfortable Jews in America must feel if they can tell a president not to pay a shiva call. Perhaps too comfortable?

I moved to Israel from the United States 27 years ago, but have returned often to visit. Time after time I saw the growing disconnect between the Jews living in Israel and the Jews living in America, a different weltanschauung played out on almost every subject.

Israel, it has long been argued, should never become a partisan issue. But from where we sit in Jerusalem that ship sailed long ago, and that gap only gets wider with little prospect of narrowing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew it on March 3, 2015, when he stood before Congress and told them how we in Israel saw the Iran agreement: a flat-out existential threat in which the deal was being negotiated with a country that openly pledges to destroy Israel if given the opportunity. When such a deal is being negotiated, shouldn’t the country most likely to be affected by it be sitting at the table, especially if that country is your ally?

But the Jews in America? They sided with the Democrats.

“We’re becoming two different communities,” everyone has been warning for decades. And so it has come to pass. It’s not surprising, really – we see things from our neighborhood that is completely different than yours. Our priorities are not your priorities, your interests are not our interests.

The age of Trump has exacerbated the divide, yet at the same time has brought into sharper focus where the fault line is drawn: Trump the Republican is by definition a disaster for the Jewish American community, which votes over 70% for Democrats. That is their loyalty.

To the Jewish Israeli community, however, he is a gift from heaven, with no better example than the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Who could have imagined 50 years ago that American Jews would simply shrug their shoulders in response to the US declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, the capital of the Jewish people.

Which brings us back to Pittsburgh, and the 30-day shloshim period marking the end of the first month of mourning for the 11 victims of the massacre.

Pittsburgh was a tragedy, a great tragedy for America but an even bigger tragedy for the Jewish American community. It is a snapshot of 2018, but an even bigger snapshot of Jewish history.

Pittsburgh was not an anomaly. It is consistent with every pogrom, every massacre, every holocaust that has befallen most every Jewish community over the span of 2,000 years, and not only ancient history but this century’s history as well, in places like Paris, Toulouse, and Brussels.

It is easy to believe in the eternal exceptionalism of the United States, because it has been like that for 242 years. But the Golden Age of Spain lasted 350 years, and Jews lived in Poland for 900. There is little guarantee that even such a welcoming state as America can live on in perpetuity. Based on history, odds are it won’t.

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