Pittsburgh and the Zionist Idea

May the memories of these 11 innocent Jews be blessed. May their lives be remembered and their story retold.

By
November 6, 2018 19:55
3 minute read.
Pittsburgh and the Zionist Idea

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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The murder of 11 Jews while praying in their synagogue on a Sabbath morning stunned America. The visceral reaction of Americans to this depraved act is still apparent days later – the story continues to dominate newspaper headlines, talk show discussions, online chats and radio commentary.

The impact of this attack will continue to drive conversation around Shabbat tables in Jewish homes across the world and discussion at after-prayer communal kiddushim for weeks to come – and rightly so. This attack was beyond shocking; it was cataclysmic.

The story of this barbaric act of is resonating just as loudly in Europe. Why is Europe so enthralled with the story? There are two reasons. The first is shock and dismay. Second, is that Europeans need to prove to themselves that Europe is not the only place where antisemitism lurks.

Israeli media focused on the crime are asking an all-important question: the Zionist question. Is it is still safe for Jews to live in America as Jews?

The original Zionists advocated leaving the Diaspora because of the dangers in the Diaspora. The United States was an exception, a Diaspora country where Jews were supposedly safe. The United States had no real history of Jewish oppression. There were no mass movements of antisemitism that in any way paralleled antisemitic movements in Europe and Muslim lands. There was no expulsion, there were no massacres. Antisemitic acts were few and scattered around the country. While some antisemites were more public and open about their views and some even held respected positions in society and government, most were closeted and quiet. Unlike their parents and grandparents, the Jews of the United States had never been turned into major victims.

The historical reality is that at the time of the mass exodus from Europe, many more Jews fled persecution and immigrated to the United States than did those Jews who escaped to Palestine to fulfill their dream of building the nascent future State of Israel.

The most significant and motivating force for Zionists thinkers and activists throughout the years has been antisemitism. Not simply the idea that people hate Jews, but the actual threat to Jewish lives and a gnawing and growing fear that there is no Jewish future in the Diaspora.


If Zionists ever needed support for their thesis, now they have it. The date is Saturday October 27, 2018. The place is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States of America. This attack, perpetrated on that Shabbat morning, called the assumption of safety for US Jews into serious question. Inspired by the act of one bold and hateful antisemite, the entire community of Jews in the United States is now at risk.

The very fabric of the United States, and even more so, the fabric of the Jewish community in the United States, has begun to fray. Certainly, the notion of complacency within religious life – Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian, has vanished. The notions of safety and security are being challenged. Is the United States any different than all the other places in the world where Jews lived and where they were persecuted? Is it?

The 11 men and women were murdered because they were Jewish – for no other reason. Seldom in the 242-year history of the United States has it been the case that Jews were murdered for that reason alone – because they were Jewish.

This act of mass murder against Jews in the US does not mean that the Jewish community is at risk. Despite this evil act in Pittsburgh, the Jews of America are not suddenly living for fear of their lives, but the horror, the questions and hopefully the outrage, will be with us all for a very long time.

May the memories of these 11 innocent Jews be blessed. May their lives be remembered and their story retold.

The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.

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