A year post-Pittsburgh, we must combat antisemitism, unify and secure Jewish people

The Jewish Agency is hardly alone in this pursuit, as we are working with various Jewish organizations as our partners in combating antisemitism.

The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018 (photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)
The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018
(photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)
As if world Jewry needed another reminder of the dark cloud of antisemitism enveloping its communities, a neo-Nazi gunman’s attack in Germany on the Jewish people’s holiest day made the mounting security threat we face that much clearer.
For American Jews, the stark wake-up call came exactly one year ago in Pittsburgh, when the worst antisemitic attack in US history struck the Tree of Life building housing three synagogues. Six months to the day following that shooting, another synagogue attack occurred in Poway, California, on the final day of Passover. The Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, then, added to the acute, collective pain felt by Jews worldwide over the 14 deaths between those three attacks at our places of worship.
Yet as we commemorate one year since the Pittsburgh attack, it is crucial to acknowledge that this scourge did not begin with Pittsburgh. Nor did it begin in August 2017 with the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The hateful displays and physical attacks alike are unmistakable signs of a long-brewing worldwide epidemic of antisemitism.
The numbers, too, had already told the story. The Anti-Defamation League found that 2017 saw a 60% increase in antisemitic incidents in the US over the year prior. During 2018, violent antisemitic attacks rose 13% worldwide, according to Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center. And on October 23, the American Jewish Committee published a survey which found that 88% of American Jews consider antisemitism a current problem in their country, with 84% expressing that antisemitism in the US has increased over the last five years.
The deadly attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and Halle reinforced this frightening reality – a reality that spans continents, as evidenced by the recently surfaced photo of a 12-year-old Jewish boy in Australia who was forced to kiss the shoes of a Muslim classmate. Seemingly each day brings another harrowing headline, such as the anti-Israel graffiti discovered the other week at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in America’s capital.
Europe has endured the surge of violent and deadly antisemitism for the better part of this decade, from the 2015 attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, to the 2014 Jewish museum shooting in Brussels, to the 2012 school shooting in Toulouse. Following the watershed moments in Pittsburgh and Poway, American Jews now feel the inescapable threat to their way of life that Europe’s Jews have known all too well. From cyber abuse to street insults, to vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, to intimidation and threats in public, Jews around the world are living in a constant state of fear due to the simple fact that they are Jews.
THE OFTEN-FRAGMENTED global Jewish community needs, now, to refocus its energy on unity – the value that matters most in fraught and tranquil times alike. After all, antisemites do not discriminate when it comes to their victims, as those looking to harm us could care less whether we wear a kippah or to which synagogue we belong, if at all. In the face of this shared threat, the Jewish people must stand united in purpose and action.
Jewish Agency shlichim (emissaries) stationed around the world strengthen this unity on a daily basis, serving as a glue that holds the Jewish people together. Like Andrey Kogan, our shaliach on the University of Pittsburgh campus, who proudly lifted an Israeli flag at a heavy metal concert just 48 hours after last year’s Tree of Life attack, spurring the band’s leader to wrap the flag around himself in an inspirational moment of unity felt not only in Pittsburgh, but across the Jewish world.
A year later, our shlichim worldwide are joining the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) “Pause with Pittsburgh,” in which their communities will take a moment today to honor the memory of the Pittsburgh victims. At Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem, we’ve lowered our flags to half-mast. Today, the hearts of Jews worldwide are with Pittsburgh. These acts of unity strengthen our people, making the global Jewish community more resilient to threats and challenges.
Protecting Jewish life from hatred and bigotry is a central component of the Jewish Agency’s DNA. We are combating this surge in antisemitism by working closely with leaders across the globe to coordinate combating hate crimes against Jews, investing in education for tolerance and understanding, and increasing security for Jewish communities in need.
In fact, prior to the synagogue shooting in Halle on Yom Kippur, that very synagogue’s security equipment was upgraded by our Security Assistance Fund in partnership with New York-based Helmsley Charitable Trust – an upgrade which barred the shooter from entering the synagogue, likely saving dozens of lives of those inside.
I applaud the efforts of international organizations that publicly condemn antisemitism, such as the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion Ahmed Shaheed. Shaheed recently reported his findings on the growth of antisemitism on the political Right and Left, saying the trend of rising antisemitism is “toxic to democracy” and called on member states to invest in better education. Following the deadly attack against the synagogue in Halle, I, too, called on world leaders to combat antisemitism through legislation, enforcement and education, as well as ensure that security around synagogues and Jewish institutions receive high priority.
To Jews around the world, I call on you to unite together in these difficult times. The Jewish people are stronger together. Countless times throughout our history, we have survived against all odds. Neither will today’s challenges defeat us. We must take crucial, preventive measures to protect world Jewry and its institutions.
The Jewish Agency is hardly alone in this pursuit, as we are working with various Jewish organizations as our partners in combating antisemitism. Ultimately, counteracting this scourge of hate goes far beyond bolstered security. It starts within our own hearts and minds, through an uncompromised commitment to Jewish unity.
The writer is chairman of the executive at The Jewish Agency for Israel.