After 21 years of living in the United States and having never once been confronted with overtly violent anti-Semitism, it’s a strange and chilling thought to know that I was alive during the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. I can only hope that other oppressed minorities, progressive pursuants of social justice and staunch believers in the unalienable freedoms of religion and expression as ordained by the U.S. Constitution are all similarly distraught, outraged and chilled to their core by the mere fact that they too indirectly bore witness to the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of our country.
In a new era in which mass shootings are — like the outbreak of a yearly flu — unfortunate events we callously await, perhaps the utter shock I feel is naïve. Maybe my child-like incredulity is particularly naïve given that, just last year in Charlottesville, a hoard of white supremacists yelling, “the Jews will not replace us” received a lackluster condemnation from the commander in chief. Conceivably, I ought to have been prepared for such carnage in America given the reality from across the pond, where a mass exodus of Jews has taken place over the past 20 years, leaving behind ancient and increasingly empty synagogues that, if still in operation, are typically secured by armed guards, metallic fences and 24/7 video surveillance.
Or perhaps I should have foreseen such a massacre given the growing number of individuals who seek to enact violence against the State of Israel — the theoretical “safe haven” of the Jewish people.
I should have seen it coming. I should have noticed the trends. The mountain of damning evidence showcasing the growing issue of anti-Semitism ought to have prepared me for such an event.
Regrettably, my shock has turned into fear. I can’t help but feel an impending agony that the next Robert Bowers will enter my synagogue in Tulsa, Oklahoma; that next time my Rabbi will be all over TV; that it will be my family, friends and community that will be slain in a place I so purely associate with all of the joys, beauties and transitions of life. As far as we know, Robert Bowers did not have a particular gripe with the Tree of Life Congregation, no personal connection to any of its members and no unique qualms with the the specific community he targeted. There are Robert Bowerses everywhere around the country, but the Pittsburgh version of him decided to wreak havoc on the closest Jewish hotspot he could find, the vibrant and thriving community of Squirrel Hill. The randomness — the lack of rhyme or reason — is what brews my fear.
Though the story of Saturday’s massacre cannot be told without reopening the gun control debate, reexamining our president’s rhetoric or analyzing America’s cultural propensity for violence, the Squirrel Hill slaughter is about a phenomenon that predates the second amendment, Trump and violent video games. Hatred and persecution of Jews is a tale as old as time, and its reemergence in the world, specifically in the United States, above all else, is what must be understood about Saturday’s shooting.
My hope is that, as a result of the shock from Saturday, there will be a universal recognition of this unique form of hate — a hate that is historic in nature, that is gaining momentum in the current pendulum swing of history, and a hate that comes in many shapes, sizes and political ideologies.
Of course, next time I will not be shocked, and neither will you — but our stoic understanding of the gravity of anti-Semitism must reverse current norms where incidents are often met with dismissive inaction. If there is a bright spot to the horrors of Saturday morning, the world’s naivete about anti-Semitism — of which I myself am guilty — must dissolve into history in exchange for a heightened vigilance and steadfast recognition of one of humanity’s oldest iterations of hate.
Joseph Charney, President of Alpha Epsilon Pi
The Jewish community is organizing a vigil and memorial service tonight at 8:30 PM at the Rock. All are encouraged to participate.