Pittsburgh and the Rise of Anti-Semitism in America

I grew up in Northern Virginia, an area dominated by WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and Catholic religious groups. I went to a Methodist church and a variety of non-denominational churches throughout my childhood, so my exposure to Jewish people and culture was very small before I came to college.  

I was welcomed to Muhlenberg with a culture and community that I knew very little about but would come to know and love, the Jewish community. I was suddenly learning certain slang words that Jewish people use, the traditional holidays, Hebrew language, culture, history, and much more. Here at Muhlenberg Judaism surrounds me wherever I go. It’s the professors that teach my classes, the women I live with, my closest friends, peers, people I perform with, my directors, mentors, sorority sisters, and men wearing kippahs I walk by on campus every day. These people and the community around it is at the heart of what makes Muhlenberg College special.

The devastating event that took place in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27th where a white supremacist walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and shot and killed 11 people was nothing short of heartbreaking, especially here at Muhlenberg since the Jewish community is one that Jewish and non-Jewish students hold so close to our hearts. It has been called the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history according to the Anti-Defamation League, in a time where anti-semitic violence has been on the rise.

A stunning statistic also released by the ADL found that between 2016-2017, there was a 57% increase in anti-semitic hate crimes in America. We cannot point fingers at specific groups or people blaming them for one individual cruel act. But I cannot help but think that the current administration’s use of rhetoric, bigotry, fear mongering, and hate as a tool has given white supremacists, bigots, and people who define themselves as part of the “alt-right movement” a sense of affirmation and emboldenment that it is suddenly okay again to spread hatred without any retaliation and that they have allies in The White House. The statistic does say something, since the increase was right after Trump was elected.

It’s not just anti-semitic attacks, but islamophobic and racist attacks have seen an uptick in hate crimes in the past two years as well. On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, a white man walked into a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky and shot and killed two black people. Hate crimes, in general, have seen a 92% increase since the 2016 election.

But Anti-Semitism isn’t anything new obviously. It has a been a type of prejudice that has had a disturbing history in the United States since the American Civil War in the 1860s. Union General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11, expelling Jews from areas under his control in Western Tennessee. In the early 20th century, Jews were notoriously discriminated against in employment, access to residential areas, memberships in clubs and organizations, and teaching positions in colleges and universities. The U.S. loves to pride itself on how great of allies they were to Europe during World War II, but was opposed to Jewish immigration and barred Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust from entering the United States.

In conversations of marginalization, I often see anti-semitism being left out of the isms and phobias when it comes to different levels of disenfranchisement. We always say racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, classism, ableism, etc. But we never say anti-semitism. Many Americans are unaware of the ongoing problem or hold age-old anti-semitic stereotypes and perceptions themselves.

The president, Trump administration, and the GOP have fully embraced the “white nationalist” label. White nationalism doesn’t just mean white and nationalist. It believes in keeping the United States an exclusively white and Christian state. The belief that anyone that doesn’t look or live like them are destroying the American way of life, and tend to bar anyone that won’t conform to their standards of identity and culture (white, rich, male, straight, Christian, cisgender, able-bodied).

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting was a tragedy in America, but stabbed a knife in the heart to the Muhlenberg community especially. I can’t help but feel the pain of my Jewish friends and colleagues that I’m surrounded by every day. I feel as if the Jewish community has become integrated into my own, so the knife cuts a little deeper not just for me, but for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike on Muhlenberg’s campus.

Non-jews, especially non-jews who attend Muhlenberg, have no right to be silent about Pittsburgh or any act of anti-semitism. This community is our community; these people are our people. We must show up for them and denounce any form of antisemitism. Because we know damn well that Muhlenberg would be absolutely nothing without the beautiful, joyful, and thriving Jewish community that makes up the heart and soul of this campus.

If you want to help the victims, families, and community of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and learn more about antisemitism, please click the links below.

Support the Tree of Life Synagogue GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/cause/pittsburghshooting

Add Your Name to the Demands from Pittsburgh Jewish Leaders to Trump: https://www.bendthearc.us/pittsburgh_demands

Working Definition of Antisemitism - International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance: https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/working-definition-antisemitism

Donate to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: https://act.hias.org/page/6048/donate/1

Donate to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh: https://jewishpgh.org/ways-to-give/