The recent attacks at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA have left me with a heavy heart over the past few days. When congregants entered their place of worship on Saturday morning, none of them thought twice about their safety. During a traditional Jewish bris ceremony, Robert Bowers entered the synagogue, driven by his inherently evil views on Jewish people. Bowers, armed with an assault rifle and three other handguns, killed 11 innocent people during his hate-filled rampage. As he surrendered to the police officers, he said that he “wanted all Jews to die.” After taking some time to reflect upon the horrific incident, I felt an overwhelming amount of unease when I realized that nothing about this occurrence shocked me. This shooting must not come as a shock to us, but rather as a wake-up call.
Anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years. Hostility against Jews dates back to ancient times. Jewish people were denied citizenship in European countries throughout the Middle Ages. Anti-Jewish riots, also known as pogroms, dominated Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi-run Germany was not the first time anti-Semitism surfaced. In fact, many of Hitler’s tactics during the Holocaust originated historically from previous strategies used to marginalize the Jewish people. The Holocaust was the first time that extreme hatred for the Jewish people became evident on a global scale, as everyone witnessed millions being executed simply because of their religious identity.
The shooting in Pittsburgh did not come out of nowhere. Anti-Semitism is alive in America. In fact, it never went away. In my short time here on this Earth, I have been the victim of Holocaust jokes. I have had swastikas secretly drawn on my personal belongings. There have been times when I felt out of place in my dominantly Christian hometown, high school alma mater, and among my friends. There is no specific person to blame for all of this. However, there are major takeaways from this mass murder that are incredibly important to recognize.
Anybody that bears witness to acts of anti-Semitism but does nothing about it simply perpetuates the problem. President Trump stating that “maybe if the synagogue had some kind of protection things would have gone differently” not only dismisses the actions of Robert Bowers, but leads this country down a dangerous path. People should not have to enter their place of worship, school, or job in fear that they will be murdered if there is not some form of security. A human’s right to live outweighs anyone’s right to bear arms, and I will stand by that forever. Condemnation of actions is not enough. Thoughts and prayers after such tragedies are not enough. Empty rhetoric gets us nowhere.
In addition to shedding light on the innocent souls lost this weekend, take initiative to learn about who the victims were. Try to understand where they came from and how they navigated the world as Jewish individuals. Ask yourself if you have actively done something to shut down anti-Semitic actions, or if you stood back and allowed them to occur. It is never too late to educate yourself and others. History is bound to repeat itself if we do not understand the circumstances which led us to these modern-day tragedies.