Anti-Semitism is on the rise – As a trainer and a Jew, I’m afraid

October 27, 2018. A lone shooter entered the Synagogue of the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and three pistols and opened fire on those gathered for the morning service on Shabbat. After shooting up the first floor, the gunman went down to the basement to find more victims and shouted, “All Jews must die!” Eleven were killed and six others injured. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

My students and I were in New York, about 400 miles away. It was the second month of my new teaching job at a small private Jewish school. We weren’t anywhere near the Pittsburgh incident, but it didn’t matter. The essence of a hate crime or a terrorist attack is that it affects more people than just its immediate victims. Everyone who belongs to the target group knows that they could be next. An attack on the Jewish people was an attack on us.

There were new protocols. The friendly old security guard Louie was replaced by an elite team of agents who surrounded the building, guarding every entrance, looking and acting like US intelligence. They gave us codewords and passwords and a new, more secure school ID. When we went on field trips, the boys were instructed to wear baseball caps instead of the yarmulkes they wore to school so that they could keep their heads covered without boldly identifying themselves as Jews to the world. Of course we have already done the shelter-in exercises and active shooter exercises that have been common in recent years, but the exercises now took on a different tone. The hypothetical scenarios no longer seemed quite as hypothetical.

I usually don’t think much about my identity as a Jew. I don’t wear a kippah and I don’t belong to any synagogue. I do not observe Shabbat or keep myself kosher. I light candles on Hanukkah, but I need a cheat sheet to say the blessings. I took the job at a Jewish school because it was a job. However, this makes no difference to the significant number of virulent anti-Semites who are increasingly perpetrating harassment and violence across the country. To someone like the Pittsburgh Shooter, a Jew is a Jew and “All Jews must die.”

The story goes on

Ira L. Black / Corbis / Getty

As I thought about, as tragic and harrowing as the attack in Pittsburgh was, I was surprised that this incident (eleven dead, six injured) was the worst in our history. Weren’t there any worse anti-Semitic rampages? The answer, of course, is: yes, there have been more deadly attacks – in Russia. Latvia. Romania. Poland. Germany. But not here.

We tend to see bigotry and hatred as remnants of the past – although hatred is still with us, we are comforted by feelings like Martin Luther King’s: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans towards justice.” In this one In this case, however, we are actually moving in the wrong direction. There was a record number of anti-Semitic attacks in 2018 and 2019, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) notes that in 2020 the situation is still “persistent and worsening”.

With America’s national race settlement long overdue, it’s important to note that racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry are inextricably linked. The right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis who gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017 sang, “Jews will not replace us!” This “substitute” theory – that the white / European heritage prevails the inclusion of other ethnic / racial groups in the cultural and genetic pool is threatened – is a standard anti-Semitic trope that existed before Hitler, but which Hitler vigorously promoted.

The same “substitute” theory is at the center of other forms of bigotry and hatred that are on the rise in America. The common refrain that “immigrants steal American jobs” is closely related. Right-wing commentators have argued that immigration makes our country poorer and “dirtier”. The racist language in which immigrants and others are described as “invading” or “infesting” our cities mirrors the language in which Nazis described Jews, Roma and others.

Of course, most Jews in this country don’t have the same problems as blacks and browns in America. People will not be profiled, stopped and searched by law enforcement agencies or disproportionately shot by police for being Jews. While there are Jewish people of every race and color, most Jews in America look like any other kind of white man.

The fact that Jews enjoy certain levels of white privilege is one of the things that Nazis are most crazy about. The anti-Semite theory is that because Jews look like white people (basically), they can infiltrate white society by acting as white Europeans or European Americans, secretly poisoning white civilization, culture, and the gene pool in the process. This is one of the reasons Hitler’s Nazis forced Jews to identify themselves with yellow Stars of David: That way, they couldn’t pose as white.

Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers was, of course, an avowed anti-Semite, but he was equally committed to the related neo-Nazi principles of hating and fearing immigrants. The Tree of Life shoot was motivated in large part by Bowers’ anger and fear of the caravans of Central American migrants approaching the U.S. border in the fall of 2018. This year, especially in the run-up to the 2018 halftime election, political talk was dominated by talk of a Central American “invasion”. nativist politicians labeled migrants as gang members and “animals”.

Like many neo-Nazis, Bowers accused the Jews of supporting the Central American “invasion”. In particular, he pointed a finger at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). HIAS was originally founded to help Jewish refugees. In the last few decades it has expanded its mission to serve refugees of all nationalities and faiths. On the morning of the attack, Bowers posted on Gab (a social media site that, like Parler, was founded as a right-wing alternative to Twitter): “HIAS likes to bring invaders with them to kill our people. I can’t watch my people get slaughtered … I go inside. “

The essence of a terrorist attack is that everyone in the target group knows that they could be the next. My young students and I felt it in our bones: what happened in Pittsburgh can happen anywhere. Next time might be in our back yard.

We weren’t wrong. This month, the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York was the victim of a malicious cyber attack. The website was hacked and the hackers published Nazi images, including swastikas, a photo of Hitler and video clips of Gestapo officers. The text on the site’s main page has been rewritten to include happy references to Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. The hackers were also able to access the students’ contact information and send threatening messages. One such message read: “You are the next I know where you live, HEIL HITLER.”

This attack was terrifying, shocking, disturbing, a nightmare. At the same time, it’s not exactly surprising. These feelings, these threats, these attacks have increased in recent years.

An attack on the Jewish people is an attack on us – all who believe in a pluralistic, diverse society and reject bigotry and hatred. I still hope that the arc of the moral universe will lean towards justice in the long run. But with a new generation of racists and neo-Nazis encouraged by extreme right-wing rhetoric, we clearly have a long way to go.

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