The Tragedy in Pittsburgh

This morning, principal Turner called a moment of silence for the three tragedies that occurred over the weekend. Of the three, the one that has received the most media coverage and the one that hit the closest to home was the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On Saturday, a lone gunman killed eleven temple goers and wounded four cops who responded to the incident in the largest Anti-Semitic attack in American history, and I wasn’t surprised.

There are a lot of emotions that go through your head when something like this happens. There’s the horror and the revulsion. As a Jew, I felt the reality of this attack surrounding me. It felt like I was under immediate threat. But I wasn’t surprised.

Listening to NPR this morning, an opinions writer for the New York Times pointed out the prevalence of conspiracy theories in today’s society and the connection that has always existed between the Jewish people and the idea that the machinations of evil forces that conspire to rule the world. Whether it’s the Rothschilds or Hollywood or the Jewish elders who supposedly sentenced Jesus to die, no matter where we go, the same aura of otherness follows us like some indelible mark. There’s an old joke that goes, when asked to describe a Jewish holiday, the response can always be: “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” Its true. Everywhere we go, tragedy follows. So no, I wasn’t surprised.

For a lot of Jews, there is this idea that America, unlike the rest of the world, is a place where we can be safe. The US has always seemed to be far more obsessed with race than religion and it seemed that maybe, just maybe, we could slip into the background. Up until Saturday, I could convince myself that that was true. But it isn’t. It wasn’t so long ago that we were being herded onto trains and killed en masse. It wasn’t so long ago that pogroms raged through eastern Europe. It wasn’t so long ago that white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting, “The Jews will not replace us.”

We live in a mass shooting culture. Thanks to the prevalence of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, people who commit these atrocities are launched to a form of macabre celebrity that provides an incentive and a platform for extremists who want to make a point. People who have been rattled by conspiracy thinking can be convinced that mass murder is a regular path to making a “point.” It is no surprise, then, that a Jewish synagogue would become a target of these extremists. As the main focus of many of these conspiracies, it is obvious that the Jewish people are under threat. Right now it’s fringe groups, but we have a conspiracy theory president, so who knows?

Next week, we as a country are going to forget about this. The politicians have made their statements, and the news has gotten all the “entertainment” value they can out of it. But I’m not going to forget. I can’t. This was supposed to be the last safe place. And now it isn’t.

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