2018-11-07 / Editorial

The American Jewish community will never be the same after Pittsburgh

Over 350 years ago, Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil arrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, present-day New York City. Since that beginning, Jews have found refuge on these shores. We fled pogroms in Europe, the Holocaust, and the oppression of the former Soviet Union. The constitutionally guaranteed rights we have enjoyed have given us a freedom of religion and the right to pursue economic prosperity unparalleled in the history of the Jewish people. We have achieved far beyond our numbers in the arts, science, business, and so many other fields, all while building synagogues and Jewish institutions that are the envy of the world.

To be sure, there has been adversity. Discrimination and anti-Semitism have existed. Leo Frank was lynched by an anti-Semitic mob in 1915. The Jewish Federation office in Seattle was attacked in 2006, with one woman killed and others wounded. There have also been many incidents of vandalism through the years, and for many years, quotas kept Jews from certain universities and positions. The overall trajectory, however, has been one towards greater freedom.

Now, however, things feel different. There is little doubt that Pittsburgh will be looked at as a watershed moment in American Jewish history. The only question is where that watershed leads.

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has exposed a very dark underbelly in America, one of rabid anti-Semites who spew their hatred on social media. The Pittsburgh shooter wanted to kill all the Jews, and who doubts that if he could have, he would have.

Are we at the beginning of a period when Jewish life in America will grow precarious? Will we be forced, like the Jews of Europe, to turn our synagogues, schools, and Jewish institutions into fortresses? Will Jews leave the United States for Israel, not out of a love of Zionism, but out of a fear for our lives and the lives of our children?

Or will Pittsburgh be remembered as the moment America saw what is happening to our country and turned away from the precipice. At the same time that we are in shock over the loss of life, we have also seen the outpouring of unity among Jews of every viewpoint. We have also seen how our neighbors of all religious denominations have rallied to our side, offering comfort. In no other place in this world would so many Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths have rallied to our side, assuring us that they stand with us. And let us not forget the First Responders who ran into the Tree of Life synagogue to confront the gunman, suffering wounds and risking their own lives.

So the question remains: Where do we go from here? Because after Pittsburgh, nothing can be the same. s

Return to top