Jews targeted at synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh

On an early Saturday morning the Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, devolved from a peaceful place of worship to a chaotic crime scene when a gunman opened fire, killing 11 congregants and wounding four police officers.

There were three congregations celebrating Shabbat services: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light. Shortly after Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers began services at 9:45 a.m. the shooting began, according to CNN. This is not the first Jewish attack in U.S. history, but it is the deadliest one.

In August 2017, Heather Heyer died as a result of a counter-protest during a white nationalist rally called Unite the Right. The shouts of protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, rang out and said, “Jews will not replace us.” Other Jews experience anti-Semitism in other ways.

“I’ve experienced anti-Semitic comments from a community college professor online,” Annemarie Trank, a JBU alumna said, “My professor gave me an F on a project because I was Jewish. She made many statements about how Jews are evil people in class and online in class discussion boards. I dealt with these comments by avoiding them as much as possible. If I was forced to respond to any of her comments, I often did it in a neutral, polite way.”

A study by the Anti-Defamation League, published in February 2017, found that anti-Semitism increased by 57 percent in the U.S. between 2016 and 2017. This rise in discrimination has manifested itself in the rise of neo-Nazi propaganda, the increase of vandalism on Jewish community centers and monuments and in the recent shooting in Pittsburgh

According to PEW research, roughly 5.3 million people in America are of Jewish ethnicity or practice the Jewish religion, which makes them one of the smallest minorities in the U.S.

Trank said perhaps a reason for the attacks is because, “From a Biblical perspective, the Bible tells us that the world will turn against the Jews as we near the end of this age and the return of Christ. From a political and social perspective, a twisted concept of nationalism is developing which is rooted in Neo-Nazism. White Supremacy, the Aryan Brotherhood, the KKK and any other group which claims racial superiority is considered Neo-Nazi. These groups believe that liberalism is a part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, and as we see the Left being more vocal, those with this twisted nationalist mindset continue to blame the Jews.”

Kevin Simpson, professor of psychology specializing in the psychology of the Holocaust, said, “I think it’s because there’s a long history. There’s a phrase that goes with anti-Semitism that it’s the longest hate, and this is a history that goes back to the earliest days. When you look at the darker history of Christianity, you find anti-Semitism. There are some of the earliest claims that Jews were Christ-killers … this stuff goes back to earlier centuries. We can’t quite shake it, and some of it gets stirred up between the tension of Israel and Palestinian groups.”

Simpson said, “Jews just make an easy target where conspiracy theories can blossom. It’s the old sort of canard that Jews run the banks, they run the government, they have secret organizations. It’s just an old idea that reemerges. It’s built on lies and misunderstanding … and lack of contact. When people are given the chance to interact more humanely, those barriers tend to get knocked down.”

Simpson also said anti-Semitism may be on the rise because of the increase of more extremist views. “It can accelerate and magnify through social media circles. Even a fringe conspiracy theory can get traction in more moderate circles. Our polarized political climate was the pretext for this. I don’t think we can put it all on politics, though. Extremism, whether it’s left or right, tends to follow slightly behind economic and demographic changes. So, when a group feels threatened—whether that’s real, or imagined or exaggerated—the more extremist views sometimes get more play.”

Samuel Deck, junior psychology major, said, “Definitely with social media, the groups are able to organize and are in a bubble, where they get the same kind of feedback. There’s a lot of support they can find in social media, and it’s easy to hide behind it, too.”

Simpson also said that the ability to hide behind a screen and spread propaganda over social media has emboldened racism in general. “There’s more freedom without backlash, there’s more shame in it. You’ll see graffiti on Jewish community centers or cemeteries. Even in high schools and colleges, it’s not just the big targets with the star of David on them.”

College campuses are not exempt from the rise of anti-Semitism. In fact, they are part of the issue. Alt-right and neo-Nazi groups often target college campuses, and—according to the Washington Post—white supremacist propaganda “on college campuses nearly doubled in the 2017-2018 school year from the year prior.”

Also, anti-Semitic incidents—such as bigotry or discrimination—on college campuses rose to 204 from 108 in 2016, according to the Washington Post.

Trank said that, when she was at JBU, people weren’t necessarily insensitive, they were merely ignorant: “There is a common misconception that being Jewish indicates one must practice Judaism and can’t be a Christian. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions. But, a Jew or Jewish person is born, not made by what religion they practice. I’m a Messianic Jew which means I accept that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Torah, Old Testament. A Jew practicing Judaism rejects this idea and believes that the Messiah has not come yet.

Trank said she thinks JBU students—and Christians in general—are, “Called to love and care for all people groups. Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40 that the greatest command is to love God and the second greatest command is to love our neighbors.”

Simpson said people need to call out racism and bigotry when they see it: “Not that we have to be militant about it, but just as we would call out a racist slur, a sexist slur or a homophobic slur. Just to call it what it is. Sometimes it’s just taken for granted because we don’t see how anyone is going to be hurt by it, especially if we don’t know Jewish culture.”

Deck said that we can help decrease anti-Semitism by honoring the lives lost in the recent synagogue shooting and we can honor the lives lost: “Learn about the victims … the ways the victims affected those around them in positive encouraging ways. That helped me connect with the victims and have an emotional response.”

Simpson said we can honor their memory by being aware of, “Those instances where we might dehumanize. It’s maybe accepting an opinion or something we read that might label somebody. To remember going forward is to also link it to the past. Staying informed, keeping up with the news, challenging bigotry when you see it … those are ways to remember.”