Updated 7/13/21: This article has been updated to remove the photo of an individual whose personal safety was under threat.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, a man went into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people. According to the Anti-Defamation League, this was the largest attack on the Jewish people in U.S. history.
I wish I could say that I was shocked when I heard the news. I was sitting down in the Berkeley High School auditorium, waiting to hear Bernie Sanders, a Jewish senator, speak, when I received the notification. But I wasn’t too shocked. The last mass shooting was only a few days earlier. Mass shootings have become the new normal. We constantly decry these shootings, yet allow the pattern to persist. One difference in this shooting, though, was that it was a direct attack on a community I am part of. Although a violent anti-Semitic attack is out of the ordinary for me, it’s not a new concept for many of my Jewish friends and family. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting is a haunting echo of the violence of the Holocaust, and of the waves of recent neo-Nazism that Jewish people have witnessed.
Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest forms of discrimination and one of the foundations of the history of the Jewish people. Being hated and being victims of persecution are parts of our cultural heritage, characterized by blood libel, mass expulsions and pogroms. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with acrimony. This pattern continues — anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 60 percent in 2017. It’s difficult during these times to see any semblance of hope when hatred thunders on. Xenophobia seems ubiquitous. Even UC Berkeley bore witness to anti-Semitic displays mere weeks ago. People not involved in the Jewish community have a misconception that Jews have achieved equality and acceptance — events such as these prove otherwise, as the grave reality becomes public knowledge.
There’s a political hypocrisy that comes with shootings. The government engages in a double standard. Government officials offer hopes and prayers, but do nothing to effect concrete change. They wear masks of empathy but fail to enact any legitimate policy changes, taking no conclusive action. Instead, government officials call on others to stop politicizing the shootings; officials say that this is a tragedy, not a political discussion. After the 2017 Las Vegas music festival shooting, the White House refused to participate in a policy debate regarding gun control (because politicizing these deaths would be inappropriate). However, after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, President Donald Trump advocated for bringing the death penalty “into vogue” and suggested that having an armed guard inside the synagogue would have prevented the shooting.
The hypocrisy both disheartens and astonishes me. I do believe these tragedies are inherently political. Of course they are, when our government legitimizes the very weapons and ideologies that allow for them to keep happening. Even so, I don’t have much hope for any change. After all, if no progress or legislation was enacted after 20 children were murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, I don’t think Congress would care about this latest incident.
Five of the 11 victims were alive during the Holocaust. They witnessed the atrocities that consumed the Jewish people. They witnessed as their community members faced death because of their Judaism — now, 73 years later, they met death because of their Judaism. History repeats itself as time progresses, and Jewish people continue to be subject to violence and discrimination.
Too often my friends describe the fear they feel when wearing their Star of David necklaces or kippahs in public after despicable events such as these. I see that my friends are afraid of attending Shabbat services of Hillel or Chabad, worried that their lives may be taken next. I have never experienced extreme anti-Semitism as a girl from Los Angeles, where there’s a large, accepted Jewish community, and consequently, have never feared for my safety. But now, as paranoid as it may seem, I also realize that writing this column may be putting a target on my own back. These fears are understandable. But it is imperative during these times to extinguish these fears and display our Judaism loudly, without abandon. If we allow anti-Semites to alter our behaviors and identities, we have let them win.
I am a proud Jew. Writing this column has made me feel more connected to Judaism than I ever have before, and I’m appreciative of that. I am proud of our community that has so persistently fought against anti-Semitism, even when it seemed like the end was nigh. We have always endured extreme penalties for our very existence. Remember the fallen, but also remember the mitzvahs. It’s easy to fall into a somber state. While mourning is important, we must also celebrate these lives and celebrate all the good in the world. We have conquered anti-Semitic movements in the past, and we will continue to do so today. The Jewish people are resilient and strong. Things may seem dark, but the Jews have a special power — we fight darkness with light. Our flame cannot and will not be extinguished.