The Tragedy of American Hatred

Yesterday hurt. Bad.

My heart weeps for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, for their families and the entire community affected by this terrible act. Know that you are not alone, that we will make a blessing of the memories of those we lost.

Sadly, we as a nation have crossed another horrific rubicon. Josh Nathan-Kazis reports for The Forward (emphasis mine):

The shooting at the Squirrel Hill synagogues is only the second shooting at a synagogue in U.S. history, and the first that appears to have been motivated by anti-Semitic animus.

Americans live in fear of being gunned down in a public space, be it a school, a movie theater, or even a house of worship. The gun problem here is profligate. So is hate.

In the past few years, American hatred has gone unchecked. Xenophobic fears have been whipped up for political points. Jews remain the most persecuted religious group in this country. Hate is on the rise, including not just the bald-faced racism against immigrants, but anti-Semitic conspiracy theories supported by national politicians.

The Pittsburgh shooter, as we now know, ascribed to one of these theories. He took his anger, grabbed his guns and went out to slaughter Jews. His hatred was always there, but the anger seems to have emboldened him to commit this most horrific act.

I, personally, have been terrified this day would come. Sadly, I know history well enough to be shocked, but not surprised. The day after the 2016 election, I wrote the following:

The lesson passed down to me after a century of unspeakable horror was one of vigilance. Pay attention. Engage. Question. And never, ever forget.

It’s not paranoia that has me feeling this way. It’s experience.

The hatred in America is palpable. Jews have long taken precautions against violent acts. During the High Holidays, it is now common to have a police presence at synagogues across the country, having your tallis bag or purse inspected before entering the building. As large and successful as the American Jewish community is, we know better than to let our guard down. Yesterday was a stark reminder of why.

The story of the American twentieth century and the story of the American Jewish community are intertwined. We came to this country fleeing persecution from all corners of the earth. We have flourished all across this nation. There have been dark days, but none darker than yesterday. All Americans must pause and consider what it means that anti-Semitism could get this bad here. Here.

The tragedy of America today is that too many have become blinded to the hate-filled rhetoric that permeates our discourse. The divisions in this country run so deep, people can’t seem to see the dangers lurking right out in the open. Anti-Semitism, sadly, has a long and documented history. Jewish communities the world over have been attacked as a by-product of anxieties, economic and otherwise, for centuries. But we have the benefit of history; we know how this story unfolds. And we can prevent it.

In Judaism, we have a concept that defines the terrible events that have befallen us: Sinat Hinam, or baseless hatred. Hate without cause has followed us for centuries and decimated us. The anti-dote, it is taught, is Ahavat Hinam, baseless love. To bring love and happiness into the world for no reason is a core Jewish precept. It is no simple task in a world of such darkness. But what is the point of a world without love?

I believe America can be better than this. It starts with education. Reach out to members of your Jewish community. Grieve with us, come learn with us. Celebrate with us. Crucially, when we speak of anti-Semitism, listen to us; hear us. Teach the next generation that hatred will not define America. The stakes are too high. Our lives are on the line.