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Anti-Semitism: Progressive America’s Blindspot

Just as Shabbat services began, on Saturday, October 22 at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, PA,  Robert Bowers, 46, stormed the building and committed the most heinous anti-Semitic attack in America’s history. The attack took the lives of 11 members of the historic and predominantly Jewish, Squirrel Hill community. Despite multiple requests from members of the community such as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, not to make an appearance, President Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue, just three days after the shooting occurred.

The country reeled in response such a blatant act of anti-Semitism, showing in part just how shrouded the issue is. Though this attack is a wildly more extreme example of it, anti-Semitism is not new, it is and has been rampant in the United States. There was a noticeable spike of anti-Semitic messages published on social media leading up to both the 2016 and 2018 elections, with an additional spike following the former. Many of these attacks and microaggressions go unnoticed. Jews have become the butt of the joke in so much of pop culture, and those instances of anti-Semitism simply haven’t been called out as much. More egregious acts have occurred at progressive institutions like Beloit College, where two years ago a violently anti-Semitic note was anonymously written to a Jewish student, containing multiple slurs and referencing methods of genocide used during the Holocaust.

Many of the responses to the tragedy further prove the insensitivity some people have towards anti-Semitism. Vice president Mike Pence attempted to show solidarity by asking a “Prominent member of the Jewish community” to give prayers in honor of the victims. The problem? He brought Loren Jacobs, a rabbi who practices Messianic Judaism, colloquially known as “Jews For Jesus”. Messianic Judaism is notoriously offensive to members of the Jewish community, as it undercuts one of the pillars of Judaism, that the Messiah is not Jesus Christ or even the son of God. Some Jews even find the faith malicious, as it includes a mission to have Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah.

A tweet from Detroit rabbi Jason Miller eviscerated Pence for choosing a practitioner of the Messianic faith, which is technically a branch of Christianity, to offer prayers for the victims instead of one of the 60 or more rabbis who live in Michigan. The use of the phrase “In the name of Jesus” to close the speech, is a perfect encapsulation of the blatant tone-deafness the responses to events such as these can sometimes have, as well as the impact it can have on affected communities.

Now, as I feel a need to speak my own mind on this topic, the remainder of this article should be read as an Op-Ed. We are simply not doing enough. Tragedies like this happen, people say “Never again” and wave meaningless gestures in front of the Jewish community’s face in an effort to show solidarity, or maybe just to be “woke”. But know: this has to continue. You still have to stand with us as well as with blacks, LGBTQ+, Muslims, immigrants, women, and all groups subjected to persecution, two weeks, a month, a year after this tragedy, even after the next mass shooting inevitably happens, and another disenfranchised group is gunned down, for nothing but who they are and what they believe, you must remember to stand by us too. So know, that when you add the hip new “#TogetherAgainstAntisemitism” Jewish star to your Facebook profile or talk about how terrible this tragedy was, and denounce anti-Semitism, know that it is your responsibility to maintain and actively demonstrate your conviction on that stance. Know that next time, it should be you to speak up when someone starts making quips about my “Jewy looks”. Know that next time, it has to be you, to say something when someone who knows my faith, continuously and repeatedly tells me to accept Jesus Christ as my savior, and damns me to hell if I don’t. Know that next time, it must be you who stands by me, when someone, maybe even someone who you call a friend spits at me, looks me in the eyes, and then calls me a kike.

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