May 21, 2019

Jews Should Unite in Positivity, Not in Fear

“After the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, a Canadian friend asked what the Israeli reaction was. “Most Israelis I know are sad,” I reported, “but not surprised.”

Unfortunately, we know what it’s like to have our sacred places profaned. We know what it’s like to have our vulnerable slaughtered. We know what it’s like to have to soldier on when your life hasn’t changed; other people’s lives have; and their trauma ultimately shakes you to the core – even though you don’t know them. We know what it’s like to scan a list of victims, feeling guilty that you get some scintilla of relief when the slaughtered skew older rather than younger. We know what it’s like to try being normal again – returning to the scene of the crime, first playacting and failing at it, then getting better and better at it, until you return to the routine, kind of. We know what it’s like to be targeted as Jews. And, sadly, we know what it’s like to be blamed for it – as if anything justifies shooting a 97-year-old woman praying in a pew; or butchering a 59-year-old rabbi in a Jerusalem synagogue; or kidnapping and killing three teenagers hitchhiking home; or crushing a five-month-old baby’s skull with stones.

In fairness, that take may be too Israeli. The historian in me knows it’s not the same. As amoral as it might sound, as unfair as it might be, different societies develop different tolerances to similar problems, given what they endure. Israeli Jews have been forced to acclimate to terrorism; American Jews have been largely insulated from it.

Moreover, the American historian in me appreciates American exceptionalism, the marginal nature of American antisemitism, the remarkable success story that has been American Jewry. So, yes, it’s logical that Israelis were appalled but less surprised than American Jews. Most Israelis also compare Pittsburgh to Paris or Munich or anywhere else hutz la’aretz – abroad – where Jews have been targeted as Jews.”

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