I have nine comments on the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27:
It is heartbreaking. Full stop. Have a moment of silence, light a candle, remember that when Jews are killed for being Jews you bleed, all Jews bleed. Thus, treat this butchery of hate not as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Make it personal. Make it about love. Mourn it.
Yes, it is the worst ever massacre of Jews in America. Don’t over interpret this fact – as it is mostly a coincidence. Some killers are less successful, some more. No one goes on a murderous rampage thinking oh, I will just kill three or five Jews. A butcher on a rampage kills as many Jews as possible. In this case, it was more than all previous such cases.
America did not change yesterday, not for Jews, nor for other Americans. In America mass killings of this type are a horrific recurrence. It can be a school or university, a gay club or a rock concert, it can be a synagogue. America is armed to its teeth, and has its fair share of radicals, lunatics and delusional haters. This is a deadly combination. From time to time, Jews will be the victims.
“Making Jews feel even more exposed, even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven policies.”
The question of security, of guards, of locked gates, is not very interesting. It is a technical question, one of risk assessment, of cost-benefit assessment. The leaders of institutions must consult with professionals and decide how best to secure the gathering places of Jews. President Trump, speaking yesterday about the attack, made a comment about the need for guards that some observers were quick to interpret as a “blame-the-victim” tactic. It was not. It was just Trump being Trump, and making a statement that was not well crafted. As for security: he may have a point. Or not. Let professionals decide.
Trump was also the target of many other observations following the massacre. Some went as far as blaming him for it. This is both unfair and foolish. Mass killings occurred before Trump. Hatred of Jews did not start at his watch. True – the US is tenser, more violent, more on edge in the Trump era. Is he the cause of it, or just the result? Probably both. And yet, there is no doubt that the President is not a Jew hater, does not encourage or condone hate of Jews, does not aim to hurt Jews.
Yes, and blaming him is a fool’s errand. Trump has many followers. Most of them bear no ill will against Jews. Yet if the Jews make the president their prime target of criticism – if they portray him and his supporters as anti-Semitic haters – alienation will follow, and anger.
The counter argument has power. The Jews are not tourists in America, they are not guests. If they see a wolf, they must cry. If they see injustice, they must wage a battle. Under such circumstances, restraint is the remedy. Wage a battle – wisely. Wage a battle – cautiously. Wage a battle – to win. Waging it to lose could be admirable, and very dangerous.
A few Israeli spectators also politicized the murder. On Israeli Radio a senior commentator made it about Conservative Judaism – the Pittsburgh synagogue is Conservative – not being recognized by the state. Again – unfair and unwise. And for similar reasons. No Jew wants other Jews to get killed – because of disagreements over theology. No Jew should be made to feel guilty about the murder, just because he or she do not agree with Conservative Judaism.
Jews tend to respond to such instances of violence in two ways: Those of them who feel a part of the community raise their level of involvement and awareness – those of them who have doubts lower their level of communal participation, to stay safe.
This is not an easy test for the Jewish community. And its implications are not immediately known. Making Jews feel safe as they identify Jewishly and engage Jewishly ought to be the main task ahead. Making Jews feel even more exposed, making Jews even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven, policies.