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What Went Wrong in Pittsburgh (op-ed)

On October 26th, a family was celebrating the bris [or baby naming] of their newest family member at the conservative Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh community of Squirrel Hill. Just as it is standard practice for some Jewish synagogues to keep open doors as a symbol of welcome for all, known as the the Parsha for that morning was about Abraham welcoming three strangers into his tent,  one of several Torah portions that emphasize the ideal of welcoming the stranger.

Shortly after 10:00 am that same morning a 46 year old man entered through those open doors spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric and carrying an AR-15 (a semi-automatic rifle) which he promptly used to murder eleven congregants of the synagogue {I put Squirrel Hill and Pitts in the opening para]  Bowers also injured six other people, four of whom were policemen. The slain victims ranged in age from 54 to 97, the oldest of whom survived the Holocaust. The events of October 26th constitute the most deadly antisemitic attack in United States history.

While searching his home, police discovered that Bowers possessed 21 legal firearms, and that he had a social media account filled with anti-semitic and racist propaganda. On the morning of October 26th, he carried with him three handguns and one semi-automatic rifle and was intent on killing members of the conservative Jewish congregation.

The events of last week were clear manifestations of many ongoing issues that have been plaguing the United States, namely, the proliferation of guns, white supremacism, and the environment which allows it to flourish.

After the Parkland shooting almost one year ago now, gun control has become an even more contentious political issue. Regardless of your personal beliefs on gun control, the fact that the shooter was somehow able to get a hold of 21 firearms legally, some of which included semi-automatic assault rifles is horrifying.

As a Jewish person who has grown up New York City, I was somewhat impervious to the existence of anti-semitism. I had always associated it with history, but it wasn’t until the 2016 elections that I started to notice how prevalent white supremacism is in America. While I feel safe in Brooklyn, I understood that there were people in the country that genuinely hate anyone who they don’t consider white.  Ironically, it is the Jewish ideal of being open and welcoming to strangers that incited the shooter’s hatred to the Jewish congregants.

Anti-semitism has always been present in the United States, but only recently has it manifested itself in extreme direct forms of violence and hate speech.While it is not socially acceptable for people to be racist and antisemitic outwardly in public, on a daily basis, the internet offers a place for hateful people to come together and talk about their unpopular beliefs. The shooter used an online social media platform called “Gab,” on which he was able to engage with several prominent white supremacists. Before Bowers went to the synagogue, he posted to the social media platform, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

What happened in Pittsburgh should serve as a reminder to all Americans that anti-semitism isn’t a relic of the past, but something that persists in modern day American society.

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