[TW: This piece contains discussion of violence and death.]
On Oct. 27, 2018, a white supremacist walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and fired upon the congregants. Eleven were killed: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger (WTOL 11, “Investigators release names of victims shot and killed in a Pittsburg Synagogue,” 10.28.2018). May their memories be a blessing.
The gunman had a verified account on Gab, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as being an alternative social media site for the far right, a haven for racism and anti-Semitism. Two days before the shooting, the gunman posted, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation” (Rolling Stone, “What We Know So Far About the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting,” 10.27.2018). He bought into the conspiracy theories that Jews were committing “white genocide” by supporting refugees, directing his ire particularly at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
In his last post before the attack, he wrote, “HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” He called Jews the children of Satan and believed that an all-knowing, all-encompassing Zionist-occupied government controlled the world (Southern Poverty Law Center, “A gunman opened fire on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing at least eleven people and wounding others,” 10.27.2018).
It is very easy to condemn anti-Semitism when it is perpetrated by the far right, when a major tragedy has just occurred or when it can be tied back to an issue that the left cares about, like immigration. It is very easy to condemn anti-Semitism when you can see the bodies, when you can score political points for doing so or when your progressive friends are all screaming at you to do so. However, I am tired of explaining anti-Semitism for the rest of the year. I am tired of seeing those who would deny the Jewish people our right to self-determination, who call us termites, who defend those who call us termites, who call us elitists, who call us kulaks, who defend our killers, who dismiss our deaths as trivial, who call us colonizers on our own land or those who fashion themselves as allies. I am tired of having to explain to them why they’re wrong.
I’m not sad. I’m not disappointed. I’m not frightened. I’m angry. I’m angry at the right’s demonization of George Soros and refugees. I’m angry at the left’s demonization of the Jewish state. I’m angry because anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise. I’m angry because the President of the United States blamed the synagogue for the shooting, suggesting that it would not have occurred if they had hired armed guards (CNN, “Trump says Pittsburgh synagogue should have had armed guards,” 10.28.2018). I’m angry because I have seen no widespread outrage on campus outside of Jewish groups. I’m angry because it’s 2018, and yet, Jews are no longer safe in most of Europe. I’m angry because less than 48 hours after a white supremacist killed 11 Jews in an attempt to strike back against the Zionist-occupied government, a Vassar student believed it was appropriate to post, “[I]f you’re a zionist you are advocating for genocide” on Vassar Missed (Facebook, “Missed Connection #6337,” 10.28.2018). I’m angry because if it had been posted on any other day, many of my peers would have supported and defended the sentiment. I’m angry because no matter how much I scream and pout and write, no matter how furiously I try to make people understand, nothing changes. I’m angry because, for the first time, it’s dawning on me that all my work at Vassar, everything I’ve written for The Miscellany News, everything I’ve done to encourage change and to send a message to other Jewish students that they can feel safe here at Vassar has done nothing. I don’t want to be fighting this battle for the rest of my life.
I know that there are many, many good people just as outraged as I am and that many Vassar students are trying their best. I am appreciative of my friends who reached out to me and other Jewish peers to check in. I am thankful for everyone, Jew or gentile, who has taken active steps to fight anti-Semitism, for the supportive Jewish community on campus and for the friends who know and love and care about me.
But this isn’t their story, and this isn’t mine. This is the story of 11 Jewish people who died for no reason, other than for being Jewish. This is the story of many more people who have died and will die because they are Jews. This is the story of a people who, despite the best efforts of millions of anti-Semites, will never perish from this earth.
עם ישראל חי עוד אבינו חי