by Willa Spalter '21
Our country is in a scary place right now. Hate speech is on the rise, and all around us we are witnessing the horrible events that stem from this rhetoric. The total number of hate crimes in the 10 largest cities rose for the fourth straight year in 2017 to reach its highest level in over a decade (NAACP). In cities like San Jose and Philadelphia, hate crimes have increased by more than 200 percent from 2014 to 2017 (WGRZ). Many blame the rise in these hate crimes on culture that comes from Donald Trump’s leadership, in which people are emboldened to express prejudice and hatred. His rhetoric insinuates a justification of the speech and actions of bigots, anti-Semites, xenophobes, Islamophobes, and many others. Right now, hate crimes are only gaining momentum, as we have so clearly seen in the horrific events over the past couple of weeks.
On Saturday, November 3rd, our country witnessed its deadliest attack on Jewish people ever against the backdrop of this toxic American political climate. A gunman walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 people. The victims were all attending a Saturday morning Shabbat service when this attack took place. The victims included brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, who wed in the Tree of Life Synagogue over 60 years ago, and 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Rose Mallinger. As the gunman surrendered to the police he told them that “all Jews must die” (CNN).
As a Jewish person, it was unconscionable to think that in the United States, in 2018, 11 Jewish people were killed in their place of worship on a Shabbat morning, solely for being Jewish. I was heartbroken, angered, and confused by how someone could have this much hate in them, but I was also not surprised. Living in an America where our president calls the anti-Semitic people in Charlottesville “very fine people” after they chanted “Jews will not replace us,” I felt as though this shooting was almost predictable.
Throughout almost all of our history, Jews have continuously been persecuted, the most notable period being the Holocaust. Many people have said that before the Pittsburgh shooting they thought that anti-Semitism was no longer a significant occurrence in America, but in reality, anti-Semitism is still very prevalent. According to FBI statistics, Jewish people were the victims of more reported hate crimes than any other religious minority in 2016 (CNN). The Anti- Defamation League (ADL) says that 2017 saw a 57% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes from the previous year, and they reported the second highest record of hate crimes since they started collecting data in 1979. The ADL also reports that there has been a stark rise in anti-Semitic hate speech online — what was once a rare instance is now an everyday occurrence. Now more than ever we must come together as a nation and continue the practice of “olam chesed yibaneh,” or “building this world from love,” so that not one more person has to lose their life as the result of hatred.