Anti-Semitism is our problem, too


Photo courtesy Andrew Rowan.

More than 1,200 people attend an interfaith vigil in honor of the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Similar vigils were held across the country in the wake of the tragedy.

By Hannah Feuer

After a man opened fire at The Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh Saturday, killing 11, the country and Jewish community mourned. My old Hebrew school group chat lit up with messages of support. Facebook flooded with posts condemning hate.

For me, the shooting hit close to home. My dad grew up only 20 minutes outside Squirrel Hill. He attended a synagogue just 12 miles north of The Tree of Life.

Yet even with this family tie and my shared faith with the victims, it’s easy to feel disconnected. With the flood of tragedies in recent years, I’ve become numb from shooting after shooting. I’ve been lucky enough to have never experienced anti-Semitism on a personal level, and I suspect many of my Jewish peers at Whitman would say the same.

With Whitman’s large Jewish population, it’s easy to forget that Jews still face an uphill battle. It’s difficult to grasp in a town with more than 10 local synagogues that Jews represent just 2.2 percent of the adult population nationwide.

Despite the Jewish slogan to “never forget” past atrocities against Jews, anti-Semitism is still a major issue in America. The shooting last weekend is only indicative of a larger trend. A February report by the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose nearly 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest increase on record since the 1970s.

The most influential leader in the world isn’t helping. Just last year, Trump said there were good people “on both sides” at a neo-Nazi rally, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, he forgot to mention Jews. Galvanized by what they perceive to be a sympathetic president, hate groups have been emboldened and thrust into the mainstream. On Saturday, we saw the result; the suspect posted on social media before the shooting to accuse the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of bringing in “invaders that kill our people”—an idea we’ve heard from the bully pulpit all too many times.

And even though I’ve never felt personally victimized by anti-Semitism, it would be dishonest to say that it hasn’t affected our local community. In 2016, swastikas were spray-painted onto a banner outside Burning Tree Elementary and drawn in a Westland Middle School bathroom. In 2017, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School received a bomb threat, and a Jewish sophomore at Churchill received an anti-Semitic text message. From 2015 to 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in Maryland increased by an astounding 1006 percent.

Before last weekend, Squirrel Hill Pittsburgh was known as a safe haven for Jews and a beacon of religious tolerance. If the shooting last weekend taught us anything, it’s that anti-Semitism and hate crimes can reach the most seemingly tolerant of communities. Whitman, inside of the liberal “Bethesda Bubble,” is no exception.

As teenagers, it’s hard to know how to respond in the face of tragedy, but we must not allow our anger and sadness to turn into helplessness. It’s up to us to ensure hate and division don’t become the new normal.

While we send our thoughts and prayers to those affected by the shooting, we must also learn how to best combat hate at home. Whether standing up to divisive rhetoric, celebrating our diversity, voting or simply helping someone out, every bit counts. Because history has repeated itself far too many times.