Pitch Reactions: Pittsburgh Shooting


Photo by Hannah Markov

A man sits outside Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. Beth El and many other synagogues have increased their security after recent shootings and hate crimes.

Rafael Friedlander

“May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world….For all who live on earth shall realize we have not come into being to hate or to destroy. We have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.” These are words from the Prayer for Peace, recited every Shabbat at my synagogue and many others around the country. Yet on October 27, the exact opposite happened. And it made me realize one thing: This has to stop. What will be the final straw? When will we finally say “enough”? Eventually it would get personal for me. That didn’t come after 51 died in Las Vegas, nor after 17 were killed when a gunman entered a school in Parkland.

But that weekend, it got personal. It was an everyday Saturday: I woke up, ate breakfast, got dressed, and went to synagogue. It was fine until the rabbi told us there had been an attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh. He told us not to panic, to stay calm. At the luncheon afterwards, everyone was still scrambling for answers. It was another attack that raises the question, What if it had been here? What if a gunman entered my synagogue? Or WJ? No one expects events like these.

The 11 killed were normal people going to services. Why would you wake up one morning not expecting to survive the day? I am lucky that my synagogue has security. Multiple heavily armed policemen and women keeping us safe. All of this brings us back to the simple fact that anti-semitism and racism are poisoning our country.

When most people think of anti-semitism, they think first of the Holocaust. Over six million Jews killed in inhumane ways, by gas showers, being worked to death, or worse, by the Nazi Socialist Party of Germany. Fortunately, we Jews in the US are (for the most part) safe. I know that I can celebrate Purim, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and everything else, without fear of being prosecuted. But that’s only officially from the government. If a private citizen does something, something considered to be the worst attack on Jews in the history of the United States, regulations are the only way to stop it from happening again.

The reason the attack happened is because the killer was scared. Scared of Jews and what we can do. Why else would he rampage a synagogue with a rifle shouting, “All Jews must die”? At this point, there’s no defense. There is no excuse. There is no possible way that one could even remotely claim that the gunman was justified. No one deserves to die based on their religion, the color of their skin, their race. There isn’t a way to justify any of these heinous acts. “Well, they had it coming.” No, that doesn’t work. “How do we know it’s not a plot from the crooked Democrats to smear the Republicans?” Total bullshit. All it does is add insult to injury and make the grieving families even more distraught to know that President of the goddamn United States isn’t supporting them through these hard times.

In the Prayer for Country, we say, “May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.” And that’s just what we need to do. Band together to show that this was, in fact, a hate crime and that the “Fake & Dishonest reporting” is not “causing problems far greater than they understand.” That’s simply all there is to it. Because intentions don’t mean crap if we don’t act on them.

I know that I am lucky. Because I’ve lived in this area of the country for my entire life, I’ve never had to deal with bullying or anti-semitism. I feel welcome and needed in my community. But I also know there are more than a handful of Jews living in the US who don’t feel the same way. Jews who might be the only family in a town of Christians. Jews who are afraid to show their faith outside of the house for fear of being attacked of branded with any one of the numerous Jewish stereotypes. The simple truth is that we are regressing back to the 19th and 20th centuries. If this goes any further, we’re going to be dealing with pogroms. I don’t need or want that in my life.

Many of the attacks are homegrown. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, people were looking for someone to blame, so they blamed middle eastern terrorism. But it turned out that the killer was a white American. After 9/11, people got even more paranoid, though this time, the paranoia did have some standing. 3,000 people killed over four crash sites by 19 middle eastern members of al Qaeda. But many of the recent attacks have been committed by American-born people. That means that the poison is coming from inside our borders. As a Jew, I am legitimately scared. And I shouldn’t have to be. I shouldn’t have to be scared of people in our country who believe that I should die simply because I’m Jewish. Honestly, for me, just knowing that there are people out there who believe that I shouldn’t have to right to live or to be safe wherever I go, if for nothing else than simply because I’m different, makes me scared. Scared that next time it might be me, and I won’t be around to write another opinion piece.

Yes, it’s only 11 people. But those were 11 people whose lives were taken too soon. They could still have been here had a gunman not entered a synagogue energized by presidential rhetoric. I think, if anything, my point is that anti-semitism and racism must end. And as for gun violence, that has to end, but it won’t until there is some tangible changes in the law.

“Fulfill the promise conveyed in Scripture: I will bring peace to the Land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall terrify you.” I haven’t been terrified before, but after the events in Pittsburgh, it’s hard not to be. “I will rid the land of vicious beasts and it shall not be ravaged by war.” I’ve started to open my mind and realize that “vicious beasts” can mean humans as well as animals. “Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream. Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea. And let us say: Amen.” 

Hannah Markov

I remember the days when, in my naivety, I thought that anti-Semitism was a problem of the past. Not anymore. With recent hate crimes like the swastikas drawn on Northern Virginia’s JCC and the deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, one might question just how welcome Jews are in “The Land of the Free.” Moves by fascist and neo-Nazi groups to reach young people have resonated on numerous college campuses, such as the University of Michigan. The American Defamation League, which continuously tracks racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic efforts internationally, discovered that white supremacist propaganda increased by almost twice its size in the 2017-2018 school year from the year prior on college campuses.

This antiquated ideology has also spread to MCPS. Last year, flyers created by white supremacists in the website 4chan stating “It’s ok to be white” were found at Montgomery Blair High School, shortly followed by the uncovering of swastika desk drawings in Tilden Middle School. Montgomery County condemns hate speech and crimes, and makes efforts to establish itself as a safe place where people of all races, nationalities, religious beliefs and sexualities can live in peace and safety, even though its residents don’t always agree. However, Montgomery County is only one community in a large country. Many other places in the U.S. either do not offer the same protection for minority groups, or just don’t enforce it.

Recently, there was a shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where a man barged into the Tree of Life Congregation during Shabbat services, shouting “All Jews must die,” fatally shooting 11 people and injuring six. Seven of the people killed were alive during the Holocaust.

Honestly, I don’t think that it’s really that difficult to create a welcoming environment for Jews, especially in schools. Perhaps they could add a kosher meal option, or counties could provide and publicize the same support for Jews as they do for other minority groups. After the Squirrel Hill shooting, which is being called the worst act of anti-Semitism in the US, only one of my seven teachers discussed the event with us. There are countless clubs and student organizations that are bringing awareness to the issues and discrimination of other minority groups. The same should be done for Jews, as anti-Semitism becomes an ever-alarming and increasing issue in our society.

America, aren’t you supposed to be a nation where people of all backgrounds are welcome? Why should I fear for my safety during prayer?

The Bill of Rights clearly states that we have freedom of religion. Evidently, that needs to be reiterated. Let’s educate those who might not live in an as welcoming or diverse community as we in Montgomery County do. Fear causes hate and people are afraid of what they don’t know.

Anti-Semitism has no place in our world. This is an issue that should’ve ceased years ago, alongside the Holocaust. Jewish acceptance and recognition in society has progressed vastly over the past 70 years. Let’s not go back.