Back in the day when world events still had the capacity to shock, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) — its 80th anniversary commemorated Friday and Saturday — was a clear foreshadowing of events that led to the Holocaust.
Member Writings and Interviews
Hours before he murderously stormed into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Robert Bowers posted a chilling message on the dark web, declaring that the “powerful Jews are my enemy.” He vowed to pull “the cover off of that Satanic Jew,” and threateningly added “I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through.”
The murderous attack on Jews at prayer in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, on October 27, put a bloody exclamation point behind an already growing sense of unease in today’s America.
Over the past two years, the entry into the country’s mainstream of extreme right-wing views, including a militant strain of white nationalism, made clear that the social and political climate was changing, and not for the better.
The massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last Saturday announced with chilling clarity that a lethal strain of anti-Semitism, long presumed to be peripheral in post-World War II America, had returned with a vengeance. Harbingers had been appearing for months: the online harassment of Jewish journalists during the 2016 presidential race; the anti-Jewish themes deployed by Donald Trump and his campaign; the painted swastikas, toppled gravestones, neo-Nazi handbills, threats to Jewish community centers, and other incidents of hate that made local and national headlines since the election; and the siege of a Charlottesville synagogue during the right-wing rampage there in 2017. Yet even those warning signs somehow seemed aberrant, and the public outcry in each case told us that our nation’s underlying commitment to ethno-religious pluralism remained sturdy.
In the wake of the shooting in Pittsburgh, a volley of voices called for more of this or that—armed guards or gun control, barring the doors of synagogues, policing of fringe web platforms or resources for mental health. While President Trump denounced the shooting as “an evil anti-Semitic attack” and visited the grieving community, a sector of the media blamed the president for the incident, as it does for everything else. It was politics as usual.
Jewish history is replete with stories of expulsion and exodus. Knowledge of the Holocaust includes the story of immense difficulties European Jews faced in finding open doors to flee and find haven. Even after the Nazi Holocaust, the barriers to migration remained high for Jewish survivors. More recently, Jewish history has continued to be marked by expulsion and exodus — from the new Arab nations built on the ruins of colonial empires in North Africa and the Middle East, from the collapse of the former Soviet Union from Russia and Ukraine, and from the disarray of nations in Latin America, including Argentina and Venezuela.
Anti-Semitism may be the oldest hatred, but it still comes up with horrifying surprises. One of them is a spike in anti-Semitism, stoked by a President who seems wildly pro-Israel and even has a Jewish daughter. This crazy dynamicclimaxed yesterday when 11 Jews were murdered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Throughout history people have slaughtered Jews for every reason under the sun. But we still need to attend to their reasons.
On the evening after the deadliest act of violence against American Jews, President Trump said that Jews had “endured terrible persecution” for centuries: “You know that. We have all read it. We have studied it.”
But his response to the horrific news that a gunman had killed 11 people and wounded six at Shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh made it clear that Trump doesn’t actually understand the nature of anti-Semitism at all.
It has been a rough few weeks for American students who wish to study in Israel. An opponent of the Israeli state refused to write a recommendation for a University of Michigan student who sought to study abroad in Israel, while a state agency of Israel, the Shin Bet, acting for Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, barred another American student from entering Israel to begin graduate study at Hebrew University. Now a graduate instructor at the University of Michigan has compounded the problem, similarly refusing to write for a student.