Metro-East News

Guest viewpoint: Anti-Semitism is not new, but it needs to be eliminated

“No Place For Hate”

This was the sticker provided those who attended the vigil one day after the defiling and desecration of their house of worship and the senseless taking of 11 beautiful lives. It did not highlight vengeance or retribution. Instead, it called for the end of hate in all its forms.

The villain in this tragedy will go nameless, but not faceless. He is a product of our times. We can debate the precise cause, but we cannot escape the corporate responsibility of today’s social, political and ethnic environment.

What makes this disturbing and horrifying event even more tragic was the scriptural precept reportedly being taught at Tree of Life Synagogue – “Welcome the Strange, Protect the Refugee” and the disruption of a bris, a celebration of a newborn life. Instead of Abraham and Sarah confronting the hearts of strangers on their journey, the children of Abraham were violently taken from their families and friends during their sacred worship services.

This unthinkable act is not new to the Jewish experience, but it represents the most tragic mass murder of Jews on American soil in history. It is hard to call this an aberrant act when, according to the Anti-Defamation League, there was a 57 percent uptick in violence against Jews in 2017. The “normalization” of such behavior is a manifestation of rhetoric from individuals high and low and hate groups who have found renewed energy from new allies, real or perceived, and which has been revitalized by competing groups who espouse violent confrontation as tactics.

While the triggering event remains a mystery, it is reported that the villain in this unimaginable event posted his objection by tweeting “HIAS likes to bring invaders who kill our people.” HIAS stands for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and is currently involved with immigrants from Central America. Apparently, the villain does not include all citizens in the clause “our people.” By his actions he chose to specifically target Jews by his anti-Semitic acts of genocide.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is not of recent origin; however, the evidence has become visible in the form of greater radicalization and a greater relationship and connection with the anti-immigrant sentiments. The march in Charlotte with the chant “Blood and soil” left little doubt of such public manifestations.

The targets, Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue, have been left anxious, nervous, horrified and grieving. While the world, the country and the Pittsburgh community struggles with trying to comfort the bereaved families and congregants, the challenge for our country is equally pressing. That challenge is to unite in the resolve to change an environment that gave rise to the unconscionable and unspeakable desecration of one of our most previous values – the sacred celebration of religion.

For those involved in law enforcement or the wellness of our communities it might be time to revisit the white paper “Building Interdisciplinary Partnerships to Prevent Violent Extremism.” This was originally published by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. It made the following 10 observations:

1. Violent extremist ideologies are varied and need to be addressed in their entirety.

2. Countering violent extremism is about building healthy, resilient communities.

3. Preventing violent extremism is local.

4. The support of police leaders is vital.

5. Outreach programs should address the identity issues faced by youths including those in immigrant communities.

6. Anticipate inevitable setbacks and build contingency plans.

7. Take a whole community approach.

8. Be adaptable.

9. Engage in consistent and reliable outreach.

10. Police should not wait for the community to come to them.

For the rest of us it is time to revisit the universal values we cherish; many arise from the Abrahamic religions: Hebrew, Christianity and Islam. However, they are also expressed by a vast number of other religions:

1. Christianity – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

2. Islam – “Do unto all men as you would they should do unto you and reject for them that which you would reject for yourself.”

3. Hinduism – “do naught unto others that which would cause pain if done unto you.”

4. Buddhism – “One should seek for others the happiness one desires for one’s self.”

5. Native American – “Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself.”

6. Baha’i World Faith – “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.”

In deference to the victims of this tragedy, it is fitting to quote a prophet from the Old Testament. When asked how to honor God, the response was “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]

One puts himself in peril if he chooses to improve upon such words of wisdom. The words do leave open the means to put those words into practice in times such as this. The Tree of Life Synagogue provided an excellent place to start the conversation: “No Place For Hate.” From there consider the following suggestions (many of which come from the Anti-Defamation League) in preparing to continue the conversation:

- Treat people’s questions and comments with empathy and respect [avoid stereotypes and assessing blame].

- Discuss and try to hear, understand and appreciate feelings [think before answering].

- Be open to talking about why incidents take place [what happened, what motivated, what triggered, the impact of intolerance, bias or fear of differences].

- Don’t respond out of fear or hate.

- Be alert to signs of stress, particularly distress, or the ratification or support for violence.

- Remind others of misinformation, disinformation and reliance on the opinion of pundits and others in social or television media.

- Focus on victims [the families, the congregation, the Pittsburgh community, the Jewish community, first responders and the caregivers]

- Show you are concerned, you care and want to be involved in helping and facilitating positive change.

Then, and only then, step back and decide how you can perpetuate the values and attributes that made this country great: truth, justice, courage, compassion, inclusion, and freedom of opportunity. Take time for discernment on how your acts or omissions or those of society contributed to this heartbreaking tragedy. Freely use prayer, meditation and contemplative discourse with others. Finally, use your vote Tuesday, Nov. 6, to demonstrate your resolve to bind the wounds that divide and provide a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren.”

Racial Harmony is a third-party, neutral, non-for-profit community organization dedicated to promoting understanding, cooperation, and communication among all races and ethnic groups