An American tragedy

Joseph Aaron

I keep thinking about the baby.

Sort of lost in all the news about, all the horror from the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is the fact that as the murderer walked in and began shooting, a bris was scheduled to take place in the synagogue that Shabbat morning.

I think of the introduction to the world, to Jewish life that little baby boy had, how his whole life will be forever affected by the fact that as he was about to have his bris, a synagogue was desecrated by hate and eleven Jewish souls were lost.

My head and heart are filled with, swirling with thoughts and feelings, so many it’s hard for me to keep them straight. But I will try.

I keep thinking about why we are so good at caring about, feeling for, respecting and cherishing dead Jews, but not so good at doing the same with Jews who are alive.

It was amazing to see the outpouring of response from Jewish communities the world over, how no one seemed to care what denomination these Jews were, with what part of Judaism this synagogue was affiliated. Synagogues and temples around the world held memorial services, candlelight vigils, organizations of all stripes issued heartfelt and stirring statements of solidarity and mourning, from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations to the Society for Humanistic Judaism. These were our fellow Jews who were gunned down and that at this moment is all that mattered. No one asked where they stood on the peace process or how they practiced Judaism. We embraced them as Jews, we grieved for them as Jews, period.

It was inspiring and showed the bond between Jews that has allowed us to endure so much over so many years in so many places. But of course in today’s Jewish world not everyone could do even that, could for even one minute, in the face of such carnage, just be Jews together.

And so we had no less than both chief rabbis of Israel, who should know better and should show the way better, engage in obscene behavior. Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, referred to the Tree of Life Congregation as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor” and not a synagogue. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef referred only to “the murder of innocent Jews in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania,” without saying where it took place.

I keep thinking about how accepted and cared for we are by the outside world. Now I know that is not a very acceptable thing to say right now, that we are all focused on whether American shuls will now have to be like those in Europe with armed guards and elaborate security systems, whether anti-Semitism is back in full force. We are all scared right now and when we get scared we look back at our history and assume it is repeating itself once again.

I am not ignoring the reality that there is more anti-Semitism in the United States than there used to be, I am not minimizing that Jews in that Pittsburgh synagogue were targeted because they were Jews. But I also think we need, especially at times like this, not to forget all the good around us, not let one crazed lunatic with a rifle make us feel that everyone is out to get us.

I keep thinking about all the media coverage of the event, how respectful it was, how the newspapers were filled with beautiful stories telling us about the victims, about the Jewish volunteers who so carefully dealt with the bodies in accordance with Jewish law, how they published articles by Jewish journalists who grew up in Pittsburgh and shared their fond memories of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team held a moment of silence before their game the next day in honor of the victims, the team’s logo edited to include a Star of David; a refugee from Iran living in the United States started an online fundraising effort and raised $600,000 for the synagogue.

We need to not only focus on the few out there who hate us but on the many out there who came out, reached out, spoke up, stood up for us.

I keep thinking about whether having the U.S. embassy moved to Jerusalem and the Iran deal killed is worth 11 dead Jews.

For make no mistake, those Jews died because too many Jews in this country and in Israel have not only stood by but actually cheered as an anti-Semitic president has done so very much to create the atmosphere that led to the synagogue massacre.

No, of course, they haven’t cheered all his hateful talk and hateful deeds, but they have stood by, because it was worth it to put up with all that since he was the guy that moved the embassy and killed the Iran deal and those were things they so wanted that they were willing to ignore all Jewish values and sing his praises for giving them the goodies they so desired.

Yes, there was anti-Semitism before Donald Trump and yes, there will be anti-Semitism after Donald Trump. But what Donald Trump has done is unleash it, embolden it, given it aid and comfort and cover, allow all those crazies out there who knew there were certain things you just didn’t say in public, certain things you just didn’t do, feel that in this country at this time it was now okay to say them, okay to do them, that the president of the United States was on their side.

After all, he calls people he doesn’t like ugly names, he demonizes people, says the media is the enemy of the people, that Hillary Clinton, his political opponent, should be thrown in jail. It is he who, in his presidential campaign’s final, closing ad said ‘globalists’ were destroying America, globalists being a classic anti-Semitic charge against Jews, as the Jewish faces of Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman Sachs chief; George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist; and Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, crossed the screen. It is he who issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not once mention the Jews, thus cheering Holocaust deniers. It is he who said the neo-Nazi group that marched in Charlottesville chanting the Nazi slogan ‘Jews will not replace us,’ included ‘some very fine people,’ thus cheering white supremacists. It is he who recently called himself a ‘nationalist,’ thus invoking the term used by the Nazis, thus cheering white nationalists. It was he who said a caravan of poor, desperate people from Honduras was funded by Soros. Soros has also been said to have funded the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh and protestors at Trump rallies. Rudy Giuliani has called him the ‘anti-Christ.’

It is far from a coincidence and it is very telling that what triggered the madman in Pittsburgh was that Tree of Life synagogue was raising funds for HIAS, the Jewish organization that for more than 130 years has helped settle refugees in this country. Including, by the way, my father, who survived the Holocaust and came to this country at age 16.

Because HIAS helps refugees settle in this country and because Trump from day one has done nothing but attack Mexicans and indeed all immigrants, has done all he can to stop even legal immigration to this country and most recently obsessed and fear mongered about the caravan ‘invading our country,’ funded by the likes of Jew George Soros, the murderer saw HIAS, and so Jews, as the evil bad guys.

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote on Gab, the social network preferred by the “alt-right.” “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

And through all that Trump has said and done, all the anger and resentment and fear he has stoked, all the anti-Semitic language and symbols he has used, too many Jews have sat back, said nothing, done nothing, indeed have come to Trump’s defense. After all, he moved the embassy to Jerusalem and killed the Iran deal, and so even though almost everything he says and almost everything he does violates the very spirit of what it means to be a Jew, they have been silent.

Indeed, they have defended him. Israel’s ambassador to the United States effusively praised Trump’s response to the massacre, saying “I am not aware of a single non-Israeli leader that has made such a strong statement in condemning anti-Semitism. We appreciated that very much,” Ron Dermer said of Trump’s scripted, hostage tape like perfunctory statement that lasted all of 20 seconds before he veered into his whole if only there was an armed guard in the shul insanity.

And just hours after the massacre, Trump went right ahead and held another of his Nuremberg rallies, stirring up the base, went right back to calling his political opponents ‘evil,’ denying their humanity, lamenting that the massacre would so dominate the headlines it would slow the momentum of his midterm elections campaign, continued stoking fears about the caravan, which he said without any proof included ‘Middle Easterners.’ Yes he meant Arabs, but Israel is also in the Middle East which again makes Jews seem like ‘the other,’ people we need to fight against.

And Trump’s allies amplify his message. Like Rep. Steve King of Iowa who said that if members of the Freedom Party in Austria, founded by a former Nazi SS officer, lived in America they ‘would be Republicans;’ like House Majority Leader and Trump favorite Kevin McCarthy who tweeted “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican Nov. 6.” Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg are all Jews.

It is no coincidence that in 2017, Trump’s first year as president, the ADL chronicled a 57 percent rise of anti-Semitic incidents over the previous year. Trump in the White House, anti-Semitism goes through the roof. What other explanation is there for that increase?

Eric Ward, who has been studying anti-Semitism for 30 years, said “what’s different about this moment and chilling about this moment is that the rhetoric is now coming out of the mainstream, and it’s giving permission to people on the margins to act out.” As the Washington Post put it, “what has changed, said several experts in interviews, is that conspiracy theories and “dog whistles” that resonate with anti-Semites and white supremacists are being circulated by establishment sources, including the president and members of Congress. Bizarre claims about Jews have moved from the margins to the establishment.”

All beginning with and emanating from Trump. And all along the way, Trump has won the support of half of this country’s Jews and virtually all of Israel’s Jews because he moved the embassy and killed the Iran deal. Everything else he has said and done hasn’t mattered, his attacks on women and on immigrants and on minorities, his verbal support for the very fine people among neo-Nazis, has been just fine with the self-righteous Jews, who are willing to ignore all his violations of decency, all his violations of Jewish values.

Well, I hope they are happy. Yes, they got the embassy moved and the Iran deal killed. And the price for that, we now know, is 11 dead Jews in Pittsburgh.

1 Comment on "An American tragedy"

  1. Criticizing Trump, who has done much for Israel, just shows no good deed goes unpunished.

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