11 dead in America’s worst anti-Semitic attack

Heartbroken: Hundreds gathered for a candlelit vigil at Squirrel Hill on Saturday night.

Can we ever defeat anti-Semitism? On Saturday morning, a gunman walked into a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh and opened fire. The tragedy is a reminder of anti-Semitism’s deadly legacy.

On Saturday morning, members of a close-knit Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue for a service.

The serenity was shattered when a man walked in and opened fire on the congregation. “All Jews must die,” he shouted.

Eleven people were killed, including a 97-year-old woman. It is thought to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history.

The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, remains in hospital with multiple gunshot wounds after a shoot-out with police. He faces 29 charges and could receive the death penalty.

President Donald Trump condemned the attack as a “wicked act of mass murder”.

The community is in shock.

“I am a different Jew today than I was yesterday,” said 15-year-old Sophia Levin, who lives nearby. “Anti-Semitism was something that happened in history, that happened in other places.”

The term anti-Semitic was first popularised by German journalist Wilhelm Marr to describe hostility towards Jewish people in 1879, but the discrimination faced by Jews stretches back much further.

As Christianity grew in the second century, early Church fathers like Tertullian spread negative stories about Judaism to attract more converts. These included the accusation that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death, which has been seized upon by anti-Semites ever since.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were denied citizenship in most countries in western Europe. In the 19th century, tens of thousands of Jews were killed in pogroms in Russia.

Anti-Semitism in modern times has often centred on conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the media and global finances.

The horrors of the holocaust awoke the world to the dangerous consequences of anti-Semitism, but now it is on the rise again.

According the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish campaign group, anti-Semitic incidents in the US surged by 57% last year.

Some commentators fear that as Nazi Germany fades from living memory, we could be in danger of forgetting its awful lessons.

Can we defeat anti-Semitism?

History’s oldest hatred

Sadly, it’s unlikely, say some. Anti-Semitism has been widespread for much of history; the past 70 years of relative peace for Jews are an achievement, but historically unusual. In addition, the incendiary rhetoric of President Trump and the toxic extremes of modern politics are not promising signs for the future.

There is hope, reply others. The level of public discourse condemning the re-emergence of anti-Semitism is promising; it shows that society will not turn a blind eye to hate. If individuals call out anti-Semitism where they see it and fight its destructive messages, we can make sure crimes like these are a thing of the past.

You Decide

  1. Will we ever eradicate anti-Semitism?
  2. What is the best way to fight anti-Semitism?

Activities

  1. Research persecution faced by the Jewish people. Create a timeline of their history up to the creation of Israel.
  2. Class debate: “This house believes we can defeat anti-Semitism for good.”

Some People Say...

“Anti-Semitism is a problem for all of us who care about justice in the world.”

Darren Walker

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Saturday morning, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, killing 11 people. A shoot-out with police ensued, in which several police officers and the suspect were injured. The suspect has been identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers. He is believed to have made a number of anti-Semitic posts on social media prior to the attack, which is the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.
What do we not know?
Whether anti-Semitism will ever be defeated. After the holocaust, anti-Semitic views were firmly rejected, but incidents of hatred towards Jews are on the rise. Anti-Semitic incidents rose by 57% in the US in 2017.

Word Watch

Serenity
A state of calm and peace.
Tertullian
An early Christian writer from Carthage in north Africa who helped shape Latin Christianity. He contributed to negative portrayals of Jews.
Middle Ages
Lasting from around the fifth century to the 15th century, also known as the medieval period.
Pogroms
Violent riots launched by non-Jewish people against Jews living in their area. These attacks were sometimes encouraged by the police and the government. The name comes from the Russian word for “to destroy violently”.
Conspiracy theories
Anti-Semites have often spread false and baseless rumours of an international Jewish conspiracy to control governments and financial institutions.
Holocaust
Six million Jews across Europe were systematically killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. Most of the victims were killed in concentration camps.

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