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Rabbi Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, California.

{Originally posted to the Emes Ve-Emunah website}

Once again the Jewish community has experienced the horrors of antisemitism. Yesterday on the last day of Pesach in Poway, California a 19 year old gunman broke into a Chabad Shul and started shooting. According to one report I saw – it was at about the time in the morning where they were going to say Yizkor, the memorial service for deceased parents and loved ones said on every major Jewish holiday.


The gunman shot and killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye – just as the Shul’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was about to re-enter the sanctuary. He had left to wash his hands for the service and witnessed it.

Rabbi Goldstein immediately attempted to stop the shooter from entering the sanctuary – grabbing the gun whereupon his two middle fingers were shot off. A security guard (a US military veteran) was by then able to respond to the fleeing shooter but was not able to shoot him – hitting only his vehicle. Shortly thereafter the gunman surrendered to police.

First I would like to express my condolences to all of Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s loved ones. I cannot imagine what it is like to have a healthy individual with no expectation of anything more than continuing her life for many more years, losing her in a moment of pure hell.  And I  pray for a complete and quick recovery to those injured at this horrible event.

The Jewish community has not yet fully recovered from the mass shooting of Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh and something like this happens. That is enough to traumatize Jews all over America. Should we be worried? Are we re-living 1930s Germany?

I don’t think the answer is so simple. While it is true that we are now experiencing a rise in violent antisemitic attacks and that we should be more vigilant then ever, we are far from 1930s Germany. Despite the temptation of making such comparisons the truth is far more complicated than a yes or no answer to those questions.

I am still a firm believer in the essential goodness of the American people. A goodness defined by the idea that we – the American people – are all one. A nation united under God with liberty and justice for all. A country founded on an unprecedented level of religious freedom. A nation founded by people fleeing religious persecution in their homeland.

The American people have demonstrated their belief in these principles time and again. As it applies to Jewish citizens there are countless stories where Americans have stood up for us – even when their own lives were at stake. Wherever antisemitism showed its ugly face Americans as a whole stood by us.

When this kind of tragedy struck as it did in Pittsburgh 6 months ago, there were so many expressions of solidarity with the Jewish people by all manner of groups and organizations – both public and private – that it would take up far too much space to list them here. There were so many that it surprised even a strong believer in the American people like me.

To say that the American people are in any way antisemitic in 2019 is to be oblivious to that. It would be a willful ignorance of all that support – and instead focusing only on the antisemitism of hate groups and generalizing it to the rest of America. This is simply not the case. Not in the government (on both sides of the political aisle) and not in the private sector.

What is on the rise, is not antisemitism. It is the motivation by hate-groups to act on it. There have always been antisemites in this country. But until a couple of years ago, it was almost all rhetoric. All talk but little or no action. Now some of these people have been emboldened to act on their hatred. Which is why we have to be more vigilant now.

Why there has been this uptick in antisemitic behavior most of which is benign but as was painfully evident yesterday – some of it deadly… is a matter of pure speculation. Many people (especially those on the left) blame the President. His appeal to racists cannot be denied. Although the President is not an antisemite himself (he is in fact personally the opposite of an antisemite) there is no denying that the appeal to racists and white supremacists is there. He has for example been supported by people like former KKK leader, David Duke from the very beginning. And to the best of my knowledge he still does.

How much this contributes to the uptick in actual violence is hard to say. Although it’s hard to imagine that it has no relationship at all to the President’s rhetoric, I believe it is equally hard to blame it all – or even mostly – on him. There are clearly other factors. Such as the racist hatred of immigrants – particularly Muslims – who have been dramatically increasing in number here over the past few years. Which they blame on the ‘liberal/left’  prominently populated by Jews.

Be that as it may, it is not going to change the fact that it is happening. Nor the fact that it requires increased vigilance. We must do everything we can to protect our people.

Unlike Germany of the 1930s – US government officials (from local to national) have been helping to secure Jewish facilities ever since 9/11. And have been rededicating themselves to that with each antisemitic occurrence. Thank God.

But let it not for a moment enter anyone’s mind that America is turning more antisemitic. If anything the opposite is true.

*The opinions expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily the views of The Jewish Press Online


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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].