It can be easy to think that antisemitism is a thing of the past. Put simply, antisemitism is hostility to or prejudice against Jews. We talk about the Holocaust in our classes, write papers on the horrors that occurred in other countries decades ago, but few of us realize that antisemitism never stopped. In fact, it’s happening right now in our own backyards.
Last month, on October 27th, a man armed with an assault rifle and three other legally purchased handguns opened fire in the Tree of Life Congregation, a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He killed eleven people and injured several others in the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the history of the United States. Shooter Robert Bowers was arrested and charged with 29 different federal crimes and now faces up to 535 years in federal prison.
I am disheartened to admit that when I first heard the news, I was not in the least bit surprised. Shootings like this have become a regular devastation, littering the news week after week with new tragedies. The synagogue shooting marked the 294th mass shooting in the US since the beginning of the year. The day of the shooting was 299 days into 2018, which means there has been an average of nearly one shooting per day. As I write this, the number of shootings has already risen to 306, with over 12,000 gun violence related deaths this year. Over 2,000 of those victims were teenagers, students like you and me. And not one law has been passed that reforms easy access to guns and protects our citizens.
If that is any sort of representation of the action our government has taken to protect us against gun violence, there has been significantly less action taken to protect the Jewish community in our country from the constant and under acknowledged violence against them. When most of us think about antisemitism we think about Western Europe, the Middle East, the Holocaust. Despite Jews only being about 2% of the U.S. population, they are the targets of over half of the religiously-biased hate crimes committed in the U.S. Dating back to the 17th century, antisemitism prevails as one of the most pervasive form of hatred and bigotry in the U.S. to date. The harrowing truth is that the Pittsburgh shooting was not an unexpected event. Over the course of the past year, both physically and verbally aggressive anti-semitic attacks have risen by nearly 60%. This is ironic given that even though antisemitism has been in our country for a long time, the U.S. has historically been one of the safest places for Jews. Extremist neo-Nazi groups are becoming increasingly common in America, rallies and marches happen regularly in which people wave swastikas and chant anti-semitic slurs. This hatred isn’t happening thousands of miles away anymore; it’s in Portland, Eugene, even Corvallis.
Since our government is failing to take action, it is our responsibility to make every difference we can. We as students and citizens have an obligation to be educated about the things going on in our country. When violence against Jews rose in the past, not enough people stood up and fought back for what’s right, and there were catastrophic results. We need to speak up. We need to take action. We need to make our voices heard.