After Pittsburgh:
Confronting Anti-Semitism and Ourselves

By Steven Windmueller

The gunman who struck the Tree of Life Synagogue on Shabbat in Pittsburgh indicated on line that he wanted to “Kill Jews.” Prior events whether at our southern border, on the streets of Charlottesville, or at political rallies sponsored by our President, Jews were seen as passive observers to the changing political scenarios of this nation. The assault on worshippers that took place this past Shabbat morning however was seen as a direct attack on Judaism and America’s Jews. It would represent the single most violent incident against Jewish Americans in the history of the United States.

In a society already under assault by the politics of hate, this is but one more indication that a war is underway for America’s soul. Where once America and Americans celebrated differences, today there is a conscious and deliberate effort to intimidate and seek to silence those who represent different religious, sexual and political beliefs and practices. Democracy itself is being threatened. Hate violence has replaced civic discourse. As a result anti-Semitism is a manifestation of a fundamental disregard for the respect for diversity. In this new and uncertain political environment, Jews have become political targets.

It is cynical for politicians to offer words of comfort in the aftermath of violence, when their own rhetoric, framed in nationalistic images, seeks to question the loyalty of certain Americans and where political operatives single out individuals suggesting that they are the cause of America’s troubles. In this type of political culture, violence and hate will sadly be manifested on our streets.

A year ago on these pages, I wrote:

A fundamental political sea change appears to be underway. As America’s social fabric is being tested, new strains of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have emerged globally and at home. …There is a heightened awareness among Jews of extremist expressions challenging not only the existing democratic norms of the nation but also reflective of how minority communities, including Jewish Americans, are being categorized and threatened. 

A new political reality faces American Jewry in the aftermath of Pittsburgh, as hate has gone mainstream. Moving forward, will Jews feel safe in this country? Out of this nightmare, will a new sense of the collective spirit of the Jewish people be rekindled?

The ongoing, unresolved issues that re-emerged on Saturday remain to be addressed. These concerns involve gun violence, the discourse of politicians who need to be held accountable for the words that they employ, and the use of social media to convey hate messaging. These and other policies and practices define who we are and what it may mean to be an American.

Fear and intimidation must not be allowed to silence Jews or others. This is a moment that demands a serious conversation among Americans about the state of our nation and the collective interests and shared values that bind us together. This is a time to reassert the civic principles that convey the American story. We owe it to these victims of anti-Semitism and to ourselves.

Professor Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website,