An American Tragedy

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Since the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh this past weekend, there has been a frenzy of social media posts full of fears of anti-Semitism that dominated past generations and breathless media headlines, such as: “For American Jews, Pittsburgh synagogue massacre is culmination of worst fears.” (The Washington Post).

I am Jewish. My family is Jewish as far back as I can trace it. I know the emotional baggage of that heritage. I am steeped in the language of contemporary Jewish sadness and fear: stories of pogroms, of anti-Semitism, and of the Holocaust. I also know the story of hope: of finding refuge in the United States and of the freedom to worship freely.

As we seek to heal ourselves and our communities after this terrible incident, I implore us not to let the voices of fear, amplified through media platforms, to seduce us into viewing this as solely a Jewish tragedy. It is an American one.

The victims in this particular incident were Jewish and the target itself was Jewish and, yes, Jews around the country may feel at greater risk today than they did on Friday. While it may be tempting to view this as yet another instance of a majority Christian populace turning against a minority Jewish one, that view is simplistic. Rather than being the only targets, the Jewish community in Pittsburgh has joined a larger club that no one wishes to join. As the survivors of recent school shootings, church shootings, shootings at a Sikh Gurdwara, a movie theater or at a concert can tell us, there is no foolproof protection against someone who intends to kill. Yes, the targets on Saturday were Jewish, but on a different day they could have been of a different faith or of no faith at all. But they have all been American.

The motives of this particular killer were fueled by anti-Semitism, but he is also part of a larger group of Americans who carry out abhorrent acts radicalized by many different kinds of -isms and phobias: racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and on and on. All of these feed on hatred and are released in violence against innocents. What happened on Saturday was despicable and anti-Semitic. It was also anti-American.

Although it may be difficult to feel at this particular moment, Jews in the United States have been, and will continue to be, part of the larger American fabric in both wonderful and tragic ways. We must push back against the notion that it is Jews against everyone else. The outpouring of support from thousands of non-Jews over the past few days have shown that Jews are not alone in facing the scourge of anti-Semitism in this country.

That support can be a source of strength and of hope as we – as Jews and as Americans – continue to fight to create a country where all lives are valued and where there is no room for hatred or violence.

Today we mourn and remember. But tomorrow, we must take action.

Symi Rom-Rymer works for an interfaith nonprofit in Washington, DC and has been published in the Jerusalem Post, Moment Magazine, and JTA.