As we were reading about the federal court trial that is getting underway this week of the 50 year-old Pennsylvania man charged with fatally shooting 11 people and wounding six at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, which was the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, we at first felt a sense of irony — which then turned to sadness — and finally into anger.
Irony, because this miscreant’s trial follows Holocaust Remembrance Week, which was observed last week (Holocaust Remembrance Day itself was last Tuesday) throughout the world.
Sadness, for the innocent victims of his rampage, most of whom were elderly worshippers, whose lives were taken at the Tree of Life synagogue on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018.
And anger, that antisemitism not only still exists, but is growing all across our country.
When we were young, the typical antisemitic act consisted of a rock thrown through the window of a temple or some ant-semitic graffiti. But those acts of vandalism typically were committed by teens who had been drinking, and who were as likely to throw rocks through a school window as a synagogue.
But in recent years, antisemitic violence has escalated exponentially, both in numbers and in severity, of which the Tree of Life mass shooting is the apotheosis.
The Anti Defamation League (ADL) found that the number of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. increased by more than 36 percent in the past year, from 2,721 in 2021 to 3,697 in 2022. Antisemitic and white supremacist propaganda in the U.S. also hit new levels.
According to the ADL’s web site, 2022 saw the highest number on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979, marking the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.
The ADL also noted that incidents increased in each of the major audit categories: antisemitic harassment increased 29% to 2,298; antisemitic vandalism increased 51% to 1,288; and antisemitic assaults increased 26% to 111.
This trend is having a profound effect upon our fellow citizens of the Jewish faith.
A New Jersey rabbi wrote a column in the New York Times over the weekend in which he said::
“In the four years since the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, American Jewish institutions have developed rapid-response playbooks to address concrete terror threats and best practices have been shared around the country. We have invested in our security infrastructure and communicated those changes to our congregants. Over the past few years we’ve added cameras, panic buttons, shatterproof film to our windows, and boulders meant to keep cars from plowing into our buildings.”
For those of us who were born shortly after the end of WWII, it is inconceivable that antisemitism can be on the rise. To be sure, antisemitism always has existed in our country, but when we were growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in the immediate aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust, it seemed that the lessons of the horrors of WWII had been learned and that the world was becoming a better place, not only for Jews, but for people of all races and creeds.
So it has been with a profound sense of sadness, dismay, and anger for us to witness the sharp increase in antisemitic acts across the United States today.
The theme of Holocaust Remembrance Week is that the world must never forget what can happen when hate and politics merge to create a force of evil. That is a message that is just as timely today as it ever has been.