While we await more information about this morning’s tragic events in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, this much is clear: American Jews were murdered for who they are, and courageous police officers were shot for trying to protect them. My heart goes out to all. But sympathy and sadness are not enough.
In 2017, anti-Semitic attacks in the United States surged by almost 60 percent. This did not happen because the number of anti-Semites in our country suddenly increased by 60 percent. These deranged people have always been with us. What has changed is the political climate. Our highest national leaders are legitimizing rhetoric once confined to the paranoid extremes of our society – railing against “globalists,” who all happen to be prominent Jews, complaining about “white genocide,” attacking immigrants for “threatening our culture,” and spreading crackpot conspiracy theories to advocate imprisoning their political opponents. These words are like sparks to the gasoline of disturbed minds. These words can kill.
It is fundamental to our American identity that everyone, no matter their faith, race or place of birth, feel welcome among us and safe in expressing who they are. It is fundamental that when Neo-Nazis and other haters march, that we come together against them, and not treat the patriotic Americans who rise up in protest as their equals. It is fundamental that those who represent us do more than release the occasional statement to combat the tide of bigotry that’s been unleashed in our nation. It is past time to put country over party and oppose leaders who cater to extremism and then absolve themselves of responsibility for what they have done.
Today is also another sad reminder that no one in America should be armed with weapons of war like an AR-15. Police officers are the good guys with guns in our country, and they should never be outgunned by murderers with guns.
The Talmud teaches in Sanhedrin 4:5 that those who destroy one life destroy an entire world. At least eight worlds were destroyed today. Eight worlds too many. We must do better.