Pittsburgh synagogue shooting shows the horror of anti-Semitism

The horrific shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday, in which 11 people were killed and six people – including four police officers – were injured is a reminder that the cancer of anti-Semitism continues.

The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime. Police said they arrested Robert Bowers in connection with the shooting.

President Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews: “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world, and something has to be done.”

The chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, tweeted: “We are actively engaged with law enforcement to understand the extent of this anti-Semitic attack and we will work together with communities across the country to push back on prejudice wherever it appears.”

Hatred of Jews has been around for thousands of years and knows no geographic boundaries. Historically, Jews in America have been spared the worst of it. In fact, Jews from around the world – myself included – have come to America to escape anti-Semitism.

In 1992, I fled the Soviet Union in pursuit of freedom and a life where I could openly display my Jewish identity.

Today there are anywhere between 500,000 to 750,000 Russian-speaking Jews living in the United States. I can confidently say that none of us who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union expects to be hiding the fact that we are Jewish.

We did not leave the country of our birth to live in fear and uncertainty. And yet, today in the U.S. we find ourselves in a situation where Jews face open discrimination. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is a painful reminder of the darkest manifestations of anti-Semitism that continue to persist today.

I know about anti-Semitism in America from first-hand experience. How is this possible?

Two instances of anti-Semitism that were reported Sept. 16 made worldwide headlines.

Ari Fuld, a Jew born in New York who immigrated to Israel in 1994 and dedicated his life to fighting injustice, was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist at a shopping mall in Israel. The 45-year-old father of four, whose life and death exemplified true leadership, paid the ultimate price for being a Jew who wanted to live in his homeland, the state of Israel.

On that same Sunday in America, another display of hate and bigotry was revealed. No one was physically harmed, but it was an incident of anti-Semitism nonetheless.

University of Michigan Associate Professor, John Cheney-Lippold openly discriminated against a Jewish student when he refused to write her a letter of recommendation to study abroad because her chosen destination was Israel.

Cheney-Lippold had earlier told the student he would give her a letter of recommendation but withdrew his support when he realized she wanted to study in Israel, because he supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) that seeks “to isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily.”

“As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” Cheney-Lippold wrote the student.

Club Z, the organization that I founded, brought this story to light on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. A simple act of posting this professor’s own words on our social media platforms sent a clear message that bigotry and double standard for Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, will not be tolerated in civil society.

My post has since inspired others to come forward with their experiences, as they realize the power of sharing their stories.

Since this original incident, two more episodes of modern-day anti-Semitism have occurred at the University of Michigan.

A student sat through a mandatory class in which the lecturer compared Adolf Hitler, who carried out the mass murder of 6 million Jews, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shortly after, another student was also refused a letter of recommendation to study abroad in Israel by a teaching assistant.

Both students have been vocal, both incidents publicized extensively.

We must encourage and empower every individual who has witnessed or experienced discrimination – whether anti-Semitism, racism or another form of bigotry – to bring it to light.

Today, even in the United States, decades after we left the Soviet Union, our children must screen their university choices through the lens of “how bad is it for Jewish students?”

This is shocking and appalling. This is what propelled the founding of Club Z, based on the principle that we must prepare our children and give them tools to become empowered to face the inevitable – being targeted because of their Jewish identity and connection to Israel – as was the case with University of Michigan student.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about university professors who are concerned about openly identifying as Zionist for fear of being punished in their professional lives; or college students who worry about their grades and social lives if they object to their professors’ anti-Israel words and actions; or teens whose teachers are outwardly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, or whose classmates draw a swastika next to their name.

They ask: “What do you expect me to do? I am just one person.” They are concerned about speaking up. There is, of course, no simple answer.

We must ask: When will be an opportune time to stand up for our dignity? If we do not do it for ourselves now, who will? If we do not show our children how to be proud Jews, what are we teaching them, exactly?

We must find our voice and not allow individuals or organizations to continue to discriminate against us, individually, or as a people. We must use the power of social media to document and report what is happening.

It took one public post on Club Z’s Facebook page to elicit a national response. There are many similar incidents that are swept under the rug. When this happens, we are not able to address the issues that Jewish students and their allies face because of their support for Israel.

It is crucial that this become a public conversation. Otherwise, we cannot progress as a society.

At the very least, relevant organizations should be alerted – such as the Lawfare Project, a legal think tank and litigation fund committed to protecting the civil and human rights of the pro-Israel and Jewish communities.

Professors who inject their personal politics and discriminate against students with a connection to Israel must understand that this will no longer be accepted.

We must speak the truth, no matter the perceived consequences. Silence only perpetuates the current situation in which our children are being attacked in their institutions of learning. The strongest weapon we have is our voice and we must learn to use it.

This is the precise reason why Club Z was founded. Our primary mission is to build a community of educated teens. Our purpose is to foster the idea of responsibility among our teens to stand up for themselves and their community whenever and wherever they are.

As Jews, we are driven by the values of spreading light and repairing the world. Let us spread the light of truth about the state of Israel, root out anti-Semitic actions by academics, and carry on Ari Fuld’s legacy.

And let us all pray that bigotry does not result in any additional violent attacks in America or elsewhere in the world against anyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, or a person of any other faith.