Lorber: Naming Anti-Semitism

Nov 7, 2018

To go to someone’s funeral and speak solely in generalities about the sadness of death, without mention of the person who died or condolences to the family would be completely out of place. Yet that’s what often happens when we experience an act of violence motivated by hate.

After the largest massacre of Jews ever to occur on US soil, many political and religious leaders of all stripes gathered in Burlington to share their condolences and support. Yet many failed to use the word ‘anti-Semitic.’ They simply left out that detail.

To me, it seemed as if they forgot the obvious: that specificity matters.

The alleged Pittsburgh shooter was both anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant. He was reported to have yelled, “All Jews must die!” while on his rampage. Just two weeks earlier, he’d attacked HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, on social media. HIAS was founded in the 19th century to help Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, and has since expanded its mission to help non-Jewish refugees fleeing more than a dozen countries globally. The “all-lives-matter approach” perpetuates the problem by neglecting to name it.

Certainly the glossing over of hate-crimes can be unintentional – even well-meaning – perhaps as a way to help heal communities rather than continue to isolate them.

A retired Presbyterian pastor, speaking at a service outside the Tree of Life synagogue was quoted as saying, “This is not a Jewish problem, although Jews were targeted. This is a human problem.”

It’s a beautiful sentiment, but the problem is human AND anti-Semitic. Both.

The names of those who perished are Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. They were all Jews, and we must acknowledge that they were killed because they were Jewish.

As compassionate people, we must ask ourselves how our inaction or silence helped enable anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry. We must also not leave crucial things unsaid. By naming a problem, we face it, honor those who were lost, and begin to stop the scourge of anti-Semitism.