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Guest opinion: We are not victims but the mourners of Zion

These are stones found on Wednesday, Oct. 31, as part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services Saturday, Oct. 27, in Pittsburgh.
These are stones found on Wednesday, Oct. 31, as part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services Saturday, Oct. 27, in Pittsburgh.
Gene J. Puskar, AP

Anti-Semitism has been called one of humanity’s longest lasting prejudices. We are the last generation of the children and the survivors of the Holocaust. Our hopes for “never again” have been sorely tested in the wake of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue. We are privileged in the United States to have the largest concentration of Jews outside the state of Israel. This country has welcomed us and given us a feeling of security and belonging.

With the barbaric murder in the sanctuary of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, we have joined our brothers and sisters in France, Belgium, Rome, Argentina, Israel and other places that have suffered attacks on Jewish institutions and places of worship. In some countries, a wave of anti-Semitism has led to a drastic spike of immigration to the state of Israel. In our country, the Anti-Defamation League has pointed to a rise in anti-Semitism since 2015. While Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, anti-Jewish incidents make up 54.2 percent of crime based on religious bias, according to the FBI 2016 crime reports.

Our religion teaches us that “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” The closest English proverb one can find to such a concept is “all for one and one for all.” The 11 lives cut from the Tree of Life represent us all. They were the doctors who take care of the needy, the helping hands that greet us in prayer, the survivors of the Nazi genocide and parents and grandparents we all have or have lost. The pain of the families and congregations of Pittsburgh is our pain.

The responsibility to grieve is shared not just by the children of Abraham but by us all. Throughout the week, hundreds of people of faith have joined our brethren in temples, Jewish centers and anyplace where we can grieve together. Elie Wiesel is famous for his quote “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” The first step in fighting anti-Semitism is the fight against indifference.

Those who sow hate and evil will use social media and take advantage of polarization in our society. We must not be indifferent or ignore hate groups that hide behind freedom of speech and their perversion of mainstream religions or political parties. Hate groups cross all boundaries on the left and the right of our political map. Organizations like the ADL and Southern Law Poverty Center serve an important role in identifying purveyors of hate. It starts with the identification of individuals in all mediums (including social media) that espouse conspiracy theories, associate Jews with global power and behind the scenes influence.

Anti-Semitism must be identified in our schools and universities where Jews are singled out for their identification with Israel. The ADL reports for 2017 more than a 90 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 and university campuses. We must not stay indifferent. Anti-Semitism may be one of the world’s oldest prejudices, but it does know how to morph into new guises in our schools, neighborhoods and political organizations.

Jewish-Americans are not victims, nor are the 11 people who sacrificed their lives for worshiping their God. Much like others before them, they are unwilling sacrifices for a society that must battle old and persistent evils. We mourn our fallen brothers and sisters. We offer the bereaved our condolences and promise of vigilance and action “May the Almighty comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”