The events of this past weekend horrified and disgusted the world, yet left the Jewish community, on the whole, unsurprised. Perhaps due to the fact that I revisit anti-Semitism week after week in Post-Holocaust Philosophy Theory with Pomona College professor Oona Eisenstadt, I have become especially inured to the idea that the Jewish people have long been victims of spontaneous violence and persecution.
As I and other young Jews have been forced to reckon with the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I have been dismayed by the inadequacy of official responses. In particular, their failures to recognize the unique status of this attack as a hate crime symptomatic of a global rise in anti-Semitism today.
On Saturday morning, I awoke late in my dorm room and rolled over blearily to a text from my fellow Jewish friend: “Wake up. Shooting at a temple in pa during shabbat services.”
While the Jewish community sat with the traumatic news, I noticed within the greater community the same insistent push to move on from tragedy that Holocaust survivor Jean Améry lamented in his memoir “At the Mind’s Limits.” Instead of fully considering the weight of a tragedy, Améry argues, the world too quickly pushes forward.
I noticed it in politicians’ responses: Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto “vowed that the city would move forward.” Representative Frank Dermody offered a message of support to law enforcement “moving forward.” Attorney General Josh Shapiro emphasized the necessity of conversation and actions ahead that “are critical for us to heal and move forward together.”
Even the response of Pomona College’s president G. Gabrielle Starr ended with a “hope for a future that is more willing to seek peace.” While these statements are no doubt well-intentioned, they seem particularly unsettling in light of one fact.
A common thread resounds: a condolence, and then a call to move forward. As I read more of these responses, I am left not with hope, but with a sickening sense that this country will just move on.
Instead of talking about the broader implications of rising anti-Semitism, public discourse is already settling into banal condolences and vague hopes for the future. Not only does the Jewish community need a moment to grieve, but conversation around the shooting must be shifted to focus on its anti-Semitic nature.
It is no coincidence that the shooting happened at a time when anti-Semitism is at a current high in America; it is well known that anti-Semitism accompanies and fuels both racism and white supremacy.
Random acts of violence may be “senseless,” as President Starr asserts, but the motivations behind this one are far from incomprehensible, and to suggest that “no one can understand” why this man shot up a synagogue is not only irresponsible, but offensive.
The setting of the shooting — a synagogue during a Saturday morning Shabbat service — and the identity of the perpetrator, a radically anti-Semitic white supremacist, should be central to our understanding of this tragedy.
Failing to acknowledge the long, painful history of anti-Semitic violence, lumping this anti-Semitic tragedy in with hate crimes driven by other biases, and entirely omitting the phrase “anti-Semitism” from responses to this tragedy feed into the erasure of rising anti-Semitism in the world.
It also narrows our understanding of the tragedy by ignoring the unique history of hatred toward Jews.
We can understand an act like the shooting: We have the gunman’s social media record, we know the white supremacist groups of which he was a member. We recognize the age-old tradition of anti-Semitic violence. Indeed, the only way we can attempt to stop future racist or anti-Semitic incidents is to identify and emphasize their unique nature.
Calls to action are needed in our country regardless of mass tragedy. There is nothing that can be said in response to mass violence that fully validates its weight, so of course bureaucratic messages will always fall flat.
Yet this does not mean their wording is not important. No matter its intent, ending a message of condolence with a vague, hopeful upturn is as mistaken as it is goyishe.
There is no moving forward; there is no forgetting the past. We owe that to the victims, the survivors, and our people.
Talia Ivry PO ’21 is from Madison, WI, and currently trying to figure out her major. She enjoys boating, cloud-watching, and crafting Spotify playlists for every occasion.