BY MADDY RITTER ’20
Jewish people make up about 2 percent of the U.S. population. Though a tiny minority of the overall United States, we typically exist in clusters in and around cities, both for our survival and for a sense of community. One of these clusters is Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — this is where I was raised as a secular Jew.
Much of Squirrel Hill’s Jewish population are Hasidim, or Orthodox Jews, but there is also a significant portion of the population whose families are reform, conservative or secular. I was lucky to have attended public school for 13 years with many Jewish classmates. It certainly made me feel less isolated during Christmas to have a shared minority experience with the other Jewish kids. We would bask in the excitement of receiving presents for eight days instead of just one, and lighting Hanukkah candles on the menorah made us feel better about not having a tree in our living rooms like everyone else in America. As American Jews, living in Squirrel Hill our whole lives made us feel relatively safe.
We are a largely Jewish neighborhood, and though we are not perfect, we strive to be welcoming to all people. The local Jewish Community Center’s own slogan is “The JCC is for everybody,” and this is how we choose to present ourselves. By recognizing our own plight, the traumas which have occurred over and over again throughout our long and exceedingly difficult history, we also seek to end the violence and oppression towards other marginalized groups. Ashkenazi Jews, commonly of Eastern European descent, are the majority among American Jews. We were immigrants ourselves, and we are therefore obligated to support the immigrant populations today who continue to be demonized by Donald Trump. Today, we often benefit from white privilege, especially in cities where we can blend in seamlessly. However, in the face of militant white supremacists, Jewish people are not considered white. We are not considered human.
In Squirrel Hill, we expected to feel, maybe, as if the discrimination and hatred we have historically faced so much of was not present. Yet, just days ago in 2018, 11 people living in my community — these were my neighbors — were murdered by a white supremacist for being Jewish. The perpetrator of this horrendous crime went into the Tree of Life Congregation on Saturday morning, on the sabbath, during a baby-naming ceremony, a moment for celebration and happiness for the renewal of life. He shouted “All Jews must die,” leaving us only to conclude that anti-Semitism is very much real and alive. The target was not arbitrary. Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, no longer feels safe.
This is living in the Trump era. Donald Trump has toxified America with his vitriol and the way he has demeaned and vilified the most disenfranchised groups in our country. Trump is to blame; this massacre is symptomatic of the America his administration deems acceptable. His contribution to the national atmosphere of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and antiSemitism should not be understated. The growing neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements within this country, emboldened by Trump’s nationalist agenda, will inevitably result in horrific and unimaginable violence, as we just saw in my own backyard.
Anti-Semitism is often said to be one of the oldest forms of discrimination. When President Trump says that in order to resist these attacks our places of worship need more guns and more protection, he sweeps the legitimate causes of the attacks under the rug. He shows a complete absence of comprehension and compassion and demonstrates that he will not assist in finding an adequate solution. A lack of weapons in our synagogues is not the reason this happened. Adding more guns to the equation will never result in less violence. These things happen because of virulent hatred and intolerance, because of white supremacy and white nationalism. They happen because when these white supremacists want to annihilate us, as so many have in the past few thousand years, they feel enabled by their president, and it is all too easy for them to access the semi-automatic weapons that allow a massacre to happen in an instant. Until we have stricter gun control and an administration conducive to making that happen, these kinds of attacks won’t end. My community is under threat, but we are strong and we will vote.