The Lessons from the Tree of Life Attack

The Lessons from the Tree of Life Attack

On the 27th of October, the Jewish community in the US experienced an attack which will leave a scar on their history for generations to come.

During morning Shabbat service, a man walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was carrying three handguns and an assault rifle, with an intent to kill everyone inside. A fast response by the police and SWAT meant that they were able to prevent no more undignified deaths – the aftermath of this attack resulted in the killing of 11 people, and severely injuring 7, including 4 officers responding on the scene.

The act was carried by a neo-Nazi, who will remain nameless in this article to not fuel his cause. The attack was aimed at Jews in general, and from what we now know from his media profiles he intended to obliterate Judaism from Earth, and the Jews with it. The language and behaviour exhibited by the attacker cannot be attributed to anything else but antisemitism in its purest form. Although the brave actions of the quick response team ensure no more victims were included - the lives he ended up were enough to be the “deadliest attack on Jews in American history” (CNN).

With the Jewish Community uniting as a result of this tragedy, others seem to join them in their struggle. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, highly condemned the act and called out for the elimination of antisemitism from the world. The Muslim community in the US expressed their condolences and raised nearly $200,000 to help the victims and families of the attack.

It is not the first time the Jewish community in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood in Pittsburgh has experienced an attack because of their faith. In 1983, a Rabbinic student was shot dead walking back home from an evening prayer. However, over the years the neighbourhood has grown peaceful, and no one expected such a tragedy to occur.

The remarks made by President Trump were perceived to be very political and out of place. In his opinion, the deaths would not have happened if there was an armed guard on the site, who would have stopped the murderer. This has sparked criticism as there should not be a need for an armed guard in the first place.  What world are we living in, that for a group of people to feel safe during their time of worship, there must be an armed guard present?

This invokes memories of the Charleston church shooting in South Carolina, in 2015, where a white-supremacist murdered 9 black people attending a Bible-study. This also caused calls for armed guards in churches, protecting people from being killed while practising their religion. Instead, what society needs is a change in how we act towards hate-motivated actions. People should no longer ignore behaviours that can be perceived as acts of extremism. The Pittsburgh killer has been voicing his anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi views long before the massacre occurred, not in a local bar or his basement, but on a social media page.

Many questions arose: Why did no-one take an interest then? Why was he allowed to carry legally acquired firearms with no one intervening? Why did no-one intervene when he was directly threatening Jewish organisation Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to which the Tree of Life synagogue contributed? Anticipating such actions, and helping people who are in need of aid (whatever this aid may be) – can help prevent future attacks like this from happening.

Last week, a woman potentially prevented a school shooting by informing the authorities about a message she received, a comment on a photo of her with her children on social media. “The text, one that was extremely aggressive wishing her children (who are of colour) death as well as calling them appalling names. She chose to confront the situation and informed the authorities about the man, who was leaving his home loaded with weapons, with an intent to conduct a school shooting. Who knows how many kids and adults would have died if she ignored it? “If someone had the courage to speak out against the attacker, the innocent lives at the Tree of Life may have been spared.

It is not the time, nor the place, to lay blame on anyone, but to unite and draw a lesson from our history. We need to be more conscious as a society, especially when it comes to social media. Previously, there was almost no way to predict an attack like this, but now we are all inter-connected and are able to utilise new methods to prevent future attacks. What we need is to be more aware of other people’s actions, be less closed in our bubble as well as be less apathetic. Perhaps there will not be a need anymore for an armed guard present wherever people congregate in large groups. Maybe then, people will feel safe again.

Shalom Aleichem

שלום עליכם

Peace be upon you

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