On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, during a morning Shabbat service in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, a middle-aged man armed with an AR-15 and three handguns fired upon a group of congregants in the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in American history. In total, 11 individuals—eight men and three women—lost their lives, while many others were wounded. The gut-wrenching attack has shocked the nation and the international community, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a former resident of Philadelphia, expressing his condolences on Twitter. Likewise, Trump sent a series of tweets in which he decried the events at Pittsburgh as “an assault on humanity,” and later noted that an armed security most likely would have prevented the attack. President Vincent Price sent out a mass email to all members of the Duke community encouraging people to find strength in unity against anti-Semitic acts.
Above all, the events of Saturday morning illustrate the legacy of rampant anti-Semitism that continuously rears its head in the United States. Like other countries, the United States bears a heinous history of excluding, discriminating against and persecuting Jewish individuals as part of its long tradition of “othering” non-Anglo-Saxon populations.
In the 1920s, under the impression that the country was losing its national character through “undesirable” ethnicities, U.S. politicians enacted a number of racist immigration quotas, including numbers that severely limited Jewish immigration during one of the most anti-Semitic eras in world history. Harvard’s president in 1923, A. Lawrence Lowell, set out to solve the university’s rampant “Jewish problem” by setting a stringent quota against applicants who had Jewish backgrounds, even going as far as to require a photograph and a maternal maiden name on all applications.
The shooting in Pittsburgh shows us that despite the overall move away from the virulent anti-Semitism of the past, we still deal with the relics of institutions that demonize particular ethnic populations in the modern age. The Anti-Defamation League has estimated that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States skyrocketed by 57 percent in 2017 from the previous year—reportedly the largest annual increase since the organization began keeping records. Trumpist white supremacists, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” dominated the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017, proudly signaling to the nation their unabashed anti-Semitic attitudes on live television. Politicians with Jewish backgrounds like Bernie Sanders continue to be targets of far-right conspiracies that seek to implicate Jewish individuals in a ‘worldwide Zionist conspiracy,’ in the manner of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Even here at Duke, home to many students who proudly identify as Jewish, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has seemingly increased in the recent past. Last May, a series of anti-Semitic flyers insinuating the existence of a global Jewish conspiracy were found on East Campus. Earlier this month, a swastika, was found carved into a bathroom stall on West Campus’ Languages building. Before that, a horrendous anti-Semitic slur was discovered in the tunnel at the entrance to East Campus. In spite of the great diversity of the Duke community, it seems that even we are not immune to the upsurge in anti-Semitism that continues to plague the United States. Speaking more broadly, these trends seem to indicate an overall increase in the number of hate crimes and racist incidents at Duke.
For all minorities, and people who are otherwise considered “different," the present represents a trying time. Incidents of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry have risen in recent memory, ready to terrorize our nation in an instance of history repeating itself. For members of the Duke community, we should seek unity in diversity, making sure that those around us are properly cared for. It is incumbent upon all religious peoples, and groups that have been discriminated against to single out and condemn anti-Semitism. For if other marginalized groups fail to come out in condemnation of anti-Semitism, they risk fueling the very same essential hatred that is core to all forms of racism and bigotry. Pittsburgh may be nearly 500 miles from Durham, but the pain and suffering caused by one hateful individual’s actions have been felt worldwide.
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