More than 10,000 hate crimes involving a firearm occur each year in the United States, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. On Oct. 27, the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre was added to this list in what is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on American soil.
Hate, as the numbers from Everytown show, breeds gun violence, especially in a country where one can legally purchase weapons of mass destruction, like the AR-15. In 2015, a white supremacist murdered three people at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center outside of Kansas City. It was only a matter of time before another anti-Semite with a gun killed Jews in this country.
As a Jew and an American, I have always been torn between my religious and national identities. At different times, I have felt the need to stress one’s importance over the other, but I’ve always struggled with which that would be. After this shooting claimed the lives of 11 innocent people as they worshipped, I have been able to reconcile the differences in my identity and realize that neither can stand above the other. But it seems to me that some Jewish Americans, or American Jews, have been unable to do the same.
The Tree of Life attack was carried out by an anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant racist. He reportedly legally purchased the AR-15 to carry out the shooting, and it has become well-known that he stated his desire to murder Jews upon entering the synagogue. This unusually deadly display of anti-Semitism in America is evil, but it should not come as a surprise; anti-Semitic acts have been rising steadily in the U.S., with 2017 marking an almost 60 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents in a single year.
We, as American Jews, reaffirmed our religious and ethnic identity by responding as we must to the Tree of Life shooting — an instance in which our small, tight-knit community was directly targeted. By immediately organizing vigils, raising money, posting messages rejecting anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds and planning Shabbat dinners and other gatherings to heal these fresh wounds, we have demonstrated immense resilience. This is a quality of our identity that has persisted for millennia.
But, as Jewish Americans, we cannot forget our nationality; gun violence and mass shootings are a uniquely American problem. By ignoring or underplaying the role that lax gun laws and easy access to assault rifles played in this blatant act of hate, we deny another piece of our identity fundamental to our everyday lives.
In a synagogue, it is easy to find Jews to target. On the street, or in a high school, or at a music festival, unless you clearly indicate your Judaism, shooters only see Americans. They see American youth, women and men. They see you as just another person among the 330 million of us, no more or less a target than anyone else. But when they have a motive, and they have a specific minority group gathered in one place that they can target, shooters are able to bring more than just gun violence to the forefront. We cannot let them drown out the epidemic that is gripping our country. We must aggressively attack, denounce and stand against both hate and gun violence.
I reject the notion that most or all American Jews or Jewish Americans fail to recognize the issue of gun violence in the U.S. I know Jewish teens and adults who are fighting the battle for stricter gun control and for a safer America each and every day. But I cannot comprehend how hate in this country will be rooted out if the role that gun violence plays in perpetuating this hate is not acknowledged.
American Jewry must stand up in favor of gun control because this type of violence is not unique to us. In 2016, 49 people were murdered at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., for their sexual orientation. Prior to that, nine African American worshippers were killed in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., because they were black. And just a few days prior to the Pittsburgh massacre, a man sought to shoot people in a predominantly African American church before killing two elderly African Americans outside a Kroger.
Tikkun Olam, the Jewish value that guides us to repair the world, cannot apply only when hate reaches our own houses of worship. Gun violence is a mechanism that enables evil people to perpetrate hate against any and every minority group in our country. This is not the first or last time we will see hate beget deadly mass shootings.
Whether you choose to identify as a Jewish American or as an American Jew, we, the American Jewish community, have an opportunity to stand firmly against both anti-Semitism and gun violence. We can shape the conversation around these pressing issues in our society, and we can rally with other communities that have been affected by hate and gun violence.
The first place we must take a stand is at the ballot box. Many of our elected leaders, most notably Senate Republicans, have proven unwilling to pass common-sense gun control legislation. Many politicians, including President Trump, have failed to properly address the danger of a rising tide of white nationalist incidents, illuminated by the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. We begin to expel hate by voting these officials out and electing leaders committed to peace, non-violence and acceptance in a country staring down bigotry and xenophobia.
After we vote, we must continue to march, protest and organize for national unity and gun control. We must continue to stand against the people and groups who embrace hate and the deadly weapons that make minority groups vulnerable. It is the only way we can prevent more Tree of Life, Emanuel AME and Pulse tragedies. It is the only way we can truly embrace who we are, as both Jews and Americans.
Jacob Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Ga.