Death in Pittsburgh

October 30, 2018 by Jeremy Rosen
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The massacre of eleven Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh is not just about current antisemitism…writes Jeremy Rosen.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Of course, the leprosy of antisemitism is as deep in the USA as it is in almost every county in the western and Islamic world today. A quick search on Google will turn up a veritable sewer of Jew hatred. The legacy is long and very deep. Its tentacles have been nurtured and its filth fertilized in every generation. It is not the only case of poisonous prejudice by any means. But it is the most widespread and longest lasting of all the prejudices on earth.

In the USA it began as a Christian phenomenon imported from Iberia and Europe. We know that despite the noble sentiments of the founding fathers, prejudice of all sorts was always endemic. Antisemitism infected early governors, generals in the Civil War. It increased with immigration from Germany and other European countries in the nineteenth century. It was nurtured by Henry Ford and the Catholic Father Coughlin in the twentieth. Jews were communists, capitalists and all evils in between. It was adopted by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan and its malignant Grand Wizards. It is now endemic in black communities where the despicable hatemonger Farrakhan is welcomed by the black democratic elite. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton together with President Clinton, all cosied up at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. No one seemed to care about Obama’s association with antisemitic preachers. It was the norm amongst American Academics fearing that Jewish brain power might put them out of a job. And now it has been adopted by the Left under the guise of anti-imperialism.

All these phases of antisemitism were to be found in the USA and Europe long before him. Most Americans have overcome them. Everywhere where the Church spread, the virus spread too. Now sadly the same can be said of Islam. Only those places where Christianity and Islam did not control the cultural narrative seem to be relatively impervious. Yet it would be wrong and dangerous to generalize and suggest that in Christianity or Islam everyone has been infected. And in truth agitation comes from politicization as much as preaching.

I am no admirer of Trump. But the almost universal desire of the anti-Trump media and opinion, to blame him, is as dangerous a prejudice as that which they pretend to abhor. All these features, antisemitism, the gun culture, the east access of the mentally deranged to killing machines, the slaughter of innocents on all sides, existed and manifested themselves under previous presidents too. If we lay this all at Trump’s door, we are equally guilty for failing to understand the true nature of American society where each group fosters and festers its own agenda and violence is often glorified. We all share responsibility for failing to act. To play politics over this tragedy is a disgrace, but the norm nowadays.

And yet despite the evil vapours in the atmosphere, Jews have survived and thrived in the USA and parts of Europe.) I guess it is rather like the germs in the air. We know they can infect and kill. But most of the time most of us are impervious. And the unfortunate truth is that each assault, physical or verbal only strengthens Jewish identity and resolve. And those whose natural tendency is to assimilate and be like “everyone else” realizes that that is no guarantee of protection. Instead of running away. They often come back.

I understand that people of limited intellectual ability like to see conspiracy theories and look for simplistic answers to crises that only confirm their prejudices. But thinking human beings should always seek objectivity and balance. Which is why I condemn unequivocally the pathetic statement by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel who ought to know better. His attempt to demean the non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism by refusing to call the Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh, a synagogue, was a disgrace. It shows that prejudice exists within our own ranks too. And let us not forget Baruch Goldstein.

I also excoriate the Haredi Schools in the UK and elsewhere who object to teaching about (they are not being asked to approve) other values systems be they religious or civil such as gay rights. You can teach about the existence of other ideologies while still teaching a commitment to your own. But if you want the State support you, owe it to the State to support their commitment to accepting difference regardless of whether you approve or agree or not. They do this already over civil marriage in general, even if they choose privately to have religious ceremonies only.

No one is without sin when it comes to prejudice. But the vast majority of people regardless of their prejudices want to live where differences are tolerated and accepted. Which is why for all its faults the USA still remains an attractive place for Jews to live. More so than Europe, because this vast country is made up of so many different communities, religious, cultural and political that provide checks and balances. One simply as to accept others if one wants to thrive.

The wonder of multiculturalism is that the State grants equal rights to everyone who obeys the law. The danger is that tolerance goes too far when it prevents authorities from prosecuting offenders simply because of their faiths. But multiculturalism can only work if each minority allows others to co-exist without violence of aggression. The process of compromise involves both parties, political and religious.

We should not confuse a bonfire with a forest fire. There are bonfires of prejudice wherever you look. All the time. Just as there is universal crime regardless of the standards of any society. The challenge is to ensure the fire does turn into a conflagration. And it takes a tragedy to act as a brake for a while if we are willing to allow it to.

May the names of the martyrs be sanctified and remembered for good.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen lives in New York. He was born in Manchester. His writings are concerned with religion, culture, history and current affairs – anything he finds interesting or relevant. They are designed to entertain and to stimulate. Disagreement is always welcome.


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