By: Yael Bister (11th Grade)
On April 27th, 19 year-old John Ernest opened fire on the Chabad of Poway in California while the congregants celebrated their last day of Passover, a festival of freedom. During the attack, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein called out the powerful words from the Vi-He She-Amda prayer: “In every generation, they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” These same words were said days before by many Jews at their Pesach seders.
The shooter took a single life and injured three members of the community. The one casualty, Lori Gilbert Kaye, was loved and respected by her community members, touching everyone’s lives. Poway congregants say she was always inviting people over and opening her doors to guests for Shabbat. Along with her kind hospitality, she was an avid Israel supporter and active member of the Poway Jewish community. Kaye’s death reflected the way she lived her life: protecting her people.
As the gunman was firing his assault rifle, he injured Almog Peretz, an IDF veteran, and his eight year-old niece, Noya Dahan. Both had recently fled from Sderot Israel to avoid the constant rockets from Hamas, and now, here they were in America under attack once again. Next, the shooter turned to Rabbi Goldstein, but miraculously the gun jammed. The Rabbi refers to the day of the shooting as the day his funeral should have happened.
After the gun malfunctioned, Ernest fled the synagogue and called 911 to report his own shooting. As he ran from the Chabad, army veteran Oscar Stewart and border patrol agent Jonathan Morales caught up to the gunman and were able to detain him until the police arrived.
The assailant, Ernest, was exposed to the doctrines of anti-semitism and white supremacy, and he felt inspired to take action by targeting the Jews of the Poway community. He wrote a manifesto in which he declared that he would “die a thousand times over to prevent the doomed fate that the Jews have planned for my race.” His manifesto continued with age-old anti-semitic slurs and declarations to destroy the Jewish people. Unfortunately, he is not alone in his vicious hatred towards the Jews.
Just a few days before this horrific event, anti-semitism reared its ugly head in one of the world’s most renowned newspapers. The New York Times international edition published a virulently anti-Jewish cartoon, portraying Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a guide dog with a Star of David on his chest. Bibi, with a leash around his neck, was leading a blind Donald Trump wearing a kippah. The artist of the cartoon used an age-old anti-semitic trope, comparing Jews to dogs and claiming that they lead the world and our country. The incorporation of Trump into the sketch illustrates that the United States follows Israel blindly, with full support. This cartoon upset many people, resulting in a major decrease in New York Times subscribers. The New York Times soon thereafter apologized and deleted the cartoon. The Times justified their actions by claiming that the cartoon was published in their international edition, which has little supervision.
We are now living in the 21st century, a time when society is rapidly advancing, but acceptance and tolerance are moving backwards. Anti-semitism is rising and it is rising fast.
During the week of February 20th of this year alone, anti-semitic incidents in France went up 74%, including the 80 Jewish gravestones which were defaced with Swastikas. Anti-semitic attacks in Germany rose to about 60%. Here in America, high school students created Swastikas with cups and posed in a “Heil Hitler” salute. Two other students in Florida drew Swastikas all over themselves and posted pictures of it on social media. Additionally, this week began with news that a garage in a Canadian neighborhood was covered in Swastikas and threats.
This past Thursday, the Hebrew Academy commemorated the victims of the Holocaust for Yom Hashoah. We were reminded of the horrors our ancestors faced, atrocities which should only push us to stop the targeting of our religion and nation. We must do this in the memory of all those who perished before us: fighting for what they believed in and in honor of the future generations to live in a world of real religious tolerance and freedom.
As Jews and Zionists, we can no longer stand idly by; we can no longer watch these hate crimes take place one after the other; we can no longer brush off the apathy being shown in our societies; and we can no longer stay quiet. These hate crimes are nothing new to us. However, with our people’s history in mind, we must be proactive in order to stop them. We must voice our opinions, get involved with organizations, and we must stop these hateful acts towards Jews and Israelis before they manifest into something even greater. We must join together, religious or not, as a community to fight against the hate. It begins with us.