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The Jewish Report Editorial

Behind the horror that Pittsburgh monster created

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The horrific anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh in the United States has shaken the Jewish world. It is such a horrifying thought that someone would do this to people just because they are Jewish.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 01, 2018

So many of us were keeping Shabbos for the Shabbos Project, and were blissfully unaware of what had happened. As we all reverted to our post-Shabbos smart-phone social media and news checks, the horror of the massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation shul hit us.

Part of the Shabbos Project’s ideology is about coming together as Jews, and there are few things that bring us together faster than something as horrific as this. The realisation that it could have been at any shul – irrespective of whether it was an Orthodox, Progressive, Conservative or any other persuasion – as long as there were Jews inside, is so horrifying. It is the ultimate leveller among us, who so often engage in battle and banter over who is a Jew, and who isn’t quite Jewish enough. That Pittsburgh monster didn’t care. We were – and are – all the same in his eyes.

But yet, even in the midst of this tragedy and the realisation of this blatant anti-Semitic hatred, we still choose to be divided and fight among ourselves.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, who is known to be dismissive of those who aren’t Orthodox, made it quite clear that these people are Jewish, and would not be drawn into differentiations. However, he was pushed and incorrectly translated, and a hullabaloo was created over whether or not he saw the Tree of Life Congregation as a shul. Then, Jewish people on social media went on to question whether our own chief rabbi would recognise this house of prayer as a shul. Until the SA Jewish Report asked Rabbi Warren Goldstein, nobody had asked the question directly, but still the ugly debate grew legs on social media. As it happens, our chief rabbi was astonished that anyone would suggest it wasn’t a shul.

Why, oh why in the midst of this horrific incident and increased threat to Jewish people, do we divide ourselves? Why do we need to find fault with one another? Why don’t we band together, let go of our differences, and work as one against our enemies? That is the only way we will defeat them. As a united front, we can do anything. As a disparate group that haggles and finds fault with one another, we are going nowhere. We simply play into the hands of our enemies.

One only has to look on social media to discover how many enemies we have. I can’t help wondering what it takes for hate speech on social media to lead to a tragedy. For this monster, it didn’t take much. Is it about others fuelling their hateful fire, or just being ignored?

We would hardly ever go to a website like gab.com (the site on which this monster was posting his hate speech) because we are not its target audience, and we don’t fit its demographic.

Last week, my colleague Jordan Moshe alerted me to another website, whose name I would rather not share, in which the anti-Semitic hate speech is devastating. It even has a section called “The Jewish Problem”, in which all of its revolting articles are posted. This is online for anyone to see. We were both so astounded that people looked at us like that. I guess, it was the same sense that Jews in Europe must have had when they realised there was a rabid, unfathomable hatred towards them. This moment also gave us an inkling – for once – of what it must have been like to be black in South Africa during apartheid.

While the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is quick to act on hate speech in South Africa, what of those rants it never gets to see? Last weekend’s massacre has now put the hate speech on social media in a totally new light. It shows that it’s not just about people saying ugly things, but people showing true feelings that they could act upon.

This attack has made me grateful for our security guards outside shuls. Americans seem to think there is something amiss about questioning a stranger before he or she is allowed to enter a shul.

I know it can be irritating – even humiliating – to be cross-examined by those on security duty at a shul you want to enter to pray. Sure, it doesn’t feel right to turn people away from shuls, but if it means it protects those praying inside from a potential disaster, I am willing to accept it.

I am grateful that our CSO is stepping up our security, because I want to be sure that we do what we need to do to safeguard all members of our community.

The silver lining of this tragedy is to see all those people we least expected come out in support of the Jewish community. In Pittsburgh, two Muslim organisations raised $200 000 (R2.9 million) to help the families of the victims of the Tree of Life massacre.

And, here in Johannesburg, a wonderful rabbi told me of a call he got from an imam from a nearby community in response to the attack. The imam said, “Rabbi, I remember when you called me when the mosque in Durban was attacked. Today, I do the same. I phone you on behalf of my community to say how horrified we are at the events that took place on Saturday.” The imam went on to ask the rabbi if he knew if the community in Pittsburgh had any special needs, saying that his community was willing to assist.

This warms my soul. With all the ugliness in the world, it is beautiful to know that there is goodness in most of us.

Shabbat Shalom!

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