Addressing the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Tree of Life Synagogue Image
The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was the site of a mass shooting on October 27, 2018. By CTO HENRY [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons.
This past week has been filled with hate, so much so that I have changed blog topics three or four times in the past six days just to reflect all the bad news (President Trump’s rhetoric on “caravans” coming to the United States, the packages sent to prominent Democrats, and now the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh). Honestly, all of the horrid news of recent days left me wanting to write everything and write nothing, all at the same time.

But here I am, the night before I usually publish my Tuesday blog posts, writing on the most recent piece of bad news: the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I honestly can’t put into words how awful this tragedy was. A group of people worshiping peacefully (just as I worship peacefully in my own religion on a weekly basis) were put into a state of fear, injury, or death (depending on the individual) from an anti-Semitic individual.

Speaking of anti-Semitism, I think that we need to use this time after the shooting to reflect on anti-Semitism.

Namely, it is high time that those of us who have our heads in the sand about the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States take our heads out of the sand.[1]

Anti-Semitism is quite visible and has been given way too much legitimacy. Those who doubt me can look at the record number of white nationalist candidates running for office this year, including candidates who deny the Holocaust (and at least one candidate who, horrifyingly, was at least at one point a member of the American Nazi Party).[2] Those who doubt me can look at the fact that anti-Semitism was rising sharply in the United States, even before the Pittsburgh shooting.[3] And finally, those who doubt me can look at the violence involving neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last year and see how the President of the United States said that there were “good people” on the side of neo-Nazis.[4] Anti-Semitism was around before 2017 and 2018, but it has certainly not gone away, and indications are that it has grown. We cannot ignore this anti-Semitism in the United States, and if we ignore it, then it will be to the peril of Jews across this country.

This does not mean that I have a solution that ends all anti-Semitism, and this does not mean that I expect my readers to have a solution to end anti-Semitism (though if anyone does have a roadmap for totally ending anti-Semitism nation-wide and worldwide, God Bless and Godspeed). However, we cannot even begin to think about solving a problem if we are blind to the problem in the first place. And right now, I fear that too many of us are blind to the fact that the anti-Semitism shown in the recent Synagogue shooting is not an isolated incident. It is part of a pattern of widespread anti-Semitism that is only growing in the United States.

Note: This post was written the night before it was published, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes that I made.


[1] I am not mincing words this week.

[2] https://www.businessinsider.com/white-nationalists-running-for-office-in-2018-2018-5

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/10/28/pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-anti-semitism-rise-america/1799933002/

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/

Why We Should Avoid Revenge

There have been times in my life when I felt wronged by someone. In many, if not all, of these instances, I was tempted to seek revenge on the person who wronged me. Most of the time, I didn’t give in to this temptation. But on a couple of occasions, I did.

I know that I am far from the only person who considers revenge against the wrongdoer. In fact, a recent blog post had to do with the Trump administration seeking revenge against the United Nations, which voted against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

However, I make a call for all of us, regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs, or personal views on other matters, to avoid revenge.

One problem with revenge is that revenge is so focused on “getting even” with someone that we fail to consider how our “getting even” might hurt the supposed wrongdoer, or hurt others who have nothing to do with the situation in which we were wronged. The Trump administration’s decision to cut American funding to the UN is an example of this—the administration’s desire to get even with the UN after the vote on the Jerusalem issue will end up lessening the UN’s ability to deliver humanitarian services, and as a result will hurt people who have absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s decision or the UN vote. While I hope that our struggles with revenge will not have consequences as potentially catastrophic as the example from the Trump administration, revenge nevertheless has the potential to hurt others.

If we seek revenge, we could also hurt ourselves. For example, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sought revenge on the Mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey because he didn’t support Christie’s campaign for a second term as governor, and the result of that revenge (closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge) was a scandal that ended any hopes of Governor Christie becoming President Christie in 2016. Examples like Christie’s demonstrate that it really is in our own best interests to avoid revenge.

Critics of my anti-revenge message might say the following: “What about seeking revenge for unjust actions? Wouldn’t that be okay?” Actually, that is not okay. The most effective movements for human rights in recent decades, and the most effective human rights activists, urged people to avoid revenge. Mahatma Gandhi once said that, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Malala Yousafzai didn’t “want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, rejection, and retaliation.”

I will, however, go one step further than simply urging us to avoid revenge. We should “bless those who persecute us” and “love our enemies,” as Jesus Christ (another proponent of peace) said. We should do what Gandhi, Malala, and Dr. King did, and respond to hatred and hurt with love and compassion instead of revenge.

Why We Should Care About Elections in an “Off Year”

Some of us in the United States may not be aware of this, but next Tuesday is Election Day! It is a day where we are supposed to go to polls and vote people into office.

However, the reality is that many of us who are eligible to vote don’t vote, for a variety of reasons. Some of us don’t vote because our work and/or school schedules simply don’t allow us the time to vote. Others need absentee ballots and don’t get them on time; I infamously got a damaged envelope for an election in 2013, and I felt quite angry because it meant that I was unable to vote. Some of us don’t vote because we think the election is a foregone conclusion, though in light of Trump’s victory in 2016 after most people thought Clinton had it in the bag, I hope that’s not a reason people use for not voting. Some of us don’t vote because we just hate all the candidates on the ballot. And then some of us just don’t vote because we don’t care.

I am here to say that everyone should care about Election Day, even though this is a so-called “off year.”

Some of you may be asking what an “off year” is, and why we should care about elections in an off year.

An off year is a year when there are no regularly-scheduled federal elections. So, given the fact that even-numbered years are years when we have federal elections in the United States, odd-numbered years, like 2017, are off years.

However, while there is relatively little we could do about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. this year, given the fact that this is an off year until we get to vote for Congress in 2018 (special elections like Alabama’s U.S. Senate race notwithstanding), there are elections in many parts of the country this year, and elections where we can vote in people who make the places we live in more just. There are people many of us could vote for—people who would keep or increase protections for immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, women, and more within our municipalities and/or states.

Some people may be skeptical and think: “How can a person from my little hometown or state have a difference?” Actually, in some cases, even the smallest of elections could make a major difference in how just our municipalities, states, and country are.

For example, because of the choices that people in the City of Seattle made at the polls, they ended up with a city council that unanimously voted for city employees to have twelve weeks of paid parental leave. This change allows the mother more time to recover physically from childbirth, and allows both parents to spend time with the child after its birth. This was clearly a case where people in Seattle voted in city council members who made their city a more just place to live, by virtue of the parental leave policy for city employees.

This, of course, is an extreme example. But there are other yet equally important examples, such as the fact that local and state elected officials in New York can and often do set the tone on issues such as housing, homelessness, police treatment of minority communities, and a greater inclusion of people with disabilities.

So, while I understand that there are circumstances which may keep readers from voting on Election Day, I hope that people can at least care enough to recognize the benefits and consequences of who gets voted into office, even at the local and state levels. Just because it’s an off year doesn’t mean that we should refrain from voting, because we should not refrain from the opportunity to vote for people who make our municipalities or states more just than they currently are.