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/

President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: Still a Mental Health Crisis

Last week, I wrote a blog post on how separating families of illegal immigrants was creating a mental health crisis.

The day after I wrote that post, President Trump signed an executive order saying that families of illegal immigrants who are detained can stay together. Some praised the move because it would keep families together while others criticized Trump for still having a zero-tolerance approach on immigration.

However, both sides of this argument need to seriously examine the catastrophic mental health consequences that will continue for families affected by this policy, as well as continuing mental health consequences for families who were already separated.

I will start by saying that this executive order does not eliminate mental health complications for the families who were already separated. Even for families who will be able to reunite with their children,[1] the mental health implications of temporary separation will not go away; if anything, numerous mental health experts cite other complications that may come about during family reunifications such as the trauma that comes from kids thinking that their parents abandoned them. For families who remain separated (and even the Department of Homeland Security concedes that many families remain separated), the mental health implications will certainly not go away and may actually get worse. Mental health advocates should be disappointed because this executive order fails to address the mental health of families who were/are separated..

Furthermore, detaining entire families—something that will seemingly be a result of the executive order (because what “keeping families together” seems to mean is that entire families may now be detained)—also comes with serious mental health consequences. Steve Lee, the President of the Society of Clinical Childhood and Adolescent Psychology, said about the policy of detaining entire families that, “It really does influence the child’s response to the environment going forward, even if it’s not as acute as with forced separation.” Alphonso Mercado, an assistant professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley who publishes research on Latino mental health, found that there is a “clear connection between the status of parents and their children” with regards to detained families.[2] While most of the attention on immigration policy and mental health has focused on the separation of families, detaining entire families has negative consequences on mental health as well.

So, to answer the question on how the executive order will have an impact on the mental health of illegal immigrant children and their families, it’s difficult to find any positives. The families who remain separated post-executive order will continue to experience mental health issues. The families who are lucky enough to reunite will face their own mental health concerns. Finally, families who get detained together instead of separated will also be at a risk for mental health problems. President Trump’s executive order to “fix” the crisis of separating illegal immigrant families is not a fix from a mental health perspective.

Note: I wrote this piece within hours of publishing this post. I therefore apologize for any mistakes that may exist here.


[1] As far as I can tell, the executive order does not call for when, if, or how families would be reunified. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments section.

[2] My two quotes come from this piece in Time Magazine.

Detained Children image
Above is an image of detained children at a detention facility known as “Ursula” in McAllen< Texas. Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Ursula (detention center) 2.jpg. Wikimedia Commons: The Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ursula_(detention_center)_2.jpg&oldid=307239262 (accessed June 25, 2018).

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.

The Catastrophic Consequences of the United States Cutting Funding from the United Nations

When I took my two-week hiatus from blogging, I thought that I’d come back to problems solved everywhere, leaving me nothing to write about.

Only in my dreams.

Earlier in December, the Trump administration made the decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, America recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The United Nations overwhelmingly rejected this move by the Trump administration. It was so overwhelming that many of America’s allies, both in the Middle East (Jordan and Saudi Arabia) and around the world (the United Kingdom and Germany), rejected this move. Egypt, another of America’s allies in the Middle East, sponsored the resolution that rejected these moves.

In the wake of that decision, the Trump administration did what many of us as humans would do after being deeply offended: seek revenge on those who offended us. In the case of the Trump team, they sought revenge by threatening to cut some of the U.S.’s funding from the UN, and then following through on that threat.

Detractors of the UN, as well as the American role in the UN and in global affairs in general, are probably happy about this. However, once people, both supporters and detractors of the move alike, find out about the catastrophic consequences of cutting funding from the UN, they might not be in a celebratory mood about the decision.

What makes American funding cuts to the UN so problematic, potentially, is that these cuts would likely result in funding cuts to UN-sponsored programs that save lives. In order to fully understand the humanitarian consequences of deep American funding cuts to the UN, consider the Brookings Institute’s breakdown of how the U.S. allocation to the UN was used. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of America’s funding to the UN was used for life-saving humanitarian efforts. 23% of the money America gives to the UN goes to the World Food Programme, which is arguably the most influential food-assistance program in the world. 22% goes to peacekeeping operations, which, given this program’s role to help “countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace,” is an organization that can also save lives. 13% goes to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a program meant to protect refugees around the world. Last, but not least, 9% goes to UNICEF, which protects the needs and rights of women and children around the world. These four wings of the UN, which all look to save and improve the lives of people in their own ways, make up 67% of the money that the U.S. gives to the UN.

The bottom line is that American cuts to the UN would result in cuts to the aforementioned programs, all of which save and enrich lives. It means less support for children, women, refugees, people in war-torn areas, and people in danger of starving to death. Some of us might not be fans of the UN’s resolution on Jerusalem, or of the UN in general, but neither issue takes away from the fact that deep cuts in American funding to the UN would be catastrophic from a humanitarian perspective for large groups of people (especially because of how much America contributes to the UN).

To make matters worse, I’ve heard little coverage from the mainstream media on just how much humanitarian efforts would hurt if/when the U.S. makes deep cuts in its funding to the UN. As a result, I fear that the Trump administration will undermine UN humanitarian efforts, and do so with little attention. I hope that my fears are wrong.

Some Words about the End of DACA

I was heartbroken when I found out about the White House’s recent decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). To see children and adults alike, none of whom committed crimes, be in a state of legal limbo because they tagged along with parents who crossed the border into the United States illegally or overstayed visas and remained illegally, is just sickening. It was so sickening that, for awhile, I didn’t know what to say or do other than lament.

In some ways, I still don’t know what to say. But there are a few things that I think are appropriate to share with a blog whose theme is injustices that we may be blind to, or blindly commit.

The first thing is this: unless we seriously think about how to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we run the risk of blindly committing injustices. Look, for example, at the actions of the people who were behind this: President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and right-wing Republicans who support people like Trump and Sessions. They would not want others to put them in a position of legal limbo. They wouldn’t want to be in a position where they are deported from the country. They wouldn’t like to be put into danger by others because of what their parents did, good or bad. Yet, what I described is the position they’re putting the DACA kids into; as a result, they seemed not to think about “doing onto others as you would have them do unto you.” Unless we think about that exact phrase, we run the risk of being unjust to others.

The second thing is that we need to be conscious of how law (both civil and natural) is used to justify injustice. Whether it be ending DACA on the basis of “law,” allowing for Jim Crow Laws on the basis of how “law” allows for “separate but equal,” or arguing for female inferiority on the basis of “natural law,” there are examples of law being used to justify injustice throughout the history of the United States. I could probably dedicate a whole blog post to the topic of how law is used to justify injustice, but for now, I think the issue should be vigorously discussed in the context of DACA—especially since “law” was used by the Trump White House to justify the injustice of ending DACA (unless Congress passes something), and especially since “law” is practically given as much respect as the Bible among believing Christians.

The final thing is that we need to be aware of how these DACA kids are really not that different from the rest of us. There are some outstanding DACA people that supporters of DACA want to put a spotlight on, and some not-so-outstanding DACA people that opponents of DACA want to put a spotlight on, but the heartbreaking thing is that at the end of the day, they are in many ways not that different from the rest of us. The only difference is the circumstances with which we all ended up in this country—DACA people had parents who took them across the border and ended up not having documentation, while the rest of us in the United States were either born here or ended up here through other circumstances. Remembering that DACA people are not that different from us will hopefully bring some humanity to the current conversations.

Ultimately, we are all humans. We are not that different. And it’s extremely heartbreaking to see what’s happening to DACA people, precisely because they are not that different from the rest of us yet will have it much worse than the rest of us.

Author’s Note: Even though there were rumors of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, I feel that this post is relevant until DACA gets passed through the House and Senate, and gets signed by Trump.

IMAG0548
When I was at the protest over the end of DACA in Manhattan, I saw a little girl with a sign saying, “Don’t separate my family.” My heart broke when I saw the sign and the little girl with the sign.