Charles R. Chakkalo
Change Your World

Death to who? Not Jews.

In Jewish Oral Law, it is recorded “if someone comes to murder you, take action and kill them” (Sanhedrin 72a).

In 2018, I became concerned about the rising threat of anti-Semitism in the United States, particularly as a first-generation American with parents who experienced powerlessness and fear in Syria. My turning point came in 2019 after the attack on a synagogue in Poway, California. It made me realize that our way of life as practicing Jews was being jeopardized, and I knew I had to take action.

Growing up, I was sheltered from anti-Semitism, and somewhat ignorant about its prevalence. However, the events around me opened my eyes to the harsh reality that Jew-hatred and bigotry still existed in our society. This realization motivated me to join a community initiative that focused on self-defense, surveillance, and awareness techniques to protect our synagogues.

I felt a strong sense of obligation to defend my community, our religion, and our places of worship. In response to the attacks, I decided to pursue a firearm license and underwent training with the Community Security Service, a Jewish non-profit security organization. There was no reason for me to sit idly by while potential perpetrators can pretty easily pick up a firearm and shoot up my synagogue.

Reflecting on the sentencing of the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh attack, I find myself torn. On one hand, my religion states that the punishment for murder is death. However, as a citizen of a country governed by secular laws, I understand that the legal system does not always align with religious principles. But I ponder this point, given that this attack was religiously targeted and motivated, should those religious principles have a place in the perpetrators sentence?

Defining what justice means in this context is challenging. Life imprisonment can be seen as a more severe punishment than the death penalty, as it forces the offender to endure a hopeless and torturous existence. Considering this, I wonder if the families of the victims should have a say in the sentencing and if their opinions should matter in both the legal system and the Jewish legal system.

While I think the perpetrator should receive a severe and painful sentence, I question whether the death penalty truly achieves deterrence and restitution for the victims’ families. Ultimately, I leave it up to the families to determine whether justice has been served. Restitution for the murder of a loved one may be perceived as killing the perpetrator, but the question remains whether this is the most appropriate and just approach.

In my opinion, no matter what your age was at the time, the events of 2018 and 2019 opened my eyes to the reality of anti-Semitism in the United States. I became actively involved in community security efforts and pursued a firearm license to protect my community and way of life. Unfortunately, I think the climate has reached the level of obligating me to do so. and in the environment of this perpetrator sentencing, we are yet to see if the climate is on a trajectory of change.

The perpetrator’s sentencing in the Pittsburgh attack has left me, and I would even say the Jewish community at large, contemplating the concept of justice and whether the death penalty truly serves its purpose. But one thing is for sure, I will not sit idly by while my people are attacked. Just as every enemy of the Jewish people ended up in the past. I’m certain the current, and future ones will end up in the same place.

About the Author
Charles was born to Syrian-Jewish refugees and is an active member of the Brooklyn, NY community. He currently works in e-commerce as a Founding Partner of Chakkalo & Associates. An independent thinker who doesn’t keep everything to himself. He invites others in his journey of critically thinking of events going on in our world to create an independent marketplace of ideas. Soon, Charles will be launching