Sam Litvin

One year on, American Jews chose fear and hope over courage and action

One year ago, a man went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh with an automatic weapon and gunned down 11 worshiping congregants. He gunned them down because the synagogue was associated with HIAS, an organization that saved Jewish people 130 years ago from pogroms and works today to help others escape modern day pogroms. The man chose it because they were Jewish and were undermining a white, non-immigrant America that he desired.

The attack didn’t occur out of the blue. The attack was not inevitable. The attack was preventable. The attack did not have to create attacks after it.  But.. the attack did occur. No one saw it about to happen, no one stopped it, no one analyzed it, no one looked at follow up attacks and because of that, more attacks against Jews, occurred. The following attacks occurred in Michigan, in New York, in El Paso and Poway. They happened because Americans so convinced that America cares about them, so afraid to demand that America protect them that they have shrunk into their communities, and refused to demand that Trump and Congress Majority Republicans do something to stop these massacres of Jews.

What could they do? Well, they could do what President Obama did: create a Department of Justice unite tasked with monitoring and preventing crimes against Jews and minorities by White Supremacist. So then you will ask, if there is such a unit, did they not do their job? Well, I’ll tell you why, because Jeff Sessions, the ex- Attorney General nominated by Donald Trump, disbanded that unit as his first action in office. Even though, antisemitic attacks were rising at historic rates before the attack, even though dozens of Jewish people have been killed by white supremacists since the attack, the unit was never brought back. Why was it not brought back? Because even though, every year attacks on Jews grow by double digits, Jewish people have done nothing to demand that the government addresses is.

What have American Jews done? They marched. They held vigils. They said that “we remember” and  “never again.” But all of those were empty words and empty actions because they do not demand action from those who can make a difference. As a result of the attacks some Jewish organizations were given more money for defense. But no amount of money for self defense can stop these attacks because we as a minority people with kids in school, with community centers and camps and synagogues simply cannot defend from this all the time and everywhere. We do not have the resources. But there’s a deeper argument here. We shouldn’t have to.

Jews in America are less than 1% of population. We cannot be expected to have a state within a state. Jewish people pay too much in taxes to be told: you take care of yourself. Jews in America ought to be protected by FBI and DOJ just like everyone else in United States.

When Tsarnaev Brothers planted a bomb at the Boston Marathon, marathons were not given money to protect themselves, FBI worked harder to prevent the next attack. When America was attacked on 9/11, Wall Street was not given more money to protect itself, FBI and NSA and CIA and Army and Airforce and all of American experts worked to prevent the next 9/11. However, that standard does not apply to the Jews. Instead of working hard to prevent the next Tree of Life, Trump threw some money at us to protect ourselves.

The sad thing is that the American Jews buy this double standard. We say we should be watchful, we say we should go to synagogue and we say we should arm ourselves. But the Jews of United States do not demand that United States watch over us as it does with the rest of Americans, we do not demand that United States makes effort to protect us the way it does with the rest of Americans.

This behavior is not an a new development. This is a continuation of American Jews seeing themselves as second class citizens. American Jews are second class, privileged second class but still second class because there are certain unsaid freedoms allowed to the first class that Jews do not have 50 years after Martin Luther King got American black people and American Jews full civil rights.

What is it that Jews cannot be? Jews in America cannot be poor. One thing that Jews who come to Israel are surprised to see are the poor Jews. The trash collectors, the homeless Jews, the security guard Jews, the welfare Jews. These are the Israeli Jews that Jews in America are not allowed to be. Jews in America are not allowed to be poor because for an immigrant minority  who are born in US, to be poor means to be a drag on society. A white man in Appalachia can be poor, but shouldn’t be poor. A poor Jew cannot be poor. This requirement on Jewish Americans, to explain ourselves, to constantly have to prove ourselves is a double standard that full citizens in America do not have to deal with and shouldn’t have to deal with.

The other double standard is that Jews are not supposed to be rich. Any rich Jew must justify that wealth and success and continuously pay an unsaid price for it. Sometimes they pay through donations to party and politics which is why Jews are so important to American politics, because our votes don’t make a bit of difference outside of New York. Sometimes the wealthy Jews must pay up to be benefactors of various charities. But no matter what that Jew does, that wealthy Jew is always in the eye of other Americans as having to prove that this success and wealth was not ill-gotten and cannot act as they wish. Because the assumption is always that a Jew should not be too rich and if they are rich, they have to do it through a means that are deemed clean. Any mark of dirt that would bounce off someone like Donald Trump, will bring down the Jew. That Jew will become the whipping boy for an entire industry as was Al Franken in spite of many Congressmen who have acted with impropriety, as was Bernie Madoff in-spite of trillions lost by non-Jews in the market, and even if they do not do anything wrong, simply using their wealth the way anyone else would, can make them a pariah, as it happened to George Soros.

So one year on, do I expect more Tree of Life, more Poway, more El Paso shootings? Considering that there is no one investigating, no one monitoring and no one preventing the next shooting, considering the fact that Jews are sitting quietly in synagogues and without the backbone to demand equal treatment, there can only be one answer: yes, there will be more shootings. Yes, more Jews will die because that is the price of cowardice.

Poway Chabad
About the Author
Sam Livin was born in Soviet Union and grew up in San Diego. In 2012, he travelled the world photographing Jewish communities publishing a book called "Your Story Our Sipur." Today he continues to write about Israel and Judaism as he lives and studies business and ecology in Tel Aviv.