Would there have been a Squirrel Hill Massacre without HIAS?

We know very little yet about Robert Gregory Bowers the 46-year-old white male who murdered 11 innocent Jewish worshippers and injured four brave police officers at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill Jewish neighborhood this past Shabbat.

We don’t know if he has a wife or children. We don’t know if he has parents or siblings. We don’t know if he has any friends.   All we know about him so far is that he hated Jews, and that his unfathomable murder spree was triggered by the activities of an organization called HIAS. Originally the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, HIAS has more recently transmogrified into a Jewish-funded organization that seeks to help non-Jewish immigrants, including illegal aliens, as they enter the United States.

There can be no excuse or justification for Bowers’ mass murder spree. And barring any certifiable insanity, even the most ardent opponent of the death penalty – and surely they are legion among the donors to HIAS – would make an exception in his case, and gladly see him ascend the gibbet.

Bowers, it seems, operated solo. He was a loner. He had no organizational ties. No colleagues. No accomplices. This is typical for America’s short but notorious list of mass murderers. They are motivated by hate, a hate aggravated by a loneliness that enables it to fester until something triggers them, and they attack.

Catching someone like Bowers before he acts is nearly impossible. And surely there are others like him whose trigger fingers are waiting to be unleashed by something, anything, that can turn their blind hatred into violent action.

We cannot identify men, or women, like Bowers before they act. Yet it may behoove us to consider what those things are that unleash their murderous anti-Semitic impulses; what sort of bait impels them to load their assault weapons on a Saturday morning and spray bullets into a crowd of innocent Jews.

HIAS is an organization that should no longer be in existence. It was founded in 1881 with the express purpose of assisting Jewish refugees arriving in the United States. For over a century it fulfilled its mandate admirably, helping successive waves of Jewish immigrants arriving via Ellis Island and other US ports who were escaping from pogroms, poverty, and Hitler. After the Shoah it assisted survivors of the death camps. Finally, it played a significant role in aiding the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing a dying Soviet Union.

And then one day it no longer had any raison d’etre. There were no longer any sources of refugee Jews in need of immigrant aid. HIAS had outlived its purpose. The millions it raised each year from caring Jewish donors should, by right, have been re-directed to other causes such as Jewish education, Jewish poverty in America, and the Jewish aged.

The dignified thing would have been for HIAS to disband, liquidate its assets, make sure its apparatchiks were not cast adrift without a lifeline, and call it a century.

Alas this is not what happened. Unlike liberal synagogues that are being forced with increasing frequency to turn off the Ner Tamid as they face the reality of empty pews, emptier coffers, and zero options for repurposing, the self-important directors and senior staff of a national organization like HIAS will do anything, anything, to stay in business.

The HIAS ‘machers’ didn’t have to look far afield to emerge from rigor mortis. They understood very well the current liberal Jewish zeitgeist of tikkun olam. They saw how Israel, Jewish education and synagogue affiliation are no longer of much, if any interest, to today’s increasingly JINO generation of Jews. Indeed, all they had to do was silence the H in HIAS and, voila, battalions of otherwise marginally affiliated and mostly (Jewishly) inactive Jews would open their wallets wide. Especially if this meant helping Muslims. Especially if it meant aiding illegal aliens amassing on the US-Mexico border.

Finally there was something meaningful for the JINO set to support besides the ADL and the Democrat Party. Finally there was an organization that would provide zero support for Jewish continuity, while offering that wonderful nachas of knowing one is helping all those people who are the darlings of an intersectional cohort of victimologizers who, parenthetically, also happen to hate and vilify Israel.

Could there possibly be a more relevant way to be Jewish without a hint of Israel, without a touch of Torah, without a second thought about miscegenation? Indeed, not a whiff of anything so anachronistic that it could not be gleefully endorsed by Linda Sarsour, Keith Ellison and Bernie Sanders?

Rather, one would now be helping young military-age male Muslim immigrants from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. One would be enabling thousands who could afford the $6,000 per head to be smuggled into the States to adjust to life in America without having bothered to fill out an immigration form. (H)IAS would be waiting for them with open opens arms and plenty of cash from the Tikkun Olam wing of the Democrat Party.

In this, they were even able to co-opt the participation of those dying Jewish congregations which would now have an annual “Immigration Shabbat”. This would miraculously create a second once-yearly reason to come to shul, an opportunity for members to prove their Tikkun Olam bona fides by stuffing the HIAS pushka in order to welcome the very people most Americans are wary of welcoming, and for good reason.

Which brings us back to Robert Gregory Bowers, and other like him lurking in the shadows of their solitary hatred waiting for an excuse to murder Jews. For there can be no doubt that had HIAS done the honorable thing and disbanded twenty years ago there would be 11 fewer dead people in Pittsburgh. This is not speculation. The killer made his motivation very clear.

American Jews must ask themselves whether their Tikkun Olam actions, however meritorious they may be, are worth the price of a single dead Jew or a single injured cop. Is pandering to the most extreme left cause-du-jour worth the price of admission? Should Jewish organizations even – especially – if Jewish In Name Only, be the most visible standards bearers of causes that trouble most tax-paying, law abiding Americans, and bring out the violent worst in the lunatics lurking at their outermost fringes? If liberal Jews are insisting on going into that good night, couldn’t they go gentle instead of taking the rest of us down with them?

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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