Student advocate Chloe Shrager calls for allies against modern anti-Semitism


The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the target of a mass shooting on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27  during their shabbat service. The shooter screamed “All Jews must die,” as he attacked the community in prayer. Eleven were killed, and six were wounded. The Jewish residents of the surrounding neighborhood were warned by officials that it was not safe for them to leave their homes. “It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said to CNN. “It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.”

The biggest tragedy to me, though, was that when my dad texted me Saturday morning with the news, I wasn’t even shocked. I have become desensitized to this modern wave of anti-Semitism.

Jews have been a persecuted minority group for centuries, but in the last couple of years, the number of hate crimes against Jews have swept the country at an increasing rate, rising 31 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 57 percent from 2016 to 2017 in the US, according to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League. This increase in anti-Semitism is not just a national matter, however. Jews are in danger all over the world. Last March, 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times in her apartment, which was then burned down by her attackers. Last year, a Jewish family in France was taken hostage, beaten and robbed by a gang who demanded “You’re Jews, so where is the money?” The Labour Party in Britain has become so deeply riddled with anti-Semitism that British Jews are threatening to leave the UK, swastikas appear on college campuses across the United States every day, and there have been numerous reports of Jewish children as young as eight-years-old being attacked all over the world.

People treat anti-Semitism as if it has gone away, and that the days of Holocaust-level hatred and discrimination against Jews are history. But anti-Semitism was alive long before the Holocaust, and it hasn’t gone away; it’s only been hiding in the shadows. The mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue was just another tragedy in a long, long list of modern acts of anti-Semitism.

Although surprise might not have been my reaction to the Pittsburgh shooting, helplessness definitely was. I knew I could count on my Jewish community to come together and stand strong, as we have learned to do during these trying times, but coping didn’t feel like enough. There has been enough coping and hoping that something so horrible doesn’t happen again. There needs to be more action to start preventing atrocities, rather than just dealing with the aftermath. I texted one of my best friends, Alma Andino, in distress. “I just feel so helpless,” I told her. I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know how I could help, or what our Jewish community needed. “Talk about it at school,” she told me. “With everyone. We need non-Jewish allies.”

There is a reason minority groups are persecuted: they are minorities in numbers. They are the weak kid on the playground whom the big bully knows they can pick on without much trouble, because the weak target stands alone. Right now, Jews and other minorities alike are standing alone, even in an accepting and progressive environment like Palo Alto. The voices we hear standing up for minorities are always from the targeted group, while the rest take on the role of the silent, sideline supporter. Sure, we are all paying attention, but only when one’s own community is affected do we feel driven to take action. I understand that standing up for historically oppressed groups can be difficult, but too often we let our fear of offending others or being judged stop us from taking any meaningful action toward a better future.

I understand some might feel incorrect speaking out as outsiders of communities different from our own, or feel they aren’t “allowed” to. Being outspokenly supportive of minorities-specific movements like #togetheragainstantisemtism and Show Up For Shabbat (If you haven’t already, I encourage everyone to look into these Facebook movements), however, is not an appropriation of those groups or “incorrect” in anyway. Rather, it is what will help us overcome worldwide hatred. It is time we all draw a line of understanding between what is cultural appropriation and when one is taking a respectful stand in support of human rights.

When people see others standing by and doing nothing, it allows them to justify their own inaction, but it goes both ways. When people see others take a stand, they feel inspired to do the same. As I scrolled through the countless rants on Facebook from outraged members of the Jewish community following the events in Pittsburg, I was comforted by our solidarity, but that’s all I saw: our solidarity as a Jewish community. I see Jews mourning the losses from the Tree of Life shooting, I see Jews posting articles and speaking their opinions and I see Jews taking a stand, but at this point, that’s not enough. We need strength in numbers, and quite frankly, minorities lack the numbers. What we need, and what any minority group under attack needs, is active, outspoken allies. So, if you are still reading this article, this is meant to be an urgent call for help: take the time to educate yourself about modern anti-Semitism; talk about it with your communities; don’t be afraid to post on your social media and do whatever you can to show your support.

Palo Alto is one of the most welcoming areas in the world, but I’d be lying if I said I felt entirely safe as a Jew even here. Others are not as lucky as me to feel comfortable in their hometowns at all. Global anti-Semitism is the worst it’s been in decades, and I am genuinely terrified of the path the world is heading down. Now is not the time to play it safe and hope for the best, now is not the time to stay quiet. We are the generation that gets to redefine bravery, and what it means to stand up for human rights. So, I challenge you all to ask yourselves, what does it mean to you?