The timing, of course, was part of the intent. A gunman with a semiautomatic rifle walked into the Chabad of Poway synagogue during services Saturday morning and opened fire. It was the last day of Passover. At least one person was killed and three were wounded, while uncounted others have again been seared with mortal fear, all in the name of hate.
This is the second deadly synagogue attack in the United States in six months, following the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. That was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, leaving 11 people dead.
How can this be happening? What kind of shocking step backward is this?
For a while it was possible to look at anti-Semitic incidents — the swastikas painted on walls, the vile anti-Jewish rhetoric found on social media, the street attacks — as aberrational, as strange anachronistic bumps on the generally straight path forward for Jews in society.
But it is becoming clear that anti-Semitism is on the rise, both here and in Europe. France reported a 74% increase in anti-Jewish offenses in 2018, and in Germany, violent anti-Semitic attacks surged by more than 60%. In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League has documented an alarming rise in hate incidents against Jews. According to the organization, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% in 2017 over the previous year. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in January that “we must rise up against rising anti-Semitism.”
We still have more to learn about the Poway attack, but a 19-year-old suspect has been arrested, and local officials are calling this a hate crime.
Of course such vicious, violent attacks as this one are not just perpetrated against Jews.
Last weekend, it was mostly Christian churches in Sri Lanka that were targeted by bombs, purportedly in retaliation for the slaughter of at least 50 Muslims attending services in Christchurch, New Zealand last month. Hatred and intolerance link all of these attacks, and others too numerous to list. White nationalism and white supremacy propel some of this, but so does anti-Christian sentiment and anti-Muslim animus. If there’s a faith, it seems, there are streams of violent intolerance directed at it.
That is one of the most perturbing aspects of the incidents. The shootings in Poway and Christchurch are linked to the bombings in Sri Lanka through the acts themselves. They are spasms of violence — acts of terror — committed against people who are innocently professing their faith and enjoying the company of their fellow believers. Instead they find themselves ducking for cover, beseeching God for protection and running for their lives. Those who do the shooting or the bombing or the fighting — they’re propelled not by faith, but by prejudice and fear.
It’s not the religions that contain hatred, but human hearts.