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Opinion

Op-Ed: Jews shouldn’t have to pay with their lives to gather in prayer

Synagogue attack
Chabad of Poway members gather outside their synagogue after a man shot multiple people on April 27, killing one.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ten years ago, we asked a hotel clerk in Frankfurt, Germany how to walk to the local synagogue. “Easy,” she said, smiling, “go to the second light, make a right and walk until you reach the armored half-track.” European Jews, to try to protect themselves from Palestinians in the 1970s and today from returning Islamic State fighters, have long accepted that the only way to pray in peace is to prepare for war. Synagogue goers in Paris, Rome, Copenhagen, and in Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have paid with their lives for praying to God in a minyan.

Here at home, Jewish institutions large and small have had perimeter security for decades. Still, we all wanted to believe major attacks wouldn’t happen here. Now they have happened here … again and again. Six months to the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, when a white supremacist neo-Nazi mass-murdered 11 Jews, another Jewish woman, Laurie Gilbert Kaye, is dead, struck down — here in California — as she tried to shield her rabbi, who was injured along with two others, including an 8-year-old girl. They were allegedly gunned down by a 19-year-old white supremacist, who in word and deed copied the shooters in Pittsburgh and in a New Zealand mosque attack.

Something precious and uniquely American is being stripped away from us before our very eyes. Until recently, Americans of all faiths felt secure leaving our homes to go our churches, synagogues or mosques to pray, socialize with our faith communities and return home in peace.

No more. Terrorists, foreign and increasingly domestic, specifically seek to murder and maim the faithful. They are killing more than people; these terrorists are steadily destroying a key pillar of American society.

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Is turning our houses of worship into armed camps the best we can offer our children?

We can and should increase training and deploy technological tripwires to “harden” houses of worship. But that cannot stop the hate.

We should also demand that all social media platforms remove “live streaming” capabilities that broadcast these onslaughts in real time. We should demand that Twitter, YouTube, Google, Facebook and others stop providing the anti-Semites and racists a platform. But that would also not stop the hate.

Instead of showing some moral leadership and bipartisan resolve, our politicians have chosen to weaponize anti-Semitism and racism. The recent “hearing” on white supremacist hate crimes in the House Judiciary Committee was a farce with both Democrats and Republicans more interested in pandering to their bases than forging a unified action plan to counter the kind of attacks that took place in Pittsburgh and San Diego. They are shirking their responsibilities to fight the hate.

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The media have too often failed in their responsibilities. Hate is hate. But frankly, media outlets don’t always present a level playing field. They don’t seem to trust that Americans are mature enough to know that all Muslims aren’t responsible if an Islamist commits a hate attack, just as all of Christendom is not culpable when a “white nationalist” invokes Scripture to justify murder.

We American Jews live with the fact that we are the No. 1 target of religious-based hatred. In 2019, we are more worried than ever, not only because of the unprecedented level of deadly violent attacks but because anti-Semitism is now accepted in the mainstream of society. We are incensed and worried that America’s anti-Semite in chief, Louis Farrakhan, is rarely called out for decades of violent hatred of Jews and Judaism.

We watch in horror as freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has injected anti-Semitism into the mainstream of American political culture. Her hatred is excused or winked at by the top leadership of her party.

Here’s what we need from our Democratic and Republican leaders: Spare us the morning-after news releases and work together to stop the hate — all hate — from the far right to the far left.

If we truly want to defeat hate and take back our nation’s venerated freedoms, we all have to earn it by being strong and by acknowledging our differences while working together to rebuild the playing field that once housed the American dream.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of global social action at the center.

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