FZY Bogeret, Bristol University student and former Israel Tour madricha, Imi Wise reflects on the recent attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue - discovering that sometimes, we have to treat these things for what they are...
Because I am a final year politics student, you would think that I would have been desensitised to all the world’s pressing issues. However, for the past 24 hours, I’ve found myself attempting to study an academic article entitled “Universal Human Rights: A Critique” and being unable to formulate an opinion without my mind tracing back to this past Shabbat, to the stripping of eleven innocent people’s human rights. Human rights are a right by virtue of being human, not a privilege; crucially, human rights do not depend on your race, gender, or religious background.
Yet last Saturday, this was not the case.
Anyone who knows me will know my undeniable love for and commitment to the Jewish community, whether that’s participating in youth leadership, volunteering, sport, or just being with my community on Shabbat (both at university and at home). It is a community that I could not be prouder to represent, and one that I know I will remain active in for the rest of my life. Since the news broke on the agonising attack in Pittsburgh, my brain has not stopped racing and my heart has not stopped aching. It is very easy in the immediate aftermath of these events to try and remove yourself from the situation. Living in the UK it’s even easier to do this; saying it won’t happen here because our gun laws are tighter, or that the political climate isn’t as heated. But this attack felt far more personal, and hit far closer to home. I have friends in America on their years abroad, friends from Camp Tel Yehuda who live there, people who all had connections to the Squirrel Hill community. I can’t even begin to grapple with my own emotions from 4000 miles away, let alone for the emotions of the people living there.
I’ve never in my life felt nervous or scared about being an active and open Jew on campus. When my Mum told me to “hide your necklaces under your jumper”, or not to “talk so loudly about Israel and Judaism in crowded areas”, I never listened. But now, if I am completely honest, for the first time, I am scared. I’m scared that these atrocities will continue happening to a group of people who proudly go by the name of “Jew”. I’m scared that these atrocities will continue happening and instead of trying to tackle the inherent problem, blame will be shifted onto not having enough armed guards, or not having strict enough gun laws.
That’s the problem with the fallout of these attacks; people always manage to politicize them, quickly forgetting the victims and communities that were attacked. Everyone forgets about the actual motives, and focuses on shifting the blame. This is not the fault of Trump, nor the fault of gun legislation. I still believe that America faces gun law problems, and yes, having stricter laws would make it harder to obtain weapons, and would potentially prevent these atrocities from occurring. But the sentiment of hatred is still there – an anti-Semite without a gun is still an anti-Semite.
In April when I visited Poland for the first time with March of the Living UK, I was fortunate enough to have the company of some incredible people, who had their human rights destroyed for the same reason as these eleven people. I came home and wrote a three-page document on all my thoughts and feelings. After seeing everything I’d learnt about in classrooms for years physically in front of my eyes, I just couldn’t get my head around it all. I find myself now, 6 months later, having the exact same feelings and doing the exact same thing.