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COMMENTARY: Tree of Life massacre teaches many lessons

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Oct. 27 marked one year since the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre

One year since a man marched into a synagogue on a Saturday morning, calling for the death of the Jews and doing all in his power to make it happen. One year since a pair of police cars made the street outside Rutgers Hillel and Chabad House their homes. One year since the buildings designed to house and express Jewish life were recognized not just as centers of life, but as targets.

Twelve months since Jews, Christians and Muslims gathered on the steps of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus to share in the loss of Abraham's descendants. Twelve months since nuns, rabbi and imams stood arm-in-arm in solidarity as candles were passed around to an audience of hundreds. Twelve months since students nodded at one another in silence, acknowledging each face without daring to utter a word, without daring to break the silence.

It has been 365 days since eleven human beings, parents, children, brothers and sisters, left their homes and never returned. It has been 365 days since 11 individuals were gunned down in their place of prayer. Since 11 peoples’ means of connecting with God brought them to his doorstep. 

It has been 52 weeks since I cried on the train. It has been 52 weeks since I feigned strength for my students, pretending to have made sense of the fact that people in America, my people were murdered in cold blood for the crime of being Jewish. It has been 52 weeks since I stopped wondering how people felt living in communities afflicted by attacks, and instead became one of those people. 

I thank God I did not lose anyone I know last year, and I know that it was mere chance that spared me the pain. 

For a year now, I have chosen not to deal with the reality of what this means. I have chosen not to deal with the fact that my people are targeted, yes, even here in America, solely because they are Jews. Make no mistake — whether white supremacist, neo-Nazi or mentally unstable, when one calls out “All Jews must die,” they are targeting my people.

I do not want to face it. I do not want to acknowledge it or give it credibility, as if my acknowledgment of hate will cause it to grow stronger. And I certainly do not want to write an article about it.

But time has moved forward, and the police cars which once called Rutgers Hillel and Chabad House their homes are long gone. Spray paint has gone up on religious institutions around campus, and the rabbi now stands alone at the doorstep of hate. “The root of violent hatred is casual hatred,” I was recently told. And the root of casual hatred is not malice or ill-will, but more often it is born of ignorance.

May we stamp out ignorance together. May our minorities no longer need protection and may we no longer be targeted for being who we are. May these victims become only remnants of the past and may we not fear for the future.

But until that time, may their memories live on outside the walls of the synagogue alone. May this article reach those outside the Jewish community, and may it act as a memorial. While a new year brings new friends, courses and experiences, for those in the Jewish community, it also unearths sorrow. Because the police cars may have moved, but the pain has not gone. 

In honor of the 11 killed on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, may their memories be a blessing.  

Julian Biller is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and jewish studies. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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