In the Diaspora, we observe an eighth day of Passover, during which we celebrate the conclusion of a holiday that honors the Exodus and we say Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the deceased recited four times a year.
A woman attended such a service Saturday at a synagogue just north of San Diego to mourn her mother, only to die at the hands of a gunman. Now her death must be mourned, and we must engage in a difficult conversation about antisemitism yet again.
The gunman went to Congregation Chabad in the suburb of Poway and opened fire, killing one woman and injuring three others before his gun jammed and he fled the scene.
What we know about the gunman is this: his name is John T. Earnest. He is 19 years old. When he stormed into the synagogue, he shouted “F*ck the Jews” before opening fire. His home community – the Orthodox Presbyterian Church where his father is an elder – expressed shock concerning his actions, and OPC condemned his actions. He posted an antisemitic, islamophobic manifesto on websites like 8chan twenty minutes before the shooting, which he intended to livestream. In that manifesto, he took credit for an arson attack against a mosque in Escondido, and expressed what can be euphemistically called an admiration for Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; Brenton Tarrant, who killed 50 people at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand; and – surprise, surprise – Adolf Hitler. He called 911 after the attack and let the police arrest him. Clearly, he wanted credit for the shooting.
The manifesto caught the attention of a man named Colin, who was interviewed by Buzzfeed News. He initially hesitated to call the FBI, thinking that the poster might have been a troll. After he read about the Escondido mosque burning, he changed his mind.
“So I highlighted that, searched Google, and the son of a b**** really did do that,” Colin told Buzzfeed News. “That was what made me call the FBI.”
As we learn more about the Poway shooting and grieve alongside the synagogue attendees, we must remember the following:
1. The victims, above all, must be honored. Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year old woman who mourned her mother during the service, died taking a bullet for the rabbi. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein lived, but suffered gunshot wounds to his hands. Almog Perez, who came from Israel to visit his family, was injured by shrapnel while protecting his niece and alerting the children of the attack. His 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, suffered shrapnel wounds on her leg and face. Dahan and her family moved to the U.S. from Israel. After their home was defaced with swastikas two years ago, Noya’s father said his children no longer want to live in the U.S.
2. We cannot separate the internet from real life. We learned this with the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, we learned this with the shooting of the mosque in Christchurch, and we learned this when online social media threats against student group Decolonize ULV were soon followed with a car burning. We cannot dismiss racist threats online as merely trolling.
3. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are tied. They are both religious, racialized hatreds. That is, while both are geared toward a specific religion, antisemitism and Islamophobia are both rooted in the imagination of Jews and Muslims as racialized, nonwhite groups of “semitic” origin.
The gunman, who sarcastically asked in his manifesto to be called a white supremacist, hated both Jews and Muslims and championed the shooters at Pittsburgh and Christchurch. This makes the co-opting of this tragedy by right wing public figures for the purposes of demonizing Ilhan Omar particularly heinous.
4. Not enough people understand the roots of antisemitism. Though the word “antisemitism” was coined (by an antisemite) to denote a specific hatred of Jews on a racial basis – an idea that rose to prominence in Nazi Germany – it also encompasses an older, religious-based hatred off which modern antisemitism is based. Racialized antisemitism is white supremacist in nature, and borrows from religious-based Judenhass (“Jew-hatred”).
The Poway shooter had even cited antisemitic verses of Christian scripture in his manifesto. To spare anyone who does not want to read the manifesto, the verses are Matthew 27:24-25, John 8:37-45, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Revelation 2:9, and Revelation 3:9. When an antisemite cites Christian scripture to justify our murder, it is not helpful for us to hear Christians, particularly white Christians, say that he is not a true Christian. Instead, such communities must engage in serious discussions about historical antisemitism.
The most important thing you can do is recognize this hate crime as part of a larger phenomenon, rather than treating it as an isolated incident with some “thoughts and prayers.”