One of the most important concepts in Judaism is “tikkun olam.” “Tikkun olam” is a Hebrew phrase that means “healing the world.” In the face of suffering, violence, hatred and division, we all must come together with understanding, compassion and empathy – and tikkun olam.
When I first heard the news that a gunman had opened fire on a synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services and a bris on Oct. 27, my heart shattered. Before we even knew the death toll or the number of people injured, I wept because this type of anti-Semitism is supposed to be a thing of the past. Growing up as a Jewish woman in America, my parents warned me that there are some people who don’t like us, but truly horrible crimes against Jewish people are something we don’t have to worry about anymore. I was taught that America is the place we are free to practice our religion, but that we cannot be complacent if that isn’t always the case.
In the aftermath of most tragedies, people rush to point fingers and try to find someone or something to blame. The scapegoat often ranges from guns to mental health, but this time it landed on how divided America is and how rhetoric from President Donald Trump gave way to widespread hate.
After a gunman shot and killed 11 Jewish people, there was a frenzy to find something to blame for this horrific incident. While there are clear signs that politics and political polarization played a role in the gunman’s motivations, solely focusing on that ignores the people who died and the struggles that Jewish people have faced throughout history. When I saw that conversation surrounding the issue focused on political rhetoric and saw my peers posting on social media platforms to vote in the midterms in wake of this tragedy, it infuriated me and showed me that Jewish suffering is secondary to politics. In the wake of the Pittsburgh tragedy, students should take this time to look beyond politics and try to understand the history and culture of their fellow Jewish students.
GW’s undergraduate population is about 25 percent Jewish. Given the large representation on campus, students should reach out to their peers and seek to understand the Jewish experience. Many students know about Jewish persecution through history lessons on the Holocaust, but persecution of Jewish people dates all the way back to Babylonia and doesn’t end with the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past, nor is it exclusive to one country or one region of the world.
Hate crimes against Jewish people are still very prevalent in America. Anti-Semitism was present when Jewish people were denied entry into the United States decades ago during and after the Holocaust and just last year when neo-Nazis were chanting that “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va. Despite the amount of anti-Semitism against Jewish people in America, it is rarely discussed outside of Jewish communities.
Talking to others about our different backgrounds and different experiences can bring us out of our bubbles and show us what is really important in the aftermath of a tragedy: healing and understanding. While criticizing political division, questioning the role of Trump’s rhetoric and urging others to vote can enact change – in this situation, it ignores the people who have been deeply affected by this tragedy.
This tragedy, while it had political influences, was not about politics. It happened because of one person’s hate for others based on their religion and has only exacerbated the fear that has surrounded the Jewish people for thousands of years.
As students on a campus with a large Jewish population, it is important to understand that this is an example of how Jewish people have never truly been welcomed or accepted. In the wake of this tragedy, students need to come together and help the Jewish community on campus heal and let them know that they are welcome and safe here.
Talk to your Jewish friends about their experiences and their family’s story, ask them about how Judaism differs from your own religion and ask them how they are dealing with what happened in Pittsburgh. Healing from a tragedy like this does not happen quickly, but it cannot happen alone.
Hannah Thacker, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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