Op-Ed: A call for moral leadership, solidarity

כָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל,

מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא

“To kill one person is as if the entire world has been killed. To save one life is as if an entire world is saved.”

— Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5

On Oct. 27, 11 people who were praying in the Tree of Life synagogue on Shabbat morning were murdered in the deadliest attack against Jews in American history. We are writing as students who have served on the Tufts Hillel Executive Board and who believe that we, as Jews, need to think about how we mourn within Jewish institutional frameworks. To us, it is clear that our mourning must include a political analysis of the environment in which this event took place.

The grief we have felt from this tragedy awakens us to the reality that while white Ashkenazi American Jews have been assimilated into definitions of “whiteness” and have therefore benefitted from the white supremacist movement, that privilege does not guarantee our safety within a system that still upholds antisemitic rhetoric and physical violence.

The tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue was a political event and happened in the context of a political environment that encourages violence. Trump’s violent rhetoric empowered a white nationalist to murder Jews during prayer. The lack of action to enact policy combating gun violence is a political and moral failure. Jews are not safe in this country. In the past week, seven Jewish schools and synagogues in Brooklyn were set on fire. Of course, Jews are not the only people facing violence. It is unsurprising and deeply disturbing that on the day of the Tree of Life shooting, a white man murdered two black people at a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Ky. Students are not even safe on our own campus. On the night of Oct. 31, four days after the shooting, white supremacists placed signs around Tufts that said “It’s okay to be white.” In the face of this violence, we need bold leadership.

We have been disappointed by the failure of Jewish students and formal leaders of Jewish institutions at Tufts and in our country to say that this antisemitic act is tied to institutional white supremacy that is dangerous not only to Jews. Leaders have refused to raise a unified voice naming Trump as an instigator of violence. To ensure the safety of Jews, institutional Jewish spaces must name and condemn with audacity all acts of white supremacy. We must understand that white supremacy is slippery and interconnected, manifesting itself differently against different marginalized groups. In our grieving, we have been touched by the many acts of solidarity from other faith communities. We ask our Jewish community: Are we ready to stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups in their times of need?

Anti-Jewish oppression is never the fault of Jews, but the silence of Jewish leaders plays into a cycle of antisemitism in which Jews, searching for security, make themselves close to those in power. Jews, later scapegoated by the powerful, fall victim and once again search for security. When our Jewish leaders are silent about the politics contributing to violence, they fail to protect us. We have also seen Jewish community leaders and organizations, such as the Campaign Against Antisemitism that coined #TogetherAgainstAntisemitism and its associated popular Facebook photo frame, act quickly to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism to bolster their blind support for Israel. This shallow frame of antisemitism hurts Jews by preventing us from developing a deep understanding of the real threat of antisemitic violence and rhetoric.

We believe that our Jewish institutions must change to better protect the people whom they represent. For us, it is clear that last week’s massacre must serve as a wake-up call to the active antisemitism in our country and that it is inherently linked to white supremacy. We don’t want to see this situation de-politicized because to be silent is a political statement. Protecting ourselves from further violence requires Jews to de-isolate ourselves and act in solidarity with other marginalized groups as they heal from the traumas inflicted on their own communities. The Jewish tradition teaches that one life is worth the entire world. Our Jewish institutions must recognize that we live in a world that is dangerous for Jews and uphold our moral imperative to build a community that protects life.