When Hate Hits Home

Last Saturday morning, I got a wakeup call that I was not prepared for. I received a notification on my phone that there was a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, just a few blocks away from my house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had to call my mother to make sure that she was alright and that she avoided the area. When she picked up the phone, she told me that she was eating brunch with a family friend who happened to be a congregant at that same synagogue. My mother had to break the news to our friend. Later, we found out that 11 congregants had been killed.

That day, the tranquility of my neighborhood, Squirrel Hill, was shattered. Growing up, Squirrel Hill was always a peaceful, quiet, and cosmopolitan neighborhood. It was a well-off area within the city limits that had an idyllic quality to it. It was even home to children’s TV icon Mr. Rogers, making it literally Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Squirrel Hill is the center of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Anywhere from 30-40% of the neighborhood identifies as Jewish; my Catholic and Anglican family always felt welcomed and appreciated by our neighbors despite our differences in faith. But because of my neighborhood’s high Jewish population, it is not surprising that when the hate that had been brewing outside of its boundaries finally arrived in our community, it came in the form of anti-Semitism.

This hate had been festering for quite a while. There were early signs of its presence in our city, like Nazi flyers being distributed in our neighborhood this time last year, the shooting of unarmed black high-school student Antwon Rose Jr. in June, and the beating of a black man by a neo-Nazi group at a local bar. If we want this nationwide trend of hate to stop, we cannot only address the abstract concept of hate; we must understand the trend that is fueling its rise, and that trend is the resurgence of far right, fascist politics. This trend, manifesting due to increased economic stress as well as advancing social progress, seeks to endanger and terrorize oppressed peoples, and undo every reform won by them, no matter how small. We can see it nationwide, not only in the rise of Donald Trump and the “alt-right” (read: neo-Nazis), but also in the rise of armed and violent far-right groups like the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys. This is the trend that emboldened the shooter to come to Squirrel Hill and kill my Jewish neighbors.

My heart goes out to all affected by the latest massacre and by the rise of the far right. I know that many of us are concerned, scared, and/or angry; I am too. But it goes without saying that if we want an end to the hate that has been threatening our communities and gripping the entire world, we must stop the rise of far-right politics. We must realize that voting alone will not quash white nationalism. It is our collective duty to stop white nationalism in its tracks, no matter how it manifests itself or wherever it emerges. If we see homophobes spewing hateful rhetoric on campus, we must repudiate them. If we see anti-Semites spreading fear about a peaceful religion, we must silence them. If we see fascists marching in the streets against Somali refugees, we must confront them. Because as theologian Martin Niemöller wrote, if you don’t speak out for your oppressed neighbors, they will come for you next.