Home Perspectives Opinions Rosensweig: Pittsburgh shooting should serve as a wake-up call

Rosensweig: Pittsburgh shooting should serve as a wake-up call

A man kneels to light a candle beneath a police cordon outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 27.. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/JTA)

On Oct. 27, 11 of our Jewish brothers and sisters were murdered in cold blood while davening on Shabbat.

We can only imagine what that must have looked like. People were likely seated in their favourite places in the sanctuary, perhaps waiting for the Torah to be taken out of the ark. A loud noise no doubt jolted the minyan from their seats – a shot, then another, then a yell of “all Jews must die.”

We’ve read about it, over and over and over: anti-Semitism is at its very worst.

Robert Bowers, a white supremacist, barged into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life shul with a submachine-gun and pistols ablaze, shooting down one Jew after another.

I, like you, am horrified. This man saw us as evil. His hate was as bad as it gets. But now what? What do the Jewish people do now that we know how far the anti-Semites are willing to go? Will we now be more hurried in our response to the upswing of Jew-hatred? Will we now respond to the gut feeling of many of our Holocaust survivors, who have the actual atrocities of the Holocaust in their minds and who tell us there is a bad feeling in the air that looks, and even smells, like the 1930s? Or do we carry on playing canasta and debating the virtues of a new coatroom in our Temple, while allowing anti-Semitism to grow and grow?

Most of us seem to sit by, while that vile hate turns into actual anti-Semitic acts. We read one more book on the Holocaust, pretending this is a way of standing up against the evils of this hatred. But white supremacists and the neo-Nazis continue to march and they carry their banners of hatred while they stockpile their weapons to ultimately hurt us.

Books do nothing anymore. Action is required.

It is clear that we – as a community, as a people – have had a hard time accepting that Jew beating is on the rise, that anti-Jewish hyperbole is becoming more and more acceptable in politics, on college campuses and in day-to-day life. We are not preparing our community members to respond to the individuals, groups and even governments that are threatening us and spewing forth dribble about our beautiful people.

Some readers, including rabbis, have taken umbrage with this thesis and even sent me flyers on Holocaust education that they are presenting in their shuls.

Therein lies the problem. Enough with the lectures on the sociological nature of the Nazis. Action is what is required from each and every Jew, just as it has been throughout history. We need to teach martial arts classes in Hebrew schools and in shuls. We must create groups within our own environment whose mandate is to reach out to non-Jews who love our people and would be willing to fight with us under any circumstances. The Toronto Board of Rabbis and the Vaad Harabonim must lead this fight. But where are they?


Get out of your safe place, my fellow Jews, and fight anti-Semitism. Don’t follow the organizations that insist the fight is only theirs. It is ours – all of ours.

Pittsburgh happened in a very big way. It could, God forbid, happen right here in Canada. What will you do to try to stop it? How will every Jew, and every good person, stand up against the Bowers of the world to ensure our safety?

The only alternative is to do nothing, to be sheep again. We promised we would never let this happen again. We must live up to that commitment.

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