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Being Jewish in an Unraveling America

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The bad guy was killed. The good guys were saved. But the reaction to the hostage-taking in Colleyville, Texas, should alarm American Jews.
Last week, I met a rabbi in Los Angeles. We talked about surfing where to get the best pizza in the city and her kids and politics. At the end of the evening, she was making plans with a colleague, and they extended an invitation. Would I want to go to the shooting range with them next weekend? I thought about the rabbi with her guns a lot over this Shabbat, as Jews who had gathered for services at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, were taken hostage by a man named Malik Faisal Akram. After nearly 11 hours, thanks to earthly miracles of law enforcement and perhaps heavenly ones as well, they were freed unharmed. Akram, who had predicted his own death in his rantings captured on Facebook livestream, was dead. The bad guy was killed. The good guys were saved. It doesn’t often turn out that way. All the Jews I know—even the atheists—are thanking God. But why, despite my gratitude, do I feel so much rage? Why does it feel like there is so little comfort to be found? What has changed? I did not feel this way in the horrific aftermath of the Tree of Life massacre—the most lethal in all of American Jewish history. Back then, in October 2018, it felt like the whole country grasped that a wound to the Tree of Life was a wound to the Tree of Liberty itself. That the monstrous attack in my hometown was not simply an attack on Jews, but an attack on our collective home. And that what was at stake in standing up against the deranged, conspiratorial mindset that led a neo-Nazi to the synagogue that morning was nothing less than America itself. What I now see is this: In America captured by tribalism and dehumanization, in an America swept up by ideologies that pit us against one another in a zero-sum game, in an America enthralled with the poisonous idea that some groups matter more than others, not all Jews—and not all Jewish victims—are treated equally. What seems to matter most to media pundits and politicians is not the Jews themselves, but the identities of their attackers. And it scares me. The attack in Texas, the reaction to it, and the widespread willingness in our culture to judge violent acts based on their political utility, augurs a darkening reality for the six million Jews living in what the Founders insisted was a new Jerusalem. And for that new Jerusalem itself. I first felt that sinking realization three years ago on a freezing day in Jersey City. If you don’t think “Jews” when you hear that place name, it’s because the murder of Jews that happened there in 2019 did not inspire the same national solidarity that enveloped Pittsburgh. On December 10 that year, David Anderson and Francine Graham shot up a kosher supermarket on a street named for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, killing three people in the process. We were very lucky the toll wasn’t higher. Just to the left of the supermarket is a cheder, a school for Jewish children. Federal officials discovered a bomb in the killers’ van powerful enough to kill and maim people five football fields away. The pair hated cops and they hated Jews, a sentiment apparently driven by the twisted ideology of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who believe that they are the real Jews and that the real Jews are pretenders. Jews are “imposters who inhabit synagogues of Satan,” Anderson wrote on social media. “They stole our heritage, they stole our birthright” Anderson said, before he murdered a young mother named Mindy Ferencz, a young man named Moshe Deutsch, and a 49-year-old Ecuadorian clerk who worked at the deli, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez. (They murdered a police officer and father of five named Joseph Seals earlier in the day.) The day after the shooting, I went to the supermarket to do some reporting for a column I expected to publish. Unlike in Pittsburgh, there was not a single flower or condolence card. Just broken glass, and Hasidic Jews working with construction workers to board up the ransacked building, which was riddled with bullet holes. There were no television cameras. No one in my social media feeds, to say nothing of mainstream reporters, wanted to look very hard at the killers’ motives or at the responses among some members of the community. In one video I came across, a local woman said that her “children are stuck at school because of Jew shenanigans.

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