Jewish Trump Voters Have Blood on Their Hands

Editor’s note: This article contains mention of anti-Semitism and gun violence.

I have been trying to escape Judaism for a long time. As a child, I hated the services my parents schlepped me along to — they were boring, in a language I didn’t know, and involved a lot of standing. Early in my teens, I braced against my Hebrew school teachers. They all seemed convinced that Israel could not be criticized whatsoever for its violence in retaliation to rocket attacks, no matter how many innocent civilians were killed. Later, in high school, I completely rejected God, identifying passionately as an atheist.

When I got to college, though, it was different. Suddenly, knowledge of the Holocaust was not a given, I encountered open hostility toward Jews, and found the identity I tried so hard to leave behind constantly invalidated at the expense of myself and my loved ones. Instead of fighting my grandmother’s Islamophobia and my synagogue’s ingrained bigotry, my battle in college was against the anti-Semitism of my peers and the intolerance of my institution; no matter how hard I tried escaping Judaism, I ended up having to defend it.

So, I’ve lived a double life, one I created for myself to make it easier to get by. At home, I’m an atheist and a “radical” liberal. I advocate for Palestinian liberation, call out my family’s Islamophobia and try to unpack my own, and stay as far away as possible from organized religion. At Oberlin, however, I’m Jewish. I try to explain that yes, it is possible to be a Zionist and also support Palestinian liberation. I attend community events as much as I feel comfortable, and I vent to my Jewish friends about how we feel on campus.

I wish I didn’t have to do that, but the Jewish people have never had the privilege of escaping their tormentors, and I am no different. Shrugging off my Judaism is a privilege I can never have, and the murders of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill — 11 of my people — is just another reminder of that.

Depressingly, what shocks and infuriates me about the deaths in Squirrel Hill is not the murders themselves. I have been told stories of death since I was a child, watching elderly men weep as they recounted hearing the gunshots from the SS executing little boys in the woods. Nor am I so shaken by the gun violence, for we live in the midst of so much gun violence and inaction on gun control — after all, this is America, where about 37 Americans are killed with guns each day.

No. The worst thing about these murders is that there are many fellow Jews among us who are responsible; about a quarter of all Jewish voters in fact. They voted for Donald Trump.

He, as Republicans do, promised them unwavering support of the state of Israel and moving the U.S. embassy to the contested area of Jerusalem, and they paid careful attention to those promises. But he also promised a policy of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and hate, which they blissfully ignored. The Squirrel Hill murders are the result.

If you don’t believe me, you can simply check the shooter’s social media page, where he directly cited the President’s false statements about a migrant caravan as the reason he targeted Tree of Life, which sponsors migrants through an organization called Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Following Trump’s election in 2016, anti-Semitic attacks increased by 57 percent in 2017.

The funny thing about Judaism is that it is a very small religion — less than two percent of Americans identify as Jewish, and the number is even smaller globally. As a kid, it always seemed to me that the quirks of Judaism were structured around that small size, and there was an intense pressure against leaving the faith. My parents were strictly cautioned about marrying out of the religion, and my Hebrew school teachers drilled in the same message. But if we are so obsessed with ensuring our own survival, why do some of us support a president who openly endangers it?

Critics will argue that I should not speak so harshly or politicize the dead, that I should not disrupt the grief felt within the Jewish community. That may have been true once.

But the problem is that these murders are political. Being Jewish and supporting the President without being called out for it is a privilege that people don’t get to have anymore. We as a religious community must get over our fear of speaking out if we ever want to end our own persecution and stop enabling it ourselves.

We also cannot ignore that our struggle against persecution is intimately tied up with that of other communities. Just a few days prior to the murders in Pittsburgh, a white supremacist murdered two Black people in a Kentucky Kroger. I had no idea until after Pittsburgh, and neither did my family. We must do better than that.

Squirrel Hill is not a one-off. Both in terms of guns and anti-Semitism, it is part of a burgeoning phenomenon in America in which violence and hate increasingly combine and result in murders like these. We saw it in Charleston. We saw it in Charlottesville. And we have seen it so many other times. Undoubtedly, this hate has festered for years, stretching long before 2016. But it was released with the Republican party’s embrace of extremism, and that embrace was led by Donald Trump.

We cannot escape our Judaism, and we cannot escape the fact that some of us now have blood on our hands. Jews cannot keep living double lives in which we allow our conservative peers, relatives, and friends to get away with supporting such a hateful president and party without having to be accountable. We have to do more than hold vigils and be sad — we have to broach the uncomfortable political subjects with our family members, ask them who they voted for, and knock on doors. We have to call our rabbis and pressure them to give sermons about social justice, racial justice, and voting, especially when the congregants don’t want to hear it. We must say the victims’ names, and do all that we can to make sure that the next time this happens to us — it’s only a matter of when — that our president didn’t enable it.

Richard Gottfried

Rose Mallinger

Jerry Rabinowitz

Cecil Rosenthal

David Rosenthal

Bernice Simon

Sylvan Simon

Daniel Stein

Melvin Wax

Irving Younger

Joyce Fienberg