There aren’t many who are familiar with the shooting of Neal S. Rosenblum, a 24-year-old Rabbinical student who died after being shot five times on his way home from evening prayer in 1986. Two years passed without any suspects in his murder until a cellmate of a man called Steven M. Tielsch came forward, revealing that Tielsch had been bragging about killing a Jew. It took sixteen years and four trials until Tielsch was convicted of third-degree murder.
Fast forward another sixteen years and Robert Bowers, a hate-filled anti-Semite, has just murdered eleven people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh on the 27th of October. Those eleven shared not only the same neighbourhood as Rosenblum, but they were murdered for the very same reason that he was.
Much has changed since Rosenblum’s homicide, but the vitriol and seething hatred reserved for those of the Jewish faith seems to have not diminished in the thirty-two years that have passed. The eleven people that the world has lost were human beings with innately good qualities. Jerry Rabinowitz held the hands of patients undergoing HIV treatment back in the days when the disease was highly stigmatised. Melvin Wax, 87 at his passing, parked his car several streets away from the synagogue to accommodate those who needed the space.
Little kind acts of humanity like those were just symptoms of the undisputed togetherness of the Squirrel Hill community, but it was the symptoms of a great evil that led to the loss of precious loved ones. Just last year, the same neighbourhood received cards filled with “white pride” and anti-Semitic propaganda, while graves were desecrated and cemeteries vandalised in Philadelphia and St. Louis. The torchlit march of the white supremacists in Charlottesville shocked the world as they chanted “Jews will not replace us” but figures such as Donald Trump did little to fight the radical increase of attacks. When asked about that same Charlottesville march, he declared there were “very fine people” among those bloodthirsty for the eradication of Jews.
The Squirrel Hill messages were one of 1,986 incidents of anti-Semitism reported in 2017 across America, with every state coming forward with a complaint for the first time since 2010. Even in the days since the synagogue attack, the Union Temple in Brooklyn has been graffitied with messages such as “Die Jew rats we are here” while fires were set at six other locations.
The Washington Post detailed the Anti-Defamation League’s annual report, which found that “the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.” The report continued: “The sharp rise, reported in ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.” The ADL’s findings included “1,015 incidents of harassment, including 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, up 41 percent from 2016, and 952 incidents of vandalism, up 86 percent from 2016.”
There is no longer one concentrated source of Anti-Semitism in America, nor can the rise of attacks be overlooked. Trump and his supporters are doing nothing but fuelling the hysteria. David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history at the University of California, believes that Trump “has dramatically elevated the level of rhetorical tension in ways that do not discourage people from acting out their terrifying views” and it is his corrosive elocution that has set the platform for men like Robert Bowers.
When questioned about his motive, Bowers told a law enforcement officer that he thought Jews “were committing a genocide to his people” a belief that strikes a similar chord with those who marched in Charlottesville. Trump’s regime has paved the way for chaos to ensue, and it is a sad truth that Jewish people face the same persecution by their fellow American as Neal S. Rosenblum did in 1986.