Remembrance is Never Enough

CARLY KABOT: Just over one year ago, eleven lives were claimed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. A year has only exacerbated the threat white supremacy poses to Jews and other minorities alike.   

What I remember most that day was watching  the headlines pour in. 

11 Killed in Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting. 

The Largest Anti-Semitic Act in American History. 

Gunman shouts ‘All Jews Must Die.’ 

When you awake to Nazi Germany-esque headlines in the 21st-century United States, there’s a problem. More powerful than the pit in my stomach was a hope that things would change. A year later, I question whether my false confidence stemmed from naivety or shock. 

Though a year has passed, the same issues that motivated that heinous crime persist. Religious intolerance, particularly anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, continues to fester with unacceptable prominence. Over the course of this past year alone, white supremacists have targeted Jewish institutions’ properties on at least 50 occasions. Anti-Semitic slurs, vandalism, propagand, and arson continue to plague not only the United States, but much of Europe as well. Such hate at home is a consequence of the global resurgence of populist, alt-right, anti-immigrant political leaders and parties. America faces a crisis of passivity — we falsely believe that remembrance can bring forth the change only action can accomplish. 

Time and again, we have witnessed sanctuaries become slaughterhouses. Tragedy should never be normal, and yet each time there is another mass shooting, whether in a school or space of worship, our behavior is the same. The news blows up. Vigils are organized. Messages calling for change are posted. Policies are blamed. Leadership is protested. Time passes. The masses move on. 

So long as we fail to act differently, we are complicit in the next atrocity. And the cycle begins again. 

While Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric has inflamed the current climate, he did not create the problem. Prejudice in America certainly did not begin when Trump entered office, and it will not end with him either. Regardless of whether or not Trump is re-elected next November, racism, religious bigotry, and hate will all be waiting in the Oval Office for whoever walks through those doors. Yes, Trump has incited religious tension, inspired racists to action, and unjustly targeted nearly everyone who is not a white, Christian male. Yet, he has also forced us to come face to face with our demons and accept that for many minorities in America tolerance is a facade. Let us not forget that there is one Donald Trump, but over 1,000 neo-Nazi groups across the country. Views we label as extreme are more the norm than we would like to admit. 

Ultranationalism can not only blind us to the past but allow history to be resurrected.  Pittsburgh was the reminder of the senseless hate minorities and immigrant communities have faced throughout time. Now, we must begin to ask ourselves the tough questions about who we are as a people, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. The only way for us to move forward is to take a step in a different direction. If we continue with our empty promises of remembrance, then so will they. Screaming matches and scapegoating cannot replace dialogue that transcends difference. We hold as much responsibility as our government to abate this rise of hate. Change begins with people, not policies. Evolving culture is far more difficult than altering policy, but it is on all of us to do our part.  

Carly Kabot is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service from Westchester, New York. She is an aspiring political journalist. 

Jeff Cirillo