The groups that decided to protest took this one step further: As Trump’s motorcade approached Tree of Life synagogue on Tuesday, where the president and his family paid tribute to the victims, they stood nearby and turned their backs, shouting “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
“There’s a leadership gap in the Jewish community, where the institutions that are supposed to be representing us are both-sides-ing this moment,” said Berger, of If Not Now. “I find that to be unbelievably offensive.”
On the most basic level, the protests in Pittsburgh were an argument that the synagogue shooting should not be dismissed as the work of an isolated, deranged person, but should be seen as part of a larger climate of hatred and xenophobia. It’s possible to read the protests as a grieving place for people who don’t fit in typical institutional Jewish spaces, including those who objected to the presence of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s pro-settlement, right-wing diaspora minister, at Sunday’s vigil.
But the protests were also Jews arguing with themselves over what their community should do at such a horrific, extraordinary moment. “This is about Jews figuring out what it means to be Americans,” Berger said. For two generations, he argued, Jews have been able to feel comfortable and assimilated in this country. Now, he said, many people are questioning that comfort: “What if our persecution is now in the place we thought we were safe in?”
Some Jews in Pittsburgh may support Trump. Still others, like Myers, may think that, whatever their personal feelings, it’s right to welcome the president when he comes to town after a national tragedy.
But there were disagreements even among those who didn’t want Trump to come. Bend the Arc focused its protest on defending immigrants and minorities and denouncing white nationalism and anti-Semitism. If Not Now shared those goals, but added to them: Diana Clarke, one of the group’s organizers in Pittsburgh, told me that the goal of the “civil disobedience” that followed the main protest “was to have a public space for mourning for folk murdered on Saturday that did not celebrate the police.” As the Bend the Arc marchers passed by Pittsburgh Fire Bureau Station 18, they whooped and clapped in appreciation for the police officers and first responders who had supported them after the shooting. Clarke, on the other hand, said she’s “been disturbed by media coverage … of cops who were injured rather than Jews who were killed.”
The Jews in Pittsburgh are angry and mourning, and many of them seem to agree that there is a connection between America’s political environment and what happened to their community. To a large extent, they are unified. But as the days after the shooting turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, old dividing lines—over Israel, over political language, over working within a system or protesting from the outside—may reemerge, even here.
Then again, perhaps it’s fitting that Pittsburgh’s Jews are turning this horrible moment into a chance to fight for what they believe—even if they occasionally fight with each other. It is, in its own way, a defiant return to normalcy. “Isn’t that what we do?” asked Friedman. “We argue.” We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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