Help Fight Anti-Semitism: Stand Outside The Synagogue, everywhere

On Saturday, October 27, 11 mostly elderly Jews were murdered in their synagogue in Pittsburgh by an evil man.

Right before he assembled his weapons and headed to the Tree of Life campus, this evil man posted on

The Tree of Life community was targeted specifically because of their collective support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS is motivated by our specific liturgical and Biblical commandments — our “mitzvot”:

The Pittsburgh killer’s social media accounts relied heavily on an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, suggesting that Hungarian-born George Soros is responsible for funding illegal “invaders” into the United States, in the form of Honduran refugees. These refugees have escaped violence and chaos in Honduras, and are walking hundreds of miles through the desert to seek asylum under American law.

This conspiracy theory is like many others in history — blaming a foreign-born Jew for any number of ailments.

George Soros is a survivor of the holocaust, a Hungarian. Where in Budapest, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered and dumped into the Danube, in the city center, in 9 months, while a block away commerce just continued as usual.

Like the Honduran refugees and asylum seekers in southern Mexico, my Jewish grandfather walked hundreds of miles during the worst period of the first World War, escaping the Kossacks in Byelorus. They came to America because we are, as Ronald Reagan suggested eloquently, a shining city on the hill; the United States is a beacon of freedom for refugees around the world.

I serve on the board of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, in many ways a sister organization to HIAS. Some Jewish social service agencies have installed bullet-proof glass in their buildings, not because they are social service agencies, but because they are JEWISH social service agencies.

My wife and I belong to a progressive synagogue a few blocks from our house. We have committed to being a sanctuary congregation if immigrants need shelter and support. Our senior Rabbi and some of our members are frequently targeted on social media by literal Nazis, making nasty threats dripping with anti-Semitism.

I am helping with the security conversation at our synagogue. The Sunday morning after Pittsburgh I stood outside an entrance, standing watch for my community and my family.

The fact that there have been no credible threats of violence against Minnesota synagogues brings little comfort.

I understand the Tree of Life community recently finished a security planning and training process. They had armed and trained police nearby. Yet, they had no warning, and 11 of the weakest, slowest and oldest congregants are now dead.

In an incident, would I rather be inside shielding my wife and kids? You better believe it. But I have enough experience and training to be helpful to all of my synagogue’s families, in a way most of my peers are not yet able.

Because of today’s atmosphere, my family’s lives are at risk. My community’s lives are at risk. Across the United States, the lives of Jews is at risk. And my own life is at risk.

This is an indisputable fact. Am I scared? You bet. Am I willing to do do what is needed to stand up to madmen and protect my family and community? Absolutely.

Sadly, American Jews are not the only targets of nationalism and white nationalism today. The same weekend of the Pittsburgh shootings, a man rushed a black church in Kentucky only to find the door locked — and instead murdered two parents on the street, simply because they were black. A Minnesota mosque was pipe-bombed in 2017 and Islamophobia is on the rise.

But anti-Semitism is a particularly virulent form of hate. And the Pittsburgh murders are deeply troubling because the synagogues at the Tree of Life campus were targeted not just because they were Jewish, but because they were Jews acting on the core Jewish value to welcome the stranger and the immigrant, because we were once slaves in Egypt and now we are free.

On that Sunday morning after Pittsburgh, more than 20 Christian and Muslim clergy stood outside our sanctuary to welcome us to our own synagogue and to be watchguards for our safety.

The following Friday afternoon, for our first Shabbat service after Pittsburgh, several dozen Catholic parishioners stood outside our synagogue, welcoming us back to our own place of worship.

Photo: Aaron Levinsky, Star Tribune.

This solidarity has lifted us up, and helped carry the American Jewish community through some of the darkest days of our modern times.

As I said to hundreds of friends at a bipartisan, international and ecumenical retreat, I know that most Americans would join me in standing outside our synagogue.

Yet, I have seen smart people spreading those same anti-Semitic George Soros illegal immigration conspiracy theories on twitter and Facebook. As the Anti-Defamation League has stated:

“Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by anti-Semites. A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate anti-Semitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.”

Anti-Semitism is not going to disappear. But we need to speak up and not allow this kind of anti-Semitism to find legitimate space in the sunshine. We need to send it back into the deepest corners of the dark web.

I believe that many of you would stand outside my synagogue when we need you most.

Please, stand outside my synagogue on social media, too. Do not let hate speech go unaddressed. Call it out. Engage those spreading the ugliness.

Do so out of empathy. For understanding that it’s not helpful to call someone an antisemite. Or antisemitic. (Unless they have swastika tattoos and are calling Jews “kikes.”)

Instead, we have to educate. We have to share in a “seek to understand” attitude.

In the age of “Me Too,” if most of us saw a man walk past a woman and grab her rear-end uninvited, would you speak and intervene? Most people would step up.

So, let’s not walk past anti-Semitism online. Let’s make it unacceptable for anti-Semitic speech in the mainstream world. Let’s shove anti-Semitism back into the corners.

Please, on twitter and Facebook and in real life, stand outside the synagogue, together.

Impact Counsel attorney, Avisen Legal. Dad. Husband. Former CEO, State Rep, Obama White House Task Force Chair. Still dabbles in pottery. Never been cool.

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