Jewish Studies

Statement of the CSULB Jewish Studies Program Concerning the Attack on Jews in Poway

The CSULB Jewish Studies Program joins our fellow CSU Jewish Studies programs in condemning the violent attack on peaceful Jews at Shabbat (Sabbath) prayers this weekend at Congregation Chabad in Poway, the brutal murder of Lori Gilbert Kaye, zichra l’vracha [may her memory be a blessing], and the wounding of Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein, Almog Peretz, and eight-year-old Noya Dahan.

As horrifying as this attack is, we must not lose sight of how this intersects with wider patterns. At the first level, there is the growing resurgence of Jew hatred and anti-Semitism in the United States. Saturday’s attacks took place six months to the day to the assault on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack in American Jewish history. A few months ago, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith reported a nearly 60% increase of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. from the prior year. These not only included elevated levels of hate speech, anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas, desecration of cemeteries, but also physical attacks.

One of the most disturbing patterns is the local growth of anti-Semitism. Perhaps the scariest was the murder of the Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein in Orange County in 2018 by an alleged member of Atomwaffen Division, one of the newest and most dangerous hate groups operating in the U.S. Less violent but no less scary are the members of Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group that participated in 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, and which was founded in California. They target college campuses in particular, including CSULB, and have posted their flyers on the office doors of my colleagues. The fact that the alleged shooter was a student at a nearby sibling campus, CSU San Marcos, is deeply disturbing.

Finally, we must not forget that hatred of Jews is closely linked ideologically to other forms of prejudice. The same online chat boards replete with anti-Semitic imagery tie those ideas to hatred of Muslims, African-Americans, Latinx, and Asians. For many of these online racists, the chief crime of American Jews has been the promotion of social and ethnic integration. The anti-Semitic chant at Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us,” alternated with the more generally xenophobic “You will not replace us.”

I’ve always been struck by the radical dichotomy between the teachings of Judaism and the hatred directed against Jews. After all, Judaism teaches that all God wants from us is to make this life the best life possible. Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav said that “it is a great mitzvah [commandment] to be happy always,” and when asked to summarize God’s teaching, Rabbi Hillel said “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” [Shabbat 31a]. Try to be happy and not hurt others – not such scary beliefs, and yet they do scare people. This weekend’s violence should lead us to redouble our efforts to be true to our beliefs and our cultures, to be happy and help others to be happy, to avoid hurting others, and to defend ourselves against those who would hurt us.

Jeffrey Blutinger
Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies
Director, Jewish Studies Program
Professor, History Department
California State University, Long Beach

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