people in kippot embrace during a memorial event
Members and supporters of the Jewish community hug at a candlelight vigil in front of the White House for the victims of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Oct. 27, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Andrew Cabbalero-Reynolds-AFP-Getty Images)

Shootings make it official: We no longer feel safe as Jews in America.

My local newspaper ran a column by Dana Milbank in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in which the Washington Post columnist laid much of the blame for the worst such attack in U.S. history at the feet of President Trump.

While Trump’s rhetoric may be inspiring right-wing wing nuts, this is, unfortunately, not the full picture.

It would be much easier if it were only neo-Nazi fanatics that America’s Jews had to worry about, but it’s not. We are being vilified, as the song says, by both sides now, and the vitriol coming from the left is even more insidious and dangerous, in my opinion.

This is because, unlike the Nazi or KKK types, who make no bones about their anti-Semitism, the left often is couching its Jew-hatred in “social justice” trappings, in most cases, trying to draw a distinction between hatred of Israel — the world’s only Jewish country — and hatred of Jews .

Just to be clear, I see no way to separate the two, as Israel is home to about half the world’s Jews. Most of the other half is in the United States. So whatever happens to the Jews of Israel happens to half the Jews on the planet.

Milbank wrote he “had been dreading and expecting this day,” when America’s Jews would no longer be able to “sit in safety under [their] own vine and fig tree” with “none to make [them] afraid” — as George Washington had promised in his 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Milbank wrote that he had been dreading an act like what happened in Pittsburgh, “and more like it, for two years. This was more than predictable; it was predicted.”

Well, I have been concerned about the issue for slightly longer than that.

More than 30 years ago, I realized that despite most people’s perception to the contrary, another anti-Semitic, Holocaust-type, giant pogrom was not only not impossible, it is in fact, entirely possible, here in the United States — were the right combination of factors to emerge. It was the premise of the master’s thesis I never got to finish.

To my dismay, though not surprise, what we are seeing played out before our eyes is what I have been predicting for years.

Milbank said he’s noticed this only over the last two years, hence his focus on the Trump administration. However, I noticed a tonal change right after the 9/11 atrocity. Before that, and since the end of World War II, it had been unacceptable in polite company to say obviously anti-Semitic things.

I felt that change as vitriol directed against Israel began surfacing in public. It felt as though the thin veneer that had covered the anti-Semitism brought to our shores by many people from “the old country,” and passed down like the disease it is through generations, had begun to crack.

Over the past 2,000 years or so, there have been several attempts, small and large, in various places, to exterminate the Jews. Each has had a slightly different focus. The Jews poisoned the wells and caused the Black Plague in the mid-1300s; the Jews kill non-Jewish children to use their blood to make matzah; the Jews are responsible for whatever ill society is perceived to have — from communism to capitalism, to war and peace, and everything else.

Echoes of those earlier myths are resurfacing everywhere.

The synagogue shooter evidently blames the Jews for the Central American migrants heading to the U.S., while the alt-left insists that Israelis (read Jews) are torturing and killing Arab babies every day — a patently absurd suggestion, coming from the same anti-Semitism that gave rise to the leftist boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

To see anti-Semitism emerging on the left is especially difficult for the Jewish community, which has traditionally been mostly politically left-of-center. Many of those people are in the unenviable position of having to choose between their Jewishness and their politics, their political affiliations and their safety. This may be most pronounced on college and university campuses, and is likely to worsen as the choice stops being the Jews’ and becomes the purview of the alt-left leadership.

Evidence of this transition is already clear; for example, the ejecting of a contingent of lesbian Jews from the 2017 Dyke March in Chicago.

The United States was the first nation in history to include Jews as equals from its beginning. Israel was the second. This makes the Oct. 27 massacre in Pittsburgh not just unspeakable but also un-American. I hope both sides can be made to understand that we’re headed in a terrifying direction.

As Milbank noted, it is no longer as certain as it was for Jews in the United States to “sit in safety under [their] own vine and fig tree.” There are nut-jobs on the right and the left that are making us afraid. n

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

A wife and mother of two grown sons, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist, columnist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County."