Pittsburgh synagogue shooting sparks anti-Semitism conversation

Matt Lawson / October 29, 2018

Candle light vigil held in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh in remembrance of synagogue shooting victims.
(@tripgabriel / Twitter)

Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of walking into the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday morning, making anti-Semitic remarks and opening fire on the crowd of worshippers inside.

Bowers allegedly tried to leave, but was confronted by authorities, who he fired upon too, injuring two police officers and one SWAT member. Police say Bowers suffered multiple gunshot wounds himself before being apprehended.

He is facing 29 charges, including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of various hate crimes.

Squirrel Hill is standing together, strong and unified, as they reel from this horrific tragedy. Meanwhile, conversations about an apparent resurgence of anti-semitism in the United States and also Canada have started to surface.

“Even though this happened in the United States, the community is connected and Jews are extremely sensitive to anti-Semitic attacks – particularlly when they’re violent. So this does create real anxiety in the community. With that said, the community is resilient. They have unfortunately gotten used to this and can bounce back very quickly.” – Martin Sampson, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. climbed 57% in 2017 to 1,986 cases, which is the largest single-year increase on file and also the second highest total number of reports since 1979, when the ADL started tracking the data.

There’s been a steady increase of incidents ranging from harassment to violence over the past decade, but the last five years has seen the most dramatic numbers. The issue is just as bad north of the border – 2017 saw a 107% increase in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism across Canada, according to B’Nai Brith Canada’s Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.

Ontario, home to Canada’s largest Jewish community, saw 808 incidents in 2017, a hefty 46% of Canada’s yearly total, which was a 28% increase from 2016. August, November and December were the worst months in terms of anti-Semitism. July saw a yearly-low of 102 incidents and it jumped to 159 in August. Then following a 125-incident October, the numbers spiked to 160 in November and then catapulted drastically up to 225 cases in December.

(Courtesy: Jeff Malo)

(Courtesy: Jeff Malo)

“Many Canadians might think the reason Jews are sensitive about anti-Semitism is because it’s offensive, and of course it is offensive, but the reason that Jews are sensitive is because anti-Semitism and anti-Semites have proven time and time again that they’re capable of turning their anti-Semitism into murder. So, when the Jewish community raises concerns about anti-Semitism, they’re doing so, not because they’re offended, but because they’re afraid someone is going to kill them.” – Martin Sampson, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Sampson is adamant that there is no indication of Canada being more dangerous for Jews than it has been. With that said, he strongly encourages members of the community to be vigilant and follow existing protocols.