I got this mug in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Since ending up back in Ohio, I find myself there a few times a year to salsa dance, often staying with my friend Becky and going to this coffee shop.
Becky, my British scientist friend and I danced in the same circles in the UK together and rekindled our friendship after many years apart when we found we were in nearby US cities. We couldn’t be more different in many ways, but our love of dance and conversations about politics and our cross-cultural US/UK lives have given us much in common. We are allies really.
After I worked with refugees a couple years, Becky asked how she could get involved locally, and I pointed her toward HIAS. Soon my British immigrant friend was befriending and practicing English with a Muslim refugee family resettled by a Jewish resettlement organization and helping them navigate their new American life. It gives me all the feels of joy and happiness still thinking about it.
Until this week.
As you know, a terrorist went after the Jewish Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. He murdered 11 people, many who survived the Holocaust.
“Prior to committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” – CNN
In another post, he referenced the list of synagogue’s participating in the national Shabbat for refugees and said “thanks for the list.” His anti-semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric mixed said the Anti-Defamation League here.
My heart has been broken in new ways all week. I am horrified and saddened for the people who needlessly lost their lives due to this man’s hate. I am sad for the Jewish community around the world that feels this more acutely than I. This was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history while anti-semitism has gone up 57% from 2016 to 2017.
I am saddened for the refugee communities in Pittsburgh and the family that my friend Becky is friends with, wondering how they feel fleeing war-torn Afghanistan to have terror in the city that should be a safe haven for them because of someone’s hatred of immigrants and those who serve immigrants.
I am sad for our country. This man was given fuel. At the gym this week on the treadmill I saw Fox News talking about the asylum seekers who are looking to us for help with the most derogatory inflammatory language: “invaders” “who were coming to harm us” was the message I saw. Every day I watched them while I exercised, their words were more and more dehumanizing towards the caravan. “Illegals” is the rhetoric used. It’s not even true. The caravan is not illegal. Applying for asylum is a legal process and in order to do so in the US, you need to cross the border at a port of entry to apply. A caravan of people with the intent to claim asylum is not illegal, they are following US asylum law. The president speaks about the central Americans in a way to inflame fears and rally partisanship divides and has consistently used terrible “us-them” towards all of our southern neighbours and refugees from the Middle East. Just this week AFTER the shooting he continued to tweet about the “dangerous caravan” and lie about the people who were part of it, coming to seek asylum, not murder us. How can we speak of human beings as vermin invaders? How can we push and rally fear in people for political power? I only wonder what the Lord’s anger is like towards us as a nation as many manipulate fears in people for power and ratings?
Who is paying attention? Who believes these words that we are under attack?
There are many who believe them. One response is a vengeful hateful murderous act like we saw this week.
I mourn for the loss of lives in Squirrel Hill. I am saddened that murder has to be the fate of people who survived so much already. I mourn for the fear and anger towards refugees we have received as a nation. I mourn for the children from Honduras sleeping on the hard ground in Mexico tonight with their mothers and fathers wrapped around them in hopes that the US might give them refuge from hunger and violence. I mourn those with mouthpieces and voices that reach many but use their platforms to stir fear and hatred and a division between “us and them.” I mourn for the soul of this nation that feels so lost.