Yesterday marks one year since a white nationalist shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jews while they were in the middle of prayer. This massacre was the deadliest act of antisemitic violence ever committed on American soil, and it sent shockwaves through the country and the world. This act of violence was not solely motivated by antisemitism but by xenophobia as well.
The Tree of Life shooter, whose name I feel no need to write, believed that Jews were using the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a 138-year-old Jewish American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees, to mobilize immigrants from Central American countries to come to the United States to murder white Americans. His thinking was as dangerous as it was preposterous. However, there are strong ties between the American Jewish community and the immigrant community.
I am a Jew. I’ve heard from countless family and community members about the pogroms that their ancestors suffered in Europe. I’ve learned about how so many Jewish families internalized the idea that they were not welcome in the countries that their ancestors had lived in for generations. During the late nineteenth century all the way into the middle of the twentieth century, millions of Jews immigrated from Europe to America because they sought out a country that might actually feel like home to them. And sure enough, after decades of fighting for their rights, many American Jews now feel as American as apple pie.
The story of Jewish American history is that people who were treated as strangers for centuries in Europe found the opportunity to feel at home in America. If America could welcome in Jewish immigrants, should it not open those same doors to immigrants from all backgrounds?
Jewish American and modern immigrant communities should embrace their shared immigrant experiences. It is because American Jews struggled as immigrants that the American Jewish community should fight to make things easier for new generations of immigrants. It is because xenophobia blends into antisemitism so easily that new generations of immigrants should stand with American Jews as well. When we work together as Americans, whenever or however our families arrived, we can drive out white nationalism from this country and make this place truly feel like home for all.
Immigrant justice not only defines me as an American; it defines me as a Jew.