Jewish students speak out on gun control, anti-Semitism after Tree of Life shooting

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By Haleigh Whisted
For Mitzpeh
@HaleighWhisted

 

From Pittsburgh to Maryland, and all across the country, last month’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue caused fear, hope and determination among Jewish students to reduce future anti-Semitic attacks.

“Among all of the minorities that we talk about in intersectional dialogue, Jewish people are often left out,” said Rachel Barcelona, a junior communication science and disorders major at the University of Pittsburgh. According to Barcelona, the shooting has caused more people to realize that Judaism is a minority and that anti-Semitism is still alive.

While there has been a lot of support from non-Jewish communities, some Jews feel that this university should create more openness toward their faith and other minorities. Talia Waitman, a senior finance and information systems major at this university, said that mandatory classes about various on-campus cultures and communities should be added to the general education curriculum. An increased understanding of other cultures could create less ignorance, Waitman said, which she believes is the main reason why Jews were targeted in the first place.

Hundreds of people gathered in the rain at the Pittsburgh city vigil last month. Max Cohen/Mitzpeh.

Security is a concern among students as well. Kaili Finn, a senior communications major at this university, found the lack of security at the synagogue to be a problematic issue with the incident. Protecting a minority faith is critical, as tragedies like the recent shooting could happen at any time, and anti-Semitism still exists.

Others believe that controlling guns is the way to shield minorities from violent prejudice.

Max Cohen, a junior marketing major at the University of Pittsburgh, believes that preventing responsible people from purchasing guns and repealing the Second Amendment is not the answer to this tragedy.

Instead, Cohen suggests that a mental health screening, waiting period, training period and final test on a person’s gun-handling capabilities is the right way to keep undeserving people from obtaining guns.

Many Jewish students want the public to comprehend not just the importance of understanding other cultures, but also the importance of acknowledging a targeted attack on a specific culture. Some non-Jews from Pittsburgh had declared themselves “safe” on Facebook during and after the deadly event, which caused frustration among Jewish students, according to Barcelona.

Ateret Frank, a junior psychology major at this university, explained how the small, tight-knit nature of the American Jewish community creates a feeling of connectedness. “When a shooting occurs in one synagogue, a shooting occurs in every synagogue,” she said.

After the shooting, Maryland Hillel responded by organizing a vigil on McKeldin Mall that Monday. Hundreds of students, followers and non-followers of Judaism, congregated to honor the victims during the dark time.

“Resilient” and “strong” were two words that came to Jason Wallen’s mind while at the vigil. Wallen, a sophomore Letters and Sciences student at this university, felt the presence of unity on campus from the surprisingly large number of people that showed up.

University of Pittsburgh student Gabriel Kaufman hopes that the shooting’s affiliation with anti-Semitism does not simply leave people’s minds in the next few weeks.

“The point of terrorism is to make people fearful, but this attack had the opposite effect,” the senior finance and marketing major said. Kaufman and most of his fellow Jews still walk around in yarmulkes with pride.

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