YSU Professor Discusses Bigotry, Racism in Light of Synagogue Shooting

By Rachel Gobep

The Youngstown State University community mourned those who died in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh through a discussion on the impacts of such events in Debartolo Hall on Friday.

On Oct. 27., 46-year-old Robert Bowers allegedly opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath, killing 11 and wounding six more, including four police officers, according to multiple reports.

Photos by Rachel Gobep/The Jambar

Jacob Labendz, the director of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust studies at YSU, led the talk on the event titled, “The Pittsburgh Massacre: A Discussion about Bigotry, Racism and Violence.”

Labendz said he expresses sympathy for the community in Pittsburgh, his Jewish siblings around the country and his rage about what occurred.

“It is great to come together, but we can’t just come together every time something happens. We have to be united in action, united to do something for a reason,” he said. “This was a political crime, and it demands a political response and that requires knowledge.”

Labendz said although he could not promise to provide comfort, he offers knowledge and understanding. He discussed the history of anti-Semitism and how it has persisted throughout time, and emphasized the idea that words matter.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that aims to fight against defamation and hate, in its annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents,” the organization found a 57 percent rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, which is “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.”

“The sharp rise was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row,” the ADL reported.

The ADL believes the attack is “the deadliest on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

“Shocked, but not surprised,” is one phrase Labendz used to describe his initial reaction to the tragic event. This is echoed by the statement released by the ADL after the shooting.

“This violence occurs at a time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment.”

Adam Fuller, assistant professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, said the shooting was a tragic experience that was so close to home, which warranted a larger conversation at YSU.

The YSU community was also able to place a stone under a poster with the names and photos of the 11 victims, which is consistent with the Jewish custom that pays respect to the deceased on the first-floor of Kilcawley Center.

Ani Solomon, the assistant director of Diversity Programs at YSU, organized the stone placement memorial, and said it’s important for her to recognize when any group is targeted by acts of violence or threatening behavior.

“I think it’s just a good thing to do just to say we see this has happened; we know that it’s not okay, and to take a moment to think about the people and the families that were directly impacted, as well as our community as a whole,” Solomon said.

The event was sponsored by Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, the Student Activities Office, Pi Sigma Alpha (Alpha Alpha Rho) and the Department of Politics and International Relations.

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