Jewish students reflect in aftermath of Pittsburgh shooting


Chapman Hillel hosted a Shabbat dinner and services Nov. 2, where some students expressed their feelings about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and talked about how to process the violence.

There was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017, including a significant increase in incidents at schools and college campuses, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Early Oct. 27, another violent tragedy struck America as news broke of a mass shooting in a place of worship.

Eleven people were killed and six wounded at The Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The suspect, Robert Bowers, is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” before he began shooting at worshippers. Four of the wounded were police officers. Authorities are treating the shooting as a hate crime and have discovered a history of Bower posting anti-Semitic rants online, according to The Washington Post.

The shooting was described by The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs as “the deadliest attack against a Jewish community in U.S. history.”

“It’s hard for me to understand how someone could hate so much,” said Zoey Pittler, a sophomore integrated educational studies major who is Jewish. “It’s scary to think that someone can take such drastic measures against a group of individuals that they have never met.”

Around 10 percent of Chapman students are Jewish according to Hillel International, and although Chapman was recently ranked as one of the safest colleges for Jewish students, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in the U.S. In a 2017 audit, the ADL reported a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, attributing this sharp rise partially to the increase in violent incidents at schools and on college campuses.

These incidents, which occurred at business establishments, homes, schools and college campuses, went from 1,267 in 2016 to 1,986 in 2017 and included bomb threats, assaults, vandalism and anti-Semitic posters found on college campuses.

This spike is cause for concern for some Chapman students.

“I’ve always been the type of person who wasn’t afraid to tell people that I’m Jewish,” said Alexis Ribakoff, a sophomore integrated educational studies major. “But in light of recent events, I’m starting to rethink that confidence. Sadly, the world is not as accepting as I thought.”

Both Pittler and Ribakoff were devastated when they heard about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Both women are members of Chapman’s Hillel organization, and they regularly attend university-sanctioned services, such as Shabbat. This week, both Chapman’s Fish Interfaith Center and Hillel organized vigils for those who died in the shooting.

“How can someone hate a group just because of their religion?” Pittler said.

Some Chapman students have taken to social media to show their support for victims of the shooting, as well as support for the Jewish community.

Ribakoff reposted a Star of David on her Instagram story on Monday in order to show her support for the 11 people killed in the shooting. Many of her friends posted similar images.

Although no anti-Semitic incidents were reported on Chapman’s campus in 2017, Orange County has had a hate crime as recently as Oct. 31. An Irvine synagogue, the Beth Jacob Congregation, was vandalized, with

“(Expletive) Jews” written in red paint on the temple, according to the Orange County Register. This act of vandalism came two days after members of the Irvine synagogue held a vigil for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

“It hits close to home. It’s troubling to hear of events like this so close to where we are,” Pittler said.

Campuses are increasingly the scenes of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the ADL. There were 204 incidents that took place at college campuses in 2017, whereas 108 incidents occurred in 2016.

“I need to be more careful about how to show my Judaism. I’m proud to be Jewish. But that is changing because of the hatred in the world,” Ribakoff said.

Bowers pled not guilty on 44 counts, including hate crimes and using a firearm to commit murder in a crime of violence. Possible sentencing could include the death penalty and up to life in prison. Bowers didn’t appear to flinch when he listened to his possible sentencing, according to the New York Times.
In the midst of mourning, some Chapman students are finding light.

“I feel support from all corners of this campus,” Ribakoff said. “Everyone is supportive, and that makes me feel safer.”