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raceAhead: Repairing The World After the Pittsburgh Shooting

October 29, 2018, 4:00 PM UTC

Among the murdered were two inseparable brothers. A young-at-heart grandmother approaching the century mark. A groundbreaking physician who treated early AIDS patients with tenderness and respect. A loving couple married at their synagogue in 1956. All of them cherished, loving, loved and part of a close-knit community that once called Fred Rogers their neighbor.

In what is believed to be the worst attack on Jewish people in the U.S., eleven people were killed on Saturday when a gunman entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on those inside. Six more were injured in the attack, including two police officers and two SWAT officers who confronted the attacker and interrupted his escape.

It is believed that Robert Bowers, 46, had been a frequent poster of anti-Semitic hate speech on Gab, a social network known for its lax content rules. But it was the now-famous caravan of Honduran asylum-seekers traveling toward the US that seems to have pushed him over the edge.

A caravan of desperate people, still thousands of miles away, shrinking by the day, a tragedy of an altogether different sort.

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer provides a clear analysis of the political and media hype that made the caravan famous; he argues that the current Administration’s use of this false menace as a mid-term election cudgel had, instead, inflamed an already hate-filled man to deadly action.

“Trump falsely told his supporters that there were “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” in the caravan, a claim that had no basis in fact, which was meant to imply that terrorists were hiding in the caravan—one falsehood placed upon another,” he writes. “In the right-wing fever swamps, where the president’s every word is worshipped, commenters began amplifying Trump’s exhortations with new details.”

The organization Bowers singled out for his ire was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, the organization that helped six-year-old future Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his family escape anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” the alleged shooter posted on Gab before he burst into the temple with three handguns and an AR-15 rifle. To the SWAT officers who cornered him, he screamed he wanted “all Jews to die.”

A congregation of devout people, just minutes from their home, murdered for their faith, a tragedy of an altogether familiar sort.

“The Jewish community is feeling incredibly vulnerable and scared. Part of it is the knowledge that it could have been any one of us,” Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St Louis tells raceAhead.

She notes that immigration reform and refugee advocacy has always been part of Jewish life, and a particular priority for her work in the last two years. “It’s part of the horror that [the killer] understood that yes, this is our identity, it’s not a stereotype he created,” she says. “We are so closely intertwined with the refugee experience and we stand on the front line to advocate for refugees and new Americans.”

It’s part of Neiss’s job to create inter-faith and inter-community alliances, so I asked her for some advice on how allies can show support in the aftermath of the shooting.

“When people are vulnerable this way, it’s a feeling of being isolated,” she said. What people can do is to send an actual message to them that they are not alone. Reach out, touch base, stand up, show up. “It seems simple, but people take it for granted.”

“This is not one incident. We have the memory of the many times when our community was targeted by people in power, the police, and the government themselves,” she says. “We know those things are able to happen when you have a population of people who let that happen. Having other communities—leaders and individuals—speak up means that there may be one person filled with hate, but this is not systemic and we are standing with you.”

We closed by talking about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, a notion that had imprinted on me as a child. (Diverse communities for the win.) “It literally means repairing the world,” she says. When G-d created the world it was inherently incomplete. “We get to be partners with each other and G-d to work toward the completion, the perfection of the world.”

You don’t have to be Jewish to see its simple beauty. “The love you put out, the hate you put out is all part of your contribution,” she says. “We can all work toward perfecting the world whether we believe or not.”

On Point

The social network used by the Pittsburgh suspect, has been taken offlineAfter it became clear that the suspected gunman in the Pittsburgh attacks frequently posted violent, anti-Semitic rhetoric on the platform, is now offline. The site only has about 800,000 users but is known for its free reign, free speech ideology. " is under attack," the company said in the statement. "We have been systematically no-platformed [and] smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people."CNN

Why was Cesar Sayoc allowed to stay on Twitter?
Cesar Sayoc, the man suspected of sending at least 14 pipe bombs targeting prominent Democrats including former president Barack Obama and CNN, appeared to have an active Twitter account, tweeting mostly political memes. But starting in July, the account began tweeting threats and graphic images to specific people, including many of the targets of the mail bombs. But there were plenty of non-celebrities as well, including Rochelle Ritchie, a Democratic strategist and Sarah Jeong, a tech writer on staff with The New York Times opinion section.

Why is it so hard for Navajo voters in Utah?
San Juan County in Utah is 51% Navajo, a slim majority in a region with a nearly all-white, Mormon legislature. Some of the reasons may be that voting districts have been unconstitutionally drawn, or that for people living in remote areas on reservations voting had become was so difficult as to be nearly impossible. But according to this exhaustive story from Buzzfeed in collaboration with High Country NewsNavajo who have been dealing with elections-based barriers for decades are fighting back, pushing for reconfigured districts that accurately represent the people who live there. Since 1986 there has only been one Navajo county commissioner serving the county, an improvement over zero but not by much. Says one area insider, if “two Native county commissioners [are elected], the white people might find themselves very impressed—they’ll see that the Native way of doing things is not going to treat them as badly as they’ve been treated.”

The Simpsons are reportedly retiring Apu
Last April, producer Adi Shankar launched a spec script competition looking for a way to address the Apu Nahasapeemapetilon problem. The dream script “in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a creation that was the byproduct of a predominately Harvard-educated white male writers’ room and transforms it into a fresh, funny, and realistic portrayal of Indians in America,” he says. While Shankar says he’s found the script—written by Vishaal Buch, a former US Air Force pilot from Oklahoma and now a family doctor in Bethesda, Maryland—Simpsons insiders tell him that the show is eliminating the character altogether and won't run it. Shankar appears to be prepared to produce the script on his own, so all is not lost. Two things of note: the number of doctors who submitted scripts was “enormous” and the guest star most-written into them was Elon Musk, lol.



The Woke Leader

When the rise in hate re-connects you with your faith
Writer Britni de la Cretaz recalls the moment when reclaiming her Jewish faith became essential. As a non-practicing Jew, she enjoyed the cultural side of Judaism but did not feel the meaning behind the stories in the Torah. Having children spurred her to search for a spiritual home, but never fully followed through. And then the Jewish Community Center near her home in Massachusetts was evacuated due to a bomb threat, just three days before inauguration day 2017. "Suddenly, the relative safety and privilege that I grew up with as a white American Jew has cracked wide open, revealing the rotten underbelly that’s always been here, the one I have chosen not to see.”

The good guy with a gun wrestles with one fateful day
Stephen Willeford was the man who disrupted a mass shooting in progress one year ago at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. It wasn’t even his church; the plumber had stayed home to rest up for his on-call shift at the local hospital. Then he heard gunfire, loaded his AR-15 and headed straight for the chaos. What followed was a mix of light and dark, he says, with the spirit of the Lord steadying his hand and saving him as the shooter fired in his direction. But Willeford, 56, stocky with a Santa Claus beard, wasn’t prepared for the darker side of it which included the media throng, the politicians, and his new starring role as the good guy in a nasty debate about guns. (He brought down the house at an NRA convention.) And, 26 of his neighbors are dead. But maybe he can sell his AR-15 and build his dream house? It’s complicated.
Texas Monthly

The Glory of the Well Read Black Girl
Glory Edim is the founder of the Well Read Black Girl community, an online group which started as an Instagram account of author quotes and reading lists in 2015; the community now gathers in book club meetings, even a new festival. The always bookish Edim is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Edim immersed herself in literature created by black women from a young age which helped ground her in deep sense of her own black womanhood. At Howard University, she says,“I was reading bell hooks or Toni Cade Bambara or Audre Lorde or Pat Parker—all these women have helped shape my own sense of self-worth.” She has learned to share the wealth. "This is one of the rare opportunities to see a lot of black women who you don’t know talk about their experience of reading the book, but also their experience in the world,” says one book club attendee.
New York Times


I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think. I want to say, “Here, look where you can live, look what you can think.” I concentrate on giving this to young people because they are the treasurers of black culture.
Ntozake Shange