Corvallis Jewish community resolute in spite of recent Pittsburgh shooting

Delaney Shea, News Editor

Grieving the shooting of a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, a Corvallis rabbi and student, now focused on anti-Semitism’s reach, encourage community solidarity.

The shooting on Saturday caused the Jewish community in Corvallis to become hyper-aware of their identity, according to Rabbi Phil Bressler. He says this tragedy, and the fear that comes with it, will not stop them from expressing their faith. He has also taken time to reflect on the strong support of the Corvallis community, and what they can do moving forward.

Lou Griffel, the founding president of Oregon State University’s Jewish college fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, emphasized the Jewish community’s resilience and determination to rise above the hate and violence leveled at Jews. He related the sense of unity at a vigil led by Bressler, where there were so many people in attendance that there was only standing room left. At the vigil, Bressler emphasized moving forward from the tragedy with the mindset that there is an opportunity to do good acts and strengthen the community, according to Griffel.

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“We are unified and strong, and we must remain unified and strong. This horrible act only brought Jews together in the end,” Griffel said via email.

Despite optimism regarding the future, the Jewish community is currently grieving the loss of people they considered brothers and sisters, and a loss of confidence, according to Bressler.

He says that the shooting shook the sense of safety that synagogues, as sacred spaces, are supposed to bring.

“When the killer attacked a synagogue on Shabbat during prayer services, he not only invaded our sacred space but our sacred time as well,” Bressler said via email. “Those ideals of rest and sanctuary were shattered.”

The attack on Tree of Life brought the danger of being Jewish in America to the forefront of Bressler’s mind.

“There is no doubt that gun violence has reached epidemic proportions, that anti-Semitism is on the rise, and that hatred and racism are alive and well in America,” Bressler said. “The precarious position of Jewish Americans as a minority population remains unchanged — what’s different now is our hyper-awareness of that position.”

Griffel believes anti-Semitism is not going away and is creeping further into the public eye.

“I and almost any other Jewish-American could probably recount to you an act of anti-Semitism that we have personally encountered,” Griffel said via email. “Increase or not, there’s never a time or a place for it.”

Bressler believes that Corvallis Jews, although aware of the presence of anti-Semitism in their community, are not letting it keep them silent or in the shadows.

“I’ve had people tell me that anti-Semitic agitation in and around Corvallis has been troubling for them, but no one has told me they felt unsafe expressing their Judaism(…) For what it’s worth, I still wear my kippah around town,” Bressler said via email.

Solidarity is a community’s greatest strength, according to Griffel, especially in combating anti-Semitism, and direct day-to-day communication and a willingness to talk through difficult topics will help stop acts of hate.

“Tell your friend that their stereotype-perpetuating humor isn’t funny. Talk seriously about the Holocaust and domestic hate crimes against Jews,” Griffel said. “Seriously, sit down and talk about it. I think in big-picture. One dramatic act of selflessness and solidarity won’t solve anti-Semitism.”

Eliza Young Barstow, PhD, an instructor in Religious Studies and History, said that while Americans generally see Jews of European descent to be white, white nationalists see Jewish people as dangerous outsiders in their own racial category. She attributes the increasing boldness of white nationalists in part to the Trump administration turning a blind eye to racism in America and their perpetuation of stereotypes.

“And as racists and conspiracy theorists have become braver, their reach has spread and their number has grown,” Barstow said via email. “And thus you have someone like Robert Bowers thinking that he was engaged in a patriotic act when murdered Jews in an effort to protect what he called ‘my people.’”

Robert Bowers, the gunman in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, yelled “they’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews,” according to an FBI affidavit.

According to the Anti-Defamation league, the shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States’ history, and comes at a time in which reported incidents of anti-Semitic acts are on the rise.

Bressler appreciates support that Beit Am, his Jewish congregation, has received from the larger Corvallis community, including letters and flowers left at their door. He encourages giving back to organizations like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, as well as voting, as ways to make tangible differences.