Don’t use ‘Pittsburgh’ as shorthand for US anti-Semitism, says federation head
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Don’t use ‘Pittsburgh’ as shorthand for US anti-Semitism, says federation head

Episode #8: Jeff Finkelstein debriefs a year after anti-Semite killed 11 * AJC’s Avi Mayer dissects an unprecedented survey of US Jews on anti-Semitism in America

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the October 27 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue building, People of the Pod speaks with Jeff Finkelstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Authorities charged Robert Bowers, 47, a truck driver from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, for the massacre that took 11 lives and wounded seven other congregants. Investigators say he used an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, and posted criticism of HIAS, an immigrant aid society, on social media before the attack, claiming the Jewish charity “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.” Police said Bowers also raged against Jews as he gunned down his victims.

Finkelstein briefs our listeners about how Pittsburgh Jews are doing one year after the attack in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, and why the growing urban community doesn’t want to be shorthand for rising anti-Semitism in the United States.

Weekly podcast People of the Pod is produced in partnership between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel to analyze global affairs through a Jewish lens.

In a telephone conversation with People of the Pod co-host Seffi Kogen, Finkelstein calls for a halt to the use of the name of his city as a synonym for increasing anti-Semitism in the United States.

Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein in Jerusalem, May 7, 2019. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

“We’re all victims,” said Finkelstein and the tragedy had a ripple effect within the Jewish community, both in Pittsburgh and the world over. However, he added, “It might even be anger that I feel when people refer to ‘Pittsburgh'” as a catch-all for anti-Semitism in America.”

The diverse community, still centered in the heart of the city, “is an incredible, unique Jewish community” that is growing and getting younger, he said.

“This is the city that built America… it literally built America with its steel,” said Finkelstein, and should not be used as a synonym for all that is bad for Jews in the US.

While aware that the anti-Semitic attack reverberated the world over, Finkelstein said that the community is treating the one-year anniversary of the tragedy as “a local incident in Pittsburgh.” Under the banner “Remember. Repair. Together,” there will be Torah study, volunteer activities and a community gathering. “Everything is victim-centered and trauma-informed,” he said.

A sign hangs on a fence surrounding the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on September 17, 2019. The first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshippers, is October, 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Then we’re joined by Avi Mayer, AJC’s Managing Director of Global Communications, who speaks with co-host Manya Brachear Pashman about the results of the organization’s unprecedented survey of American Jews on the subject of anti-Semitism in America.

For the past 50 years there hasn’t been a survey researching anti-Semitism in the United States, said Mayer. The current survey is “a watershed moment in our understanding in how US Jews view the hatred focused against them today,” he said.

The survey was commissioned in light of developments over the past year, including both the Pittsburgh and Poway shootings. The survey discovered a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic sentiment on the hard right and far left. “There is broad recognition that anti-Semitism comes from many sources and must be addressed wherever found,” said Mayer.

While the situation is not as dire in the US as in Europe, said Mayer, anti-Semitism is very much on American Jews’ minds. He cited a growing number of individuals who are concealing their Jewishness through removing yarmulkes or covering Jewish symbols.

People of the Pod logo (courtesy)

One of the more interesting results of the survey was the fact that despite “conventional wisdom,” young American Jews feel strongly that anti-Zionism or anti-Israel activism are forms of anti-Semitism. The claims that the younger generation is more prone to support anti-Israel ideology “is false,” Mayer said.

Mayer said there are two main takeaways from the survey: American anti-Semitism is a multi-headed problem and there needs to be a bi-partisan campaign to address it, and that “American Jews know anti-Semitism when they see it.”

“Now is the time to listen to American Jews, hear what they have to say, and act accordingly,” said Mayer.

If you like what you hear on People of the Pod, subscribe, rate it and spread the word. Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play, or follow on Soundcloud. (With contributions from AP.)

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