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Milwaukee Jewish Community Activist Reflects On Pittsburgh Shooting

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
A well-wisher lays a bouquet of flowers at a makeshift memorial down the street from the site of the Oct. 27 mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6 at the Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Jewish communities around the world are among the people mourning the shooting Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The hate-filled attack killed 11 worshipers.

It came a day after a Florida man — who posted hate-filled comments online — was charged with mailing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats around the country. Elana Kahn of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation says the shooting was a confluence of three things.

"It's the confluence of anti-Semitism, which is always present, with the moment we're at and the unmasking of bigotry and the unleashing of violent language. We have elected officials who use mean and nasty and violent rhetoric, and action comes from language ... there's also easy access to guns," she assesses.

Kahn says this is the era of the mass shooting, which can almost normalize such incidents.

"I had to remind myself that this is horrific. I had to remind myself that this is about people, because this just seems inevitable," she laments. 

"I had to remind myself that this is horrific. I had to remind myself that this is about people, because this just seems inevitable."

She says the Jewish Community Relations Council monitors and responds to anti-Semitic incidents on an ongoing basis. 

"Incidents have more than doubled between 2015 and 2017," she says. "But the tenor of the incidents has changed. Whereas most of the incidents used to be swastikas, spray painted or scratched into bathroom walls. We still have those, but we have many more incidents that include language like what yesterday's shooter said. 'All Jews must die.' ... bold, unhooded language."

She says the people in the Jewish community are uneasy, but that the synagogues are working to assure them. And she says there's currently increased security. 

"I think there's strong consensus in the Jewish community that we don't want to live in a fortress," she says. "And, by the way, when there are more guns in places, there are more gun accidents and more gun incidents, and that's part of the equation."

An extended conversation between WUWM's Maayan Silver and Milwaukee Jewish community activist Elana Kahn that aired on Lake Effect.

Kahn says taking these incidents personally and responding as though it's affecting one directly is incredibly meaningful.

"So, it happened Saturday on Sabbath to a Jewish congregation, and six years ago it happened to a Sikh communityin Milwaukee," she says. "I felt deeply then that it happened to us, too."

That type of attitude toward these incidents can help the broader community connect to such a tragedy, she adds.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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