The horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh Synagogue suggests that America, by being a peaceful haven for American Jewry, is actually helping to destroy it.
I haven’t commented about the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I actually don’t think there’s much to say about the shooting itself. A rabid anti-Semite acted on his rage and did what anti-Semites have done since the Middle Ages: he killed Jews. He’ll face judgment in this life and, I’m quite sure, an infinitely worse judgment in the next. The End.
In this post, I want to blog about something else I noticed. Something everyone must have noticed: All of the congregants who died (may their memories be a blessing) were oldish to really old:
Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill; David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, and Irving Youngner, 69, of Mount Washington.
According to reports I read, Saturday morning service was always the synagogue’s busiest day each week and the shooter had 20-30 minutes alone in that room before the police finally entered. (Shades of Parkland School there….) While oldish and really old people are obviously going to be the least agile in scattering and hiding, one would think that a busy service and a gunman with a lot of time on his hands would have resulted in a broader age spectrum of victims. The fact that it didn’t suggests that Tree of Life has an aging congregation. That got me thinking.
I went and looked at the synagogue’s website and saw that it offers two slightly different descriptions of itself. Here’s the first, on the home page:
Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation is a traditional, progressive and egalitarian congregation based in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
We offer a warm and welcoming environment where even the oldest Jewish traditions become relevant to the way our members live today. From engaging services, social events, family-friendly activities and learning opportunities to support in times of illness or sorrow, we match the old with the new to deliver conservative Jewish tradition that’s accessible, warm and progressive.
And here’s the second, which substitutes “conservative” for “traditional”:
Tree of Life Congregation was founded more than 150 years ago, Or L’Simcha about 5 years ago. In 2010, the two Pittsburgh congregations merged to form Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha. As a conservative Jewish congregation, Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha remains true to traditional teachings, yet is also progressive and relevant to the way we live today. From our warm, inviting and intellectually stimulating atmosphere to our fun adult, children and family programs, it’s the perfect environment to grow a strong faith rooted in tradition.
For those of you wondering about the importance of the words “conservative” and “traditional,” let me explain as best as I can. Although I was raised without a synagogue, I’m Jewish enough in orientation to have picked up a few things.
There are gradations of worship, ranging from Ultra-Orthodox, which is the most insular and deeply committed to practicing the Jewish faith in the purest way possible, to Reform, which is Judaism-lite, Episcopalianism without Jesus but with challah thrown in the mix. In between those two extremes one finds Orthodox, which is deeply committed to Jewish tradition, but allows people greater access to the non-Jewish world; and Conservative, which is a kind of middle class version of Judaism, with traditional services but many fewer restrictions on the congregants’ lives outside of the synagogue. I suspect that Tree of Life uses “traditional” and “conservative” interchangeably, but there’s the distinct possibility that the word “traditional” means it edges a little closer to Reform.
But what about that word “progressive,” which shows up in both self-descriptions? I think that has to do, not with the synagogue’s approach to God, but with its political orientation. To investigate that point, I spent some time reading the posts at its blog. Many — indeed most — are strictly concerned with religious or community issues (holiday observances, Torah texts, men’s clubs, volunteer work, etc.).
The religious posts are interesting and occasionally thoughtful. Nevertheless, there are hints of other values at the synagogue too. Indeed, a few of the posts indicate a very specific type of middle and upper class American Jewish value system that, even though, it’s couched in religious terms, has a Democrat Party platform feel. Take this entry from October 9, about floods:
Part of what makes the opening chapters of the book of Genesis so enthralling is the timeless and timely messages that endure. We concluded last week’s portion with what might be considered one of the most tragic statements from God ever: regret that He created man. In light of the conditions that currently exist on our planet, how much worse could the earth have been that God felt it necessary to destroy His entire creation? (Un)civil wars continue to plague our planet, some based upon religion, some upon politics, some upon ones’ sex or sexual orientation, some financial, some because the perpetrator enjoys sowing chaos. Whether it has been the flooding in the surrounding communities near Pittsburgh and the ensuing mudslides and loss of homes, to the hurricanes, typhoons and tidal waves across the globe; death of the mighty cedars in Lebanon, the baobab in mainland Africa and the rainforests of South America; miles of floating garbage in the oceans and polluted drinking water sources still in Flint; our track record is rather pathetic.
An orthodox rabbi probably wouldn’t bring into the discussion “sex or sexual orientation” or “miles of floating garbage.” Those phrases have a decided politically Progressive feel to them.
In July, the Rabbi couldn’t resist chiming in on the manufactured Progressive uproar regarding children separated from parents at the border (manufactured because keeping alleged families together forces ICE to release detainees into the community, where they vanish, as children cannot be housed with adult detainees):
Rabban Gamliel, who lived during the latter part of the Second Century, observed the following:
Be wary of the authorities! They do not befriend anyone unless it serves their own needs. They appear as a friend when it is to their advantage, but do not stand by a person in his hour of need.
How insightful was he, that he really understood an essential truth about the government. Despite continuous calls for sensible gun control and mental health care, our elected leaders in Washington knew that it would fade away in time. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections, I fear that that the status quo will remain unchanged, and school shootings will resume. I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?
Immigration advocates were wise in bringing the separation of parents and children to the courts, because we have seen legal decisions pushing our leaders to respond in a timely manner. What happens to the children whose parents were deported? There must be a better system, and I would have hoped that bright minds in Washington, D.C., could sit down and work out a solution that takes into account all of the concerns that have been raised. Alas, inaction once again.
By my reading, the rabbi is subtly urging his congregants to support gun control and Progressive-style immigration reform that, rather than sending the family unit back its country of origin, wants to reunite illegal alien families in America.
In June, on the occasion of a graduation from its Hebrew school, the post rejoiced in the fact that the four sweet, Caucasian, Jewish graduates were “diverse.” Progressives love the word “diverse,” although I really couldn’t figure out what it meant in the context of the post. Moreover, going back to my original point about the temple’s demographics, the fact that there were only four graduates hints that families with young children are not a large part of synagogue life.
Also in June, the rabbi saw fit to blog on the income disparity between corporate executives, who are rewarded for producing wealth, and employees, who are paid for performing a service. Please note the language I’ve emphasized and ask yourself where you’ve heard that phrase before:
The gap between executive compensation and employee compensation continues to grow at an alarming rate, with an ever-increasingly smaller percentage of our citizens earning vast sums. While most Americans must work to earn a living, how does this growing gap engender a positive outlook on life? When you add the staggering debt college graduates face, which by the way has overtaken credit card debt as the greatest consumer debt, this report seems to reinforce what some have said: the economy is doing great for certain people. The increasing life span of Americans means that more money must be saved for retirement, to plan at least for twenty years of income post-retirement. Two decades ago people retired at a younger age than they do now, and I would think that one of the contributing factors towards delayed retirement is the need to grow the pension beyond its original forecast some forty years ago. Many retirement planners who advised a certain amount forty years ago have nearly doubled their new target amounts based upon longer lifespans.
Without trying to sound limiting, is there not some ceiling when compensation is enough?
If you can’t quite remember where you’ve heard that line before, let me refresh your recollection:
By the way, Barack and Michelle Obama’s net worth, less than two years after leaving the White House, is about $40 million. Apparently, they haven’t yet reached their point of having made enough money.
The Hebrew school’s principal also had a strong (Leftist) opinion about gun control:
Today in the United States we struggle with plagues. I struggle as I think about what our generation has left our youth to solve. We have recently witnessed the strength and determination of high school students from Parkland, Florida and around the country to make a statement and fight for gun laws to save lives.
Given both the rabbi’s and the school head’s views on gun control (Yes! It’s a good thing) It is no surprise that the synagogue had neither armed guards nor armed congregants. Taking a page out of Gandhi’s ultra-pacifism book, they were going to prove their moral purity by being passive victims should the worst ever happen (and, tragically, it did happen).
For myself, I prefer the approach that the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto finally took. They died in droves, but they had already realized their deaths were inevitable at Nazi hands. By rising up, they died meaningfully, on their feet, not on their knees. That’s why approximately 600 starved, barely armed Jews held off thousands of well-armed Nazis for almost a month.
I don’t mean to gang up on a synagogue that is hurting so badly. Proper perspective and honesty demand that I reiterate that most of the posts are concerned with purely Jewish matters. Moreover, the congregation, despite its apparent leftward tilt and greatly to its credit, strongly supports Israel. I merely want to point out that the congregation, like most non-Orthodox congregations throughout America, is marinated in the elite Leftist thinking that Kurt Schlichter so admirably slices and dices in his book Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy. Climate change, gun control, Open Border reform — it’s all there if you take the time to read carefully.
As best as I can tell, Tree of Life’s demographics and ideology are what you’ll find at any American “conservative” or “traditional” congregation: Inside the synagogue, you’ll see a congregation heavily tilted to older people, fairly traditional religious services, and support for Israel; outside the synagogue you’ll see generic Progressive politics and ideas.
If “conservative” Jews are Progressives, what’s going on in Reform Judaism? You can get an idea by taking a peek at the website of Congregation Ner Shalom in Sonoma, which I consider a representative Leftist synagogue. It actually calls itself a “reconstructionist” synagogue. That means it views the Bible in the same way that Leftists view the Constitution — it’s a living document that can be infinitely reinterpreted to suit the social and political needs of the moment:
Ner Shalom is affiliated as a Reconstructionist synagogue. The Reconstructionist Movement, now called “Reconstructing Judaism”, was founded in 1955 by philosopher and theologian, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. Reconstructionism is marked by a view of Judaism as an unfolding civilization, an insistence on non-anthropomorphic God language, a rejection of “chosenness”, and a deep engagement in social justice and equality. (The first bat mitzvah in America was that of Kaplan’s own daughter.) Take a look at Reconstructing Judaism’s mission statementy video to the right!
Ner Shalom is a welcoming community that sees itself as “radically inclusive”. Our membership includes interfaith families, LGBTQI members, people with disabilities and their families. We insist on a scent-free policy so that Ner Shalomers with environmental illness can have unfettered access to our rituals and activities. We support families who have children with special needs and maintain a community value of non-shushing. We are open to individuals who do not come from Jewish backgrounds if our style of worship and community is meaningful to them. Many of our members are returning to Judaism after spiritual searches in other traditions, so we work to keep our rituals engaging and accessible, and not requiring previous detailed knowledge of Jewish texts or Hebrew language. Our spiritual direction is set in large part by the work of our Kavanah, or “Ritual Life” Committee, headed up by Reb Irwin.
The leaders and congregants at Ner Shalom are people who like the trappings of Judaism — the songs, the rituals, the sense of community — but prefer not to be too bothered by the Torah’s actual teachings. I don’t see much separating them from the Pomona College professor who wants to re-write the Bible so its more gay friendly:
This course will look at how the Bible can be read productively through queer theory. We will examine biblical passages that are central to prohibitions on homosexuality and the larger discourses of heteronormativity (constructed around gender, sexuality, class, national identity, state formations, kinship, children, etc.) in which homophobic readings of the Bible emerge. We will also look at the ways in which these discourses and the identities they shore up can be “queered,” as well as at biblical texts that can be read as queer friendly. This process of queering will allow and require us to approach the biblical text in new ways.
Reform synagogues, of course, are hard, hard Left politically, as was demonstrated yesterday when a bunch of Pittsburgh’s Reform Jews put together a petition trying to “ban” Trump from meeting with a bereaved Jewish community. I won’t dignify it with a link. It is, quite simply, a rehash of Democrat talking points accusing Trump of being a white nationalist.
This is the same Trump whose daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are Jewish. The same Trump who is more friendly to Israel than any other president since 1948. (Of course, Leftists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, hate Israel, because they see the Jews, who have lived there uninterruptedly for almost 4,000 years as evil colonialists, and the Arabs, who conquered the region more than 2,000 years later, as indigenous victims, all of which means today’s Leftists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are ignorant, stupid, and mean.) But back to Trump and his alleged white nationalism….
Those Leftists Jews in Pittsburgh are castigating as a white racist the same Trump who dated a half black woman for two years. The same Trump who got awards and accolades throughout the 90s for being a friend to African-Americans. The same Trump whose economic policies have been the best for African-Americans in the history of America. I could go on, but you get the point. He is no white nationalist.
Meanwhile, these appallingly ignorant, blinkered, hate-filled Jewish Leftists ignore entirely the fact that, while there are anti-Semites on the fringe of the Republican Party (because big political parties will always attract vile fringe actors), antisemitism sits at the heart of the modern Democrat Party. It shows up in the central role given to Nation of Islam acolyte Keith Ellison; sharia-supporting, Israel-hating activist Linda Sarsour; Israel-hating, immigrating defrauding Ilan Omar; Jesse “Hymie-town” Jackson; Al “diamond merchants” Sharpton; and all the other openly antisemitic Democrats.
Speaking of Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, just the other day, on Twitter, he called Jews “termites,” a statement Twitter concluded did not violate its prohibition against “dehumanizing people.” Obama managed to hide until last year a chummy photograph he took with Farrakhan:
Then there’s the now-famous image of Farrakhan given pride of place at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, sharing a row of seats with Jesse “Hymie-town” Jackson, Al “diamond merchants” Sharpton, and Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton:
Any Jew worried about antisemitism needs to look at the Democrats (or, in England, at Labour) for the dangerous haters, rather than to American conservativism, which adores Israel and is incredibly supportive of religious Jews. It’s not a coincidence that the lower who took a gun to Tree of Life hated Trump.
I’ve wandered around bit here, so I bet you’re wondering whether I have a point, right? Well, actually, I do.
America’s promise was that Jews could live freely, without the fear of the persecution that characterized their lives in every other nation in which they found themselves. So it was that they managed to live in America for over three hundred years before the first pogrom hit in the form of Saturday’s synagogue massacre. This, of course, is a blessing. Folded within that blessing, though, is American Jewry’s tragedy — without external pressures, Judaism has so thoroughly embraced the dominant culture’s values that large parts of it are vanishing.
And when I say “dominant culture’s values” I mean one very specific dominant culture: the Progressive one. I know why this Progressive culture ate of American Jewry. Up until Asian and East Asian immigration came to America in significant numbers, no group was more committed to having its children go to college than American Jews. For decades, it’s been the rare American Jew who hasn’t gone to and (usually) graduated from college.
The colleges these generations of young Jews have attended are the same colleges that, for over 50 years, have been committed to indoctrinating students into Leftist ideology. Pickling Jews in that ideology was a brilliant insight on the Left when it came to Jews (a group that Karl Marx loathed with a passion that easily transferred to the socialist Nazi party): No longer did the Left need Holocausts or the Soviet Unions police state to rid the world of Jews; it needed only to teach them, in the most loving way possible, to hate themselves and their values.
No wonder then that, between lack of observance and intermarriage, Conservative, Traditional, and Reform Jews are vanishing:
While not all Jews disapprove of intermarriage, many members of the Jewish community have become concerned that the high rate of interfaith marriage will result in the eventual disappearance of the American Jewish community. Intermarriage rates have risen from roughly 6% in 1950 and 25% in 1974, to approximately 40–50% in the year 2000. By 2013, the intermarriage rate had risen to 71% for non-Orthodox Jews. This, in combination with the comparatively low birthrate in the Jewish community, has led to a 5% decline in the Jewish population of the United States in the 1990s. In addition to this, when compared with the general American population, the American Jewish community is slightly older.
A third of intermarried couples provide their children with a Jewish upbringing, and doing so is more common among intermarried families raising their children in areas with high Jewish populations. The Boston area, for example, is exceptional in that an estimated 60% of children of intermarriages are being raised Jewish, meaning that intermarriage would actually be contributing to a net increase in the number of Jews. As well, some children raised through intermarriage rediscover and embrace their Jewish roots when they themselves marry and have children.
The only Jewish groups that are not vanishing but, instead, are flourishing, are those completely committed to the Torah as it is written, rather than the Torah as it has been run through the Democrat Party platform:
In contrast to the ongoing trends of assimilation, some communities within American Jewry, such as Orthodox Jews, have significantly higher birth rates and lower intermarriage rates, and are growing rapidly. The proportion of Jewish synagogue members who were Orthodox rose from 11% in 1971 to 21% in 2000, while the overall Jewish community declined in number.  In 2000, there were 360,000 so-called “ultra-orthodox” (Haredi) Jews in USA (7.2%). The figure for 2006 is estimated at 468,000 (9.4%). Data from the Pew Center shows that as of 2013, 27% of American Jews under the age of 18 live in Orthodox households, a dramatic increase from Jews aged 18 to 29, only 11% of whom are Orthodox.
The Haredi, incidentally, take great advantage of welfare programs. That’s not a good idea. If they wish to keep their insular integrity, they would be wise to distance themselves from the government. Being on welfare also makes them a legitimate target for people who believe that American welfare has run amok.
So what’s my point in all this? My point is that the deaths of eleven congregants at a Saturday morning service, all of whom were on the downhill side of the life curve, is an almost tangible reminder that American Jews, having given themselves over to Progressivism rather than to God, are a vanishing minority in American life. After all, if your God and your politics are essentially interchangeable, why waste time on Friday evening or Saturday morning going to synagogue, whether you could go to movies or youth soccer games? Moreover, Jews have lost their ability to identify with any accuracy their true enemy, preferring to be afraid of chimerical conservatives while Leftists are lining up with the hate speech and guns.
The result of these two things — the fact that politics is as meaningful as faith and that Jews are ignoring real threats in favor of imaginary ones — means that the only people filling the unguarded pews at an American synagogue are those too old to run, and have no one to defend them, when the local pogrom comes to town.
UPDATE: The synagogue may be home to the usual loosey-goosey Progressive that characterizes middle and upper middle class Jewish life outside of the Orthodox, but the rabbi is a class act:
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) October 29, 2018
In the same vein (a person who truly has a rabbinical ethos), please see what Rabbi David Wolpe wrote about the Leftists’ instant demand that all Trump-supporting Jews be excommunicated. I can’t find any single paragraph to quote; you have to read the whole thing.