I just wanted to express my deepest shock and sorrow over the mass killings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The shooter’s last public reference as relates to his motive was to Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s (HIAS) involvement in refugee resettlement. Although HIAS now resettles a modest number of refugees in the U.S., befitting its long and noble history, the organization has taken a courageous lead role in advocating for the humanitarian support of refugees and condemning the Trump administration’s callous restrictions on refugee resettlement, not to mention its wholesale demonization of immigrants.
The brutal massacre of 11 innocent congregants in Squirrel Hill is a horrible loss of life, and horrible lesson on the perils of stoking racialist resentments. Direct causality need not be demonstrated.
It is of course true that any individual who commits a murder based on racial or religious hatred is an outlier in terms of outlook and psychology. But when political leaders and the supporters of a mainstream political party persistently problematize the presence of racial or religious minorities, it gives implicit license for warped, damaged individuals to attempt to solve these perceived problems according to their own malign tendencies, sometimes with resort to violence.
There can be no solace after this tragic incident for the long-established Jewish community in Pittsburgh or among Jewish-Americans broadly. But I can only hope the killings in Pittsburgh and the other incidents of politically motivated violence that occurred in our country last week will illustrate the lasting harm of mainstreaming hatred as part of our civic dialogue.
Most of all, during this difficult time, I just wanted to reach out to Louisville’s Jewish community in sympathy and solidarity.
John A. Koehlinger
(The author is executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries. He sent this letter shortly after the shootings in Pittsburgh.)