Arielle Angel: Hello and welcome back to On the Nose, a Jewish Currents podcast. This is the first podcast back in 2022 so, if you’re joining us, congratulations, you’ve made it to another year. I’m your host, Arielle Angel. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Jewish Currents. Joining me are Alex Kane, our Senior Reporter, Mari Cohen, our Assistant Editor, and Nathan Goldman, our Managing Editor. Thanks to all of you guys for joining me in this discussion today.
We are gonna talk today about something that happened over the weekend. Alex, do you wanna maybe take us through sort of what happened over the weekend in brief, since I think a lot of our listeners are probably aware of the facts, but just to review?
Alex Kane: Yeah so, um, a man knocked on the door of a reform synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. And there were only four people in the synagogue because of COVID and they were live streaming the service. So they were not expecting this man who they did not know. And the congregants, and I believe the rabbi thought that maybe he was homeless.
AA: I think he did represent himself as homeless. I think that’s how he gained entry into the synagogue, is by asking if it was a shelter.
AK: So they let him. And the rabbi at some point heard a click.
Mari Cohen: The click was also, actually when the rabbi was praying, when the service had started, he had his back turned and was praying to Jerusalem.
AK: And he turned around and the man had a gun. So that started the hostage crisis. The man, who we now know his name is Malik Faisal Akram, who’s a British national, took the Jewish worshipers and the rabbi hostage because he wanted to use them to free a woman named Aafia Siddiqui, who is a Pakistani National who’s been in prison in the United States for a number of years now. She was sentenced to a very long sentence for allegedly shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents.
So this hostage situation unfolded over the entire day. At one point during the day, one hostage was freed. So then there were, there were three people left. The congregants were engaging in conversation with the gunman to, um, basically try to calm the situation, um, and survive.
And that was working for quite a long time, but as it turned to night, they began to notice that he was becoming more agitated. So, um, the gunman had asked the congregates at one point to kneel. And when that happened, the rabbi threw a chair at him and they ran towards an exit and they left. And were free. Following that, FBI agents and, and local security forces raided the synagogue and apparently shot him dead.
We don’t know many of the details about how exactly he died, whether he fired back, what that encounter was like. But we know now that, that he’s dead.
AA: Yeah so, I mean, many of us were following this story pretty closely as it was unfolding. It sort of like, took over the day. Um, I think a lot of Jews all over the country were really watching this story, trying to figure out what was gonna happen. Certainly there was a great fear that this was gonna be sort of like another Pittsburgh. And so I guess I just wanted to start by asking you all sort of what your experience was during that day. Like, how did you feel as this was going down?
MC: Hi, this is Mari. Hi everybody. I had a lot of, you know, mixed, complicated feelings as I think everyone did. I think it’s very natural, like it’s a very natural, emotional response to be like, “Oh my gosh, this means that I could be at risk in the same way.” I think that in general, I tend to have some sort of resistance to immediately kind of connecting this to my own sense of vulnerability. And I think there have been times in the past, you know, perhaps four or five years when I have felt that, especially in response to certain things during the Trump administration.
But I think my own personal defense mechanism, which is not necessarily more rational or more right, it’s just this sense of sort of, kind of stubborn, emotional impulse to create distance. Like it’s very hard for me to actually imagine that the same thing is going to happen to me, even though obviously it could, since it happened there. And also, you know, shootings in general could happen to me at any time because, you know, mass gun violence is very prevalent, um, in the United States.
But in this case, there were some personal connections that additionally had me thinking about things. Um, I got an email from my temple in Ann Arbor growing up, um, because the rabbi there is, was friends with this rabbi, um, who was a hostage. And also, um, he had grown up in, in Michigan, um, in Lansing. And so certainly there felt kind of these like personal connections there.
For me, growing up in Ann Arbor, that reform temple very much felt like a, kind of a second home. I used to spend a lot of time there, like doing different activities, youth group, choir, Hebrew school, assistant teaching, that kind of thing. And it was very much just kind of casual, walked in the building, knew people, very safe, very non-militarized, very open. And so to kind of to think about those sites being reconceptualized in the United States as these sites of kind of struggle, or a place where, that we need to defend, a place that needs to be closed.
I mean, that’s all very upsetting to me. And part of it is it’s just upsetting that there could be a threat or a hostage situation somewhere like that. Part of it is knowing that the response is going to be to kind of re-militarize, try to create defense, to close off, to, you know, maybe have to have lessons in hostage situations, which to me does kind of impact this sense of kind of safety and sanctuary that at least I felt there growing up.
And then also just knowing that in the past, we have seen kind of Islamophobic or racist responses, both in policy and in discourse in response to this kind of thing. That’s always in the back of our minds when this stuff happens. And so I think also just already anticipating that just adds to the initial feeling.
So there’s like multiple layers, like concerned about what was happening, concerned about what this was going to mean, both for the Jewish community, but also for the Muslim community and for other communities in the United States.
Nathan Goldman: Yeah, I, this is, uh, Nathan Goldman. I resonate with a lot of what you said, Mari, and I think, you know, my experience, I like followed the news, not in like a continuous way, just sort of happened to be that I saw the news on Saturday late afternoon, right before I was going to a thing at a friend’s house. And then sort of saw it, read about it, checked in with the conversation we were having on the slack and then sort of put it away.
And I think you, I don’t know, it’s, it’s partly related to my own like attempts to modify my news consumption and social media habits that I’ve like currently taken Twitter off my phone. And so was like, I think, I don’t know at another time I think I probably would’ve just put it back on and been checking it all through this social event I was going to, but I sort of made the decision to just be like, “No, I’m just not going to.”
And I think I did check the news like twice when I went to the bathroom. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t following it. And then when, when I got home, I did like that, I think at that point, the hostages had escaped, um, and the event was sort of over and I then did spend like a few hours, I think, sort of reading about stuff in an sort of increasing state of distress and a bad mood before I went to bed.
But I, what Mari said about the ways that the kind of anticipation of the discourse and politicization plays into the experience of the event, that felt very present in my experience of it. I mean, I really felt a lot of my experience, like the primary texture of my experience, felt so much like a kind of like premature exhaustion with the Islamophobic things that people would be saying, had already said, the ways in which, you know, we saw very early, like Muslim groups sort of making statements that themselves anticipated that by sort of, you know, having groups like CAIR or whatever, putting out statements saying like, you know, “We condemn this.” Good things, but things that are sort of like, well, to even think about why they would have to say things like that when there’s no reason to think they have anything to do with what was going on. And then it’s part of the way that it’s like, the news gets mediated through Twitter and through everybody sort of giving their immediate interpretation and things.
I just, yeah, I felt so, so much difficulty even in thinking of it as a thing that was happening in its particularities, as opposed to already experiencing and anticipating the ways in which people would talk about it. There’s just this experience of sadness or alienation and, or numbness I feel. Which I think is both characteristic of these kind of events as a broad category of like sort of spectacular violence in American life.
Like, I feel this way often when we talk about like school shootings and things like that, too. And, and on the other hand, I think there’s a particular Jewish quality to that experience because of the ways that I find it hard to even think about my own relationship to vulnerability as a Jew. I really don’t feel imperiled as as a Jew and this, you know, watching this didn’t make me feel anymore imperiled. I don’t think, that’s not a lot of people’s experience.
AA: I just wanna point out too, Nathan, really quickly that like, you’re actually a person who like, does like belong to a synagogue and like attends synagogue. You’re not like someone who stays home. Like I’m a person who stays home.
NG: No, it’s true. I mean, my wife and I belong to a synagogue. We go to services online sometimes. And I think we’ll go more when we’re in person and she is pregnant with, uh, twins and we plan to like go with them and send them to religious school and things like that. And so I was sort of asking myself at certain points like, oh, does this make me feel more fearful about going, you know, sending them to religious school or whatever?
And the answer was no. And part of it was definitely the ways in which I feel vulnerable and anticipate feeling vulnerable on their behalf are so much more wrapped up in just like the everyday violences of American life. If like, for example, sending any, sending them to school is a dangerous thing to do.
AA: I think that’s a really good point. I wanna pick up on a few things that you said. I mean, I think that for me too, this time, the premature exhaustion with the discourse really crept in quite early for me. And at the same time, I also, the experience wasn’t fear per se, but it, there was like a deep concern for what was going on. Like not kind of like a performed or like an absorbed concern. Like I was like really sad and disturbed and I tried to attend sort of a, an online Havdalah service just to like connect in some way, you know, which was really pathetic ’cause I like don’t have a Havdalah candle, I didn’t have any wine on hand, I, you know, I had like an orange, a Hanukah candle, and like, a glass of beer. And that was like how I was trying to do it. I didn’t know what else to do.
But I actually like, felt very alienated from that as well. Like there was, there was really a sense of aloneness in the experience because what I really wanted was just straight ritual actually. And what I was getting also in this environment was something that was more kind of an expression of some, some kind of politics or like trying to perform a certain kind of politics. And that actually felt like not what I wanted to do in this moment. Interestingly, especially as someone who like, I usually I think am looking for a certain kind of politics.
I do think that’s something that you’re saying, Nathan, about sort of like the overall violence of American life, the overall violence of American imperialism. I guess in this case it felt like part of what American life is, and also part of what Jewish life is in the sense of like, if we maintain difference then like things like this will always happen on some level. And this was kind of a relatively good outcome.
And so like the politics of like the overall thing, you know, like Jews in America already have a lot of security. They already have a lot of money and training for security. Mari has reported on nonprofit security grants. Like there actually isn’t a lot that people are really asking for even. For the most part, Jews have been getting what they want around antisemitism issues. I mean, there’s tons of programs, tons of resources. And so I really didn’t see the need to like jump into a lot of these conversations. I felt that the politics of this were sort of muddy or buried or something like it didn’t feel to me like a capital P political event. And I, and I really had wished that there was sort of like, that there had been a little bit of patience on all sides to, to talk about it.
AK: I really agree with what Nathan was saying about sort of rejecting that like feeling of vulnerability that a lot of people were posting about online, which did not resonate with me. Of course, if you’re vulnerable and you’re talking, that’s, you know, great, you should talk about how you’re feeling, but as a political prescription, it, it really leaves me lacking because there’s always, whenever anything like this happens, there’s always an impulse to say, “Well, you know, this is what Jewish life in America is,” you know, “Most people don’t realize that Jews are so vulnerable and, you know, this could happen every day and there’s this rise in antisemitic hate crimes. And while that may be true, I don’t think you can look at the data and think that this is 1930s, Germany. But that is the impulse that people turn to, and I find that disturbing because of the political implication for that, which basically are, as Mari was saying, militarization, closing off synagogues, the turn to more violence and, and, uh, asking the state to enact more violence on communities that they think antisemitism comes from.
And that is related, of course, to my very visceral reaction to the immediacy in which people, right-leaning people, but not just like, not the far right, but just like, uh, center right like journalists who were pointing out, you know, all of this advocacy by CAIR and like Linda Sarsour for freeing Aafia Siddiqui and claiming that that advocacy, that nonviolent humdrum advocacy that all ethnic groups do when they, they believe that someone has been unjustly sort of imprisoned and treated do.
And I mean, it’s fine to point that out. But in the context of this event, what they were doing was trying to, basically riling up a mob to blame Muslims as a collective, American Muslims in particular for this event. And I, that is, of course, extremely dangerous and troubling and will only poison the wealth further between the relationship of the American Jewish community to the American Muslim community, which I think is, is really important to form a United front because there are a lot of commonalities in terms of the political threats that these communities are facing. So those are sort of my, my feelings as I watch this unfold.
AA: Yeah I mean, could we talk a little bit about what the responses have been so far? I mean, in terms of like what people are proposing. I mean, we’re already looking at people talking about more synagogue security, but we’re also seeing other things. So, for example, people are talking about, they’re bringing in, uh, Deborah Lipstadt’s, uh, delayed appointment to antisemitism envoy, which is an ambassador level position. It’s actually about international antisemitism and not domestic antisemitism, but because this was a foreign perpetrator, someone who came from the UK, they’re saying that this would sort of be on some level under her purview.
And in fact, I even saw something in the forward, the deputy envoy on antisemitism under the Trump administration, Ellie Cohanim, said that there should be a domestic antisemitism czar that, that actually having an international position is not enough. So there, there’s definitely a move to, to strengthen the response around antisemitism.
MC: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting. There’s like a bit of politicking here, which is a bit funny in some ways, because basically, you know, this envoy position, which dates from around 2004, 2005 in the United States, was always just a state department position with an international mandate to combat antisemitism overseas, but also under the Trump administration, the envoy Elan Carr was kind of given this domestic mandate that he could kind of do more anti antisemitism things in the United States. Um, for him, that was a lot of like anti-BDS advocacy, college campus type of stuff, pushing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and those sorts of things.
Democrats, and we’re often quite against that Trumpian conception of the envoy position and has said, no, this is really an international position. If you’re gonna have someone who deals with things domestically, you need to appoint them, um, you know, under a domestic agency, like Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, and have that really be the, you know, official channels.
But it’s kind of funny because now Republicans are holding up Deborah Lipstadt’s confirmation. So now Democrats are saying, “Well, we need her to be confirmed for this position.” And now Republicans are saying, “Oh, well actually this isn’t a domestic position anyway, it wouldn’t matter. You’d have to have someone else for domestic stuff.” So it’s all quite politically, you know, inflected.
Obviously there’s things that these envoys have worked on. I’ve talked to some, several of them who, uh, did this work previously. A lot of kind of meeting with, you know, officials in foreign countries and Governments who said antisemitic things, lobbying against, for example, if you know, Hungary wanted to put up a statue honoring a Nazi, helping rescue Jewish communities that, you know, I think a Jewish community in Yemen that was evacuated during the Obama administration, an antisemitism envoy worked on that.
But I think that, you know, these types of positions are often a focal point for community leaders and politicians when they wanna have something to say, and they wanna have some sort of solution to propose, and it’s not always clear what the exact solution might be. And so they say, “Well, we’ll appoint somebody to work on this.” But you know, there’s not a lot of concrete suggestions or policies around what this envoy position might really do. And I think the question that many of us have is, What does that actually mean in practice? And it’s not necessarily clear.
AA: Well, so I wanted to bring up a piece by Judah Bernstein that was published on Medium, called “On Antisemitism Fought.” Something that he talks about is basically that there isn’t a lot of suggestions in terms of what people really want. I mean, like, you know, he looks at the rhetoric that came out of the No Fear rally in July, 2021, which actually we discussed on the podcast. We can drop it in the show notes. But people basically just saying like, don’t be silent, have pride in your Jewish identity, invest in Jewish education. You know, like the responses have really been about like Jews showing up on some level.
And I think also like there have been calls for greater security and stuff like that, but as I said, notably, they, they don’t like rise to the level of, we demand this specific thing mostly because like, we’re getting it, like we’re getting all the things that, that we want. I mean like the rabbi credited these trainings that he’s done, active shooter trainings with ADL, with the Community Security Network, uh, which is related to Federation and the Conference of Presidents. So, you know, the community is, is getting the thing. So what is it people actually want?
And this is where I kind of feel like it gets tricky because I feel like actually a lot of what I’m seeing is the Jewish community in particularly like the kind of center and center right. Although not just like I saw this coming also from people who are kind of ostensibly liberal is acknowledgement, a sense that the rest of the country cares about antisemitism and, and cares about them. And that seems to me to become sort of like a weird kind of exercise.
NG: Yeah. I mean, it seems, just to me, related. That and this, sort of what Mari was talking about, the conceptualization of the, sort of, the envoy as an example of a locus of these things is the kind of thing that, like, people can call for without making clear granular arguments about how that is a solution to the problem or whatever.
And then also feels connected to me to the sort of immediate insistence of interpreting the event in a very specific way, even before more things come out. I think there was, in a lot of the reporting and a lot of the like tweeting and things about it, sort of rush to say immediately, “This is an antisemitic attack.”
Now, I don’t think that’s like a crazy thing to say when a gunman is taking hostages in a synagogue, obviously. But it feels to me just illustrative of this situation in which, what is it that people are doing when they feel the need to like, identify it as such? We rush to say, this is antisemitism, we want you to acknowledge that it’s antisemitism, we want to show that acknowledgement to be performed in the world by appointing someone who takes seriously antisemitism. I don’t know. There’s just something about the like way that concept is deployed that feels like it’s already completely abstract or something.
AA: The one thing I really wanna put in is that there is some conversation about what exactly this guy wanted and what he believed, right? And I don’t, I actually like don’t feel confident enough to talk about Siddiqui’s case, for example, like I just, I have, I think there’s a lot more that I need to read in order to talk about that. But I did see some people kind of talking about the particular radicalization that comes in Southeast Asian communities in the UK, and basically like what is there to be done about that?
I see much less of that conversation happening. I see much more conversation being directed towards like CAIR and Z Belu talking about Israel/Palestine politics. Which like, I actually feel like, maybe I’m wrong about this, but feels very tangentially related to this event, but maybe I’m, maybe I’m confused. Alex, you, you seem dubious.
AK: Well, I mean, my, the next point I was gonna say was, was really about, was bringing Israel into the conversation because, uh, I think it’s actually central. I mean, the whole notion that Jews are ignored in the narratives of the need to fight against bigotry. I think it stems from the fear of the left criticizing Israel and moving away from Israel.
AA: Oh, for sure. For sure. For sure. I just mean that the event itself, like did this event, like, did this gunman, was this about Israel?
AK: Right, right. Well, I agree with you that it was not at all about Israel, at least in a direct way. I think there are ways in which you can connect Israel because of the ways in which the gunman perceived the status of American Jews in the United States.
Right? I mean, the reason why he was attacking, uh, Jews to free Aafia Siddiqui, even though Jews have absolutely no power over that, is because he thinks that Jews control the United States. And obviously that’s not true. That said, I would guess, and of course, I can’t look into the gunman’s head, so this is just a guess, that that assessment of Jewish influence is related to, in part, the US Israel relationship and protection of Israel with American arms and diplomatic support central to that. So that’s where I think Israel comes in. And the other thing I wanted to bring up in relation to Bernstein was like, I thought he was really smart because he was pointing out that this rhetoric was like, about how to combat antisemitism, was all about people basically recognizing or saying that antisemitism in the United States is systemic, much the way that racism in the United States anti-black racism in particular is systemic.
And what’s sort of funny is that people like Barry Weiss, you know, obviously believe that antisemitism is a major, massive systemic force in the United States, and yet deny the reality of systemic racism when it comes to the central racial issue in the United States, which of course, I believe is, is anti-black racism.
And so what Judah Bernstein was saying was like, well, let’s actually take systemic antisemitism seriously and say, well, are there systemic roots to antisemitism? And, and, and he says that there are, and I think it’s a convincing argument. Basically like, some of the antisemitism comes from like, sort of a wellspring of like poverty and mental illness and like homelessness and, and, and sort of, those are like economic conditions that like, can produce people who want to know who to blame and they blame Jews.
So what, what can we do? Well, massively invest in a welfare state. That’s one thing. That’s what he said. And I totally agree with that. The thing that he, that he, that he didn’t say, which, which I do wanna say and, and is sort of taboo to talk about, but that’s, that’s why we’re here. He didn’t say anything about how Israel and Israeli apartheid play into the sort of flames of antisemitism. And this is a dangerous topic, I think, because people can read it as blaming Jews for their own antisemitism. But the fact is that when, as we saw in May, uh, when Israel bombs Gaza, there’s a spike in anti-Jewish, uh, hate crimes.
And so what do we do with that? Let’s acknowledge it because it’s true. I mean, look, just look at the data. Maybe as a result, we should try to dismantle Israeli apartheid. I don’t think that dismantling apartheid means that antisemitism as a global force or antisemitism as a force in the United States will end. I do not believe that. That will not happen. But, I think it will have an impact.
MC: Yeah. I think the prevailing tendency is to be, you know, this is all antisemitism, this is because of these specific prejudices and stereotypes that pervade the world almost mystically, almost inescapably, it’s the oldest hatred, it’s, it’s in our water, it’s everywhere, and you know, it’s just floating in the air and people are absorbing it, and somehow we need to stop that because it’s everywhere, it’s on all sides of the political spectrum. But if we say maybe that’s not exactly how it works, instead there’s particular political conditions that are producing particular forms of prejudice, hatred, violence.
You know, it is quite different, for example, when it’s a right wing, white supremacist radicalized, um, who, you know, committed the shooting in Pittsburgh. Then when there is a clash between Zionists and Palestinian protestors on a street, then when there is someone who says that he’s doing this kind of on behalf of a Muslim political cause. And not, not all, not a political cause of all Muslims, but that has been the cause of some of these groups.
And so these are all quite different situations and, you know, there’s very good writing on whether even using the term antisemitism or trying to define it can sort of muddle some of these things. You know, there’s a great essay by the scholar, David Engel, kind of against a definition of antisemitism, just kind of going through historically how the word antisemitism was created in the 19th century, and kind of what happens when historians try to just talk about all sorts of disparate events as antisemitism in the way that that muddles and confuses and why it might be politically useful for groups to do it sometimes. Um, for example, you know, Jews experiencing antisemitism in 19th century Germany could perhaps get a lot of confidence from saying, “Oh, this is the same as what our ancestors experienced and they fought it and we will too. So we’ll all, we’ll call it all antisemitism. And then we can, you know, feel hopeful about getting over all of it.”
But when we’re actually trying to figure out what to do about it and how to stop it and where it’s coming from, perhaps it’s not useful to call it all the same thing and put it all in the same category.
I mean, for example, if you look at Deborah Lipstadt’s op-ed in the New York Times, you know, it’s very much, you know, this is kind of this thing that pervades us in various parts of the political spectrum, gonna list off all these different types of things that have happened over the past year and, you know, take them as one.
AA: I mean, it’s very interesting that like the Barry Weiss’s of the world seem to a., think that this is like very structural, but also adopt this, uh, antisemitism as like eternal disease kind of idea, which like, if it’s always around then, like, how is it systemic? I mean, you can’t because all of these systems are different over time, so like, what is the overarching system? I actually find myself really torn, uh, on this question because I’m not actually sure that antisemitism is systemic in the United States in a particular way. Like, I think like if you were looking at, like, for example, antisemitism against Haredim in Brooklyn or something, you might be able to give a sense of like what that closed system is and say like, okay, like there may actually be like resource competition happening here, we could treat this systemically, we could like deal with mental illness, we could deal with housing competition, blah, blah, blah, and like try to eliminate the factors around antisemitism.
But I think like if you’re looking at like the major attacks over the last five years in the United States, we’re not, like Mari said, looking at the same system, which suggests to me that actually we’re looking at something broader, we’re looking at something with a lot of different causes and that actually seems harder to target in a systemic way. You know, which means that there’s like a structure of feeling or something that’s like floating around that, that a lot of different things can like hang onto. And I’m struggling with the fact of like, is this a price of difference that is kind of irreducible? And if I do think about that, am I sort of endorsing the idea of like a trans historical hatred that like never goes away or something?
NG: Yeah, It’s an interesting way to frame the question. I mean, I don’t know whether it’s truth that these kind of attacks are like unavoidable in a pluralistic society. I think it’s hard. I mean, I think it’s possible that that’s true. I think it’s also like, there’s so many kinds of ways of organizing our pluralistic society that are different, that it, with so many different factors, it’s just hard, part to know or whatever.
AA: I mean, I’m just saying that like a lot of this stuff feels like individual people glomming onto antisemitic ideas. And like most of the time they’re not like backed up by huge structures for the most part. You know, there’s a lot of mental illness involved. And like, as long as difference manifests, like it will be attacked in some way. Which is not to say that we don’t look at the root causes, but like, I don’t know that it adds up to like a systemic problem necessarily as much as a hazard.
NG: And it seems like part of what you’re saying, right, is that, that, is it possible that the system, if the systems you address actually aren’t about the difference at all? It’s that they’re about other, they’re about the conditions under which people might try to do violent things, addressing those. Yeah. I think it’s a good point and I think like speaks to the question of like, to what degree is it even the right question to think about like whether certain incidents are caused by quote unquote caused by antisemitism or like how that relates to it?
I mean, one thing I wanted to say about the like sort of question around the ambiguities of the like all pervasive and systemic thing is there’s this, a kind of version of a quote I feel like recurred in different reporting. I think that one of, one was from like a canter at the synagogue. Do you see other people saying versions of this a lot? And it’s like an understandable feeling was people would just say, this was in this town in Texas, a small synagogue most people haven’t heard of.
There’s just this idea of like, “Oh wait, this can happen anywhere.” And that’s related to this feeling that, that I didn’t have, but I think is understandable of saying like, “Well, if I go into my synagogue, wherever it is, this could happen here because if it happened in some town I never knew about, that it makes it feel like it’s latent everywhere or something. But I think there’s another way to think about that, which is just to say, like, to some degree, it’s random. Like it’s tied to all these contingencies that could erupt anywhere, but that’s actually an expression of how unlikely it is to happen. Not how likely it is to happen.
I mean, I think I agree with what Arielle was saying, that it doesn’t seem clear to me that antisemitism is systemic in America, in, in the broad sense. And I think what you were saying about the sort of difference of conditions between certain like local spheres feels important and it feels like we are drawn away from those conversations by the like push to situate everything in terms of addressing it as like one single issue.
AA: I do think we should talk particularly about security about cops. I mean, basically like a very predictable place that this conversation went is about security and police and synagogues and, and arming in synagogues. I saw different kinds of conversations happening online. There were Jews of color basically saying like, “I don’t wanna have an argument about cops right now,” like, “that’s not what this is about for me.” But then there was also, for example, I saw Monish Chank went to Chabad to pray to Daven Shri in the morning and the police were called and he’s like, “Is it because of me? Is it not because of me? What’s happening?” You know?
MC: You know, I think that there’s the aspect of this conversation that includes the fact that, you know, many cops themselves have ties to these sorts of antisemitic white supremacist groups. So what does it mean to have those people being the people who are perhaps guarding or defending you? There’s been sort of an interesting also turn in people saying, “Oh, the FBI was taking credit for resolving this hostage situation, but actually like the rabbi did it because he threw a chair at him,” which I think is a good point, but at the same time, it’s a bit complicated because the rabbi was like using these security training materials from the FBI, from the ADL. So it’s not like he was necessarily divorced from that kind of security establishment or set of practices. And so I think that we can’t be like, oh, there’s no credit for them there. Which again, isn’t saying that I excuse any violence or, you know, racism that those groups are a part of. I just think it’s, it’s the facts of the situation.
I think what’s very complicated is that I think building these left alternatives to the security state is very hard and it’s something that we haven’t totally figured out or developed yet, partially because, you know, that’s not the prevailing paradigm for security in the United States and there’s not a lot of resources.
Um, but I think that, you know, we don’t always have easy answers. I mean, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, we should just train our communities to do security and to do bystander intervention.” I think it’s very hard. I mean, I think if we train our just community members to, I mean, have, perform security and even perhaps have guns, like, does that turn into vigilantism? Does that turn into the Jewish defense league? I think these are really hard questions. I think that we have to think about them.
You know, and I don’t think that that means that we should turn our backs on abolitionism or that we should turn to the cops. I just think it means that like, you know, people are going to have questions and be mistrustful of those types of solutions. And I think that we haven’t really worked through a lot of these questions yet. And at the same time, you know, maybe there is a question like, is the risk to each individual at synagogue so great that it outweighs, you know, the damage that it would involve to, you know, have cops involved, have the FBI involved, have these bring in the security state?
And so maybe our exam, our answer is no, actually the risks of bringing cops and having cops be a part of synagogue life is a bigger risk to our communities and we might not be 100% secure all the time, but maybe that’s worth it to be a welcoming and anti-racist community. But I just think there there’s a lot of knots there. And I think that sometimes, on the left, it’s challenging because we don’t have all the answers. And I think I would rather us acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that we need to figure these things out than to say, “Oh, we do have the answers. It’s just community security training.”
AA: Yeah. I just, I think that when we talk about abolition, it’s not just about like, how do we get rid of all police right now? It’s also about how do we make sure that the kinds of things that shouldn’t be the purview of cops are not the purview of cops? So like, how do we make sure that like, if there is actually a homeless person who comes into the space who needs something that actually, you know, our religious communities are ready to do some like chaplain work in that regard?
I mean, in a hostage situation, there is no universe in which people are not calling the cops. Like, in this environment you need the support of trained professionals and that’s the system we have now. So I think it’s like worth also saying to people who are hearing like no police, that there is no model currently on the table, in which if there’s a person with a AK-47 that there are not cops involved. You know, like that, that’s just the reality of what security looks like right now in this country. But do they need to be at the door? Do they need to be inside the inner sanctum? I mean, I think like this is kind of the question that needs to be asked. Do we already have enough security?
AK: Yeah. Well, I think, sort of an unanswerable question, but I think is important is like, whether pouring more cops into a synagogue is like doable. And like, whether it would work, I think I don’t wanna, like, let’s not overstate the competency of like American law enforcement. Like you could also imagine the cops misfiring and killing worshipers. I mean, that’s happened, right? Like friendly firing. So I just, people say cops, cops, cops, ’cause they, they envision the cops as a superhero force as they see on television, but they’re not, right? Like, I mean, Arielle’s right that we don’t have the models of like cops literally within the synagogues. At least I’ve not seen that. I don’t know if there are synagogues where that is the case. It would be an interesting question.
AA: But we do have like European and like Latin American models where like, there are armed guards outside. And like, if you need to get in, you need to be on a list. You need to be a member of the congregation. Like everybody is stopped. And like, it’s, there’s really like a, it’s not like anyone can show up to this space kind of thing. It’s like very, very tightly regulated. You know and there’s also, I mean, look, there’s at least one person who was in that Colleyville synagogue, who was like, I left this synagogue because, uh, the rabbi didn’t allow me to carry inside.
AK: Yeah. And, and as, as I said on the slack, I got a lot of pushback, but I’m, I’m still sort of interested in the question of self defense and arming yourself in, in, in this moment. I don’t wanna dismiss that. I think that makes some sense. Although the same thing goes for what I said about cops, right? Even more so for individuals who are arming themselves, they could just as easily hurt the people they wanna save in a situation like that.
AA: One thing I do wanna say, Alex, is like, you’re, I know that you were sort of like intrigued by this idea of like individuals arming themselves for self-defense and you brought up for example, like the Black Panthers. And I do think that then that does go back to a question about whether this is systemic or not. Because there’s something in what the Black Panthers were doing. But I, what I will say is that they’re fighting state violence and organized white supremacy in a specific kind of way that I don’t think Jews are facing, you know? Like I just don’t. Like, If our communities were really under attack to that level, maybe we could start thinking about it, you know, but like, I just feel like it’s really jumping the gun and it, and it also like seems to reinforce a culture of fear when like, actually we need to be turning down the volume, you know? Like these acts, even though they are scary and even though they’re seem to be happening with more frequency, are still relatively rare. Like the odds are still higher for any other number of things to happen, you know, um, including school shootings and all of these other kinds of, you know, random American violence.
So, even entertaining a conversation about like, are we, are we in a position where we need the JDL or whatever, or like our own JDL’s, leftist JDL’s, whatever they are like, it’s an overestimation of the threat in my opinion.
NG: Yeah. I think, I think it’s worth like asking, and maybe it sounds like an uncomfortable question or something, but to, about this like incident, to ask like, with an, the important exception of the fact that the hostage taker died under circumstances that are still not, I think, fully understood and will only, I think probably ever be understood under the, through the lens of like the information we get from law enforcement, which has its own limitations.
There’s a question of whether the situation was resolved in, other than that, the best way it could be. And then the sort of question of like, well, should anything have been different here? I mean, and that’s a, I can see how that might seem like a insensitive thing to ask about a like very traumatizing event that will like stay with these people and has all these broader consequences and was horrible.
But I don’t think that inherently means that that synagogue or any should allow guns or shouldn’t have let the guy in or whatever. And then there’s sort of the question around, you know, the training that the rabbi had and what the questions are about the qualities of that training and the groups that it comes from and what the complications of that are and what like Jews on the left think about that and whether there are ways to provide versions of those resources from other institutions or whether there’s things about those trainings that we, I don’t know, think are inherently tied up in these systems. I mean, I’m sure they, they obviously are inherently tied up in these systems in as much as the systems for public safety exists, intertwined with these carceral and violence systems.
But it seems like not obvious to me that in a direct way, this synagogue should have been doing something differently. You know, and it raises these, these important questions around, like, what do we, anyone who is invested in these kinds of spaces, what do we think they’re for or what, at what point their value is eroded by what we see as like safety measures? Do we, because I mean, you know, I wouldn’t go to synagogue where people were allowed to bring in guns. I don’t think I’d want to go to synagogue with a certain level of security measures, um, or not letting people in, because it seems to just degrade the quality of the like sacredness or even just communality and openness of the space, which is a real positive value, is a immensity that is lost in trying to compromise on those things.
AA: I think that’s a good place to stop. And I thank you guys for this conversation. I feel even wary of like, I don’t know, this event for me, almost more than a lot of other ones, I feel like needs some time to dissect. Especially because I think like some of the politics of like stuff in the UK and what’s going on there and we still don’t know a lot of things.
So I appreciate everyone kind of like jumping in to talk about it. And I know that we’ll have sort of more conversation about this in the coming weeks. So thanks everyone. For those of you who made it this far with us, thanks for listening. And, uh, you know, subscribe, send it to a friend if you think they’ll like it, leave us a review. For now, that’s all, folks.