Frequent readers of this column are well-aware of my animosity of victim culture. Somehow, we have arrived in a time where one’s victimhood status is celebrated, and the more victimized groups one can associate with, the higher status that person has in society, even – and this is the key – if that person has not personally been victimized. This is as if to say that if one person belonging to a community has been victimized, the whole community can claim victimization.
Jews are no strangers to this. We are constantly being attacked - and not verbally or emotionally. As we saw last week in Colleyville, Texas, Jews have historically been, and still presently are, victims of physical and often deadly violence. Every time one of these attacks happen - and I mean every single time - we hear the same things from the same people. “When will this end?” “We are being slaughtered in the streets!” “Will someone do something?!”
So what do we do? We march across the Brooklyn Bridge, we beef up security outside our shuls, we hold active shooter drills during the rabbi’s speech on Shabbos. And we look to others for help. And that is the underlying issue with victim culture. It is not that victimhood is not important. It is. But being a victim cannot be the same thing as living as a victim. It cannot be what defines us. Jews (and frankly every other community that has historically been victimized) can no longer make that their identifying characteristic. “It’s hard to be a Jew” has to stop being the mantra within our walls.
Having said that, the response to the hostage situation in Colleyville from within the Jewish community has been quite disturbing. It’s not that we have taken it lying down. No, we have learned from history that taking punishment as it comes is not an option. However, we are recycling the same ideas we have been using for the last 20 years.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to have attended a conference call with 1500 Jewish community leaders. On this call, we heard from Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and FBI Director Christopher Ray. The Biden Administration is not taking this attack lightly. The highest intelligence and security departments in the country are diligently working to help our community in our fight for safety. They are taking proactive steps to improve our security.
So why are the steps we’re taking so…secondary? Every single idea we throw out is based on what happens if we are already in a precarious situation. We conduct active shooter drills, we have security outside our shuls, we educate our children and youth leaders on what to do if we get separated during an emergency. Some shuls may even have armed congregants in the shul. But all of these are defensive tactics. None of these put us on the offense, where we are proactively trying to stop attacks from happening before they even get off the ground. That, we think, is what law enforcement is for.
I am here to tell you that that is victim mentality. It is time to stop relying on law enforcement and intelligence agencies to be the proactive ones. It is time for our community to take the proactive actions. Now that does not mean we send vigilante swat teams into the house of the suspected neighborhood Nazi. But there are steps we can and must take.
The most interesting point delivered during the aforementioned meeting was by Deputy FBI Director John Cohen. He explained that the reasons for the increase in violent attacks in recent years can be boiled down to three factors: 1) extremely high polarization, especially brought on by social media, 2) the belief that violence is an acceptable response to political issues, and 3) the rise of lone wolf activists, who are harder for the intelligence services to track.
For these three factors, I would like to propose two solutions. Firstly, it is time for synagogues to embrace the concealed carry option. There should be people in shuls who are packing during davening. They have this in Israel, and it is totally normal. For some reason in America, we have this aversion to having a firearm in shul, but it’s time to bring it to the fore. Now, that sounds like a secondary defense. However, we need to take it a step further. Signs need to be placed outside the shuls warning would-be terrorists and murderers that there are people in here who will end you if you try anything. No person wants the gun to be used in the shul, and a sure way to deter the potential gunman from trying anything in your shul is to let him know that this building is not the place he wants to try it. This turns the armed congregants into a primary defense instead of a secondary onee. If there is one thing a violent person does not want to face, it’s an opponent who is more violent.
The second solution is making inroads with the communities that most often attack us. This would help to minimize the high polarization as well as the lone wolf. The more we can have actual decent conversations with people (and not online), the more likely we will to be able to crush the extreme polarization, and maybe even turn a would-be lone wolf. We need to invite members of these communities into our shuls to help them understand what we do, why we’re here, and why they should not be considering us a threat. You know which communities these are. Start a dialogue with them. Invite them for Shabbos meals. Bring them to a kosher restaurant. Explain our religion, and do not be afraid to learn about them. Break down these walls before they break down ours.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.