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Opinion | Senator Kristen Gillibrand: America Must Be Safe For Jews

Just over a week ago, an avowed anti-Semite walked into a synagogue here in the United States, armed with a weapon designed for soldiers at war, and murdered 11 Jews while they were praying on the Sabbath.

The extraordinary violence was as shocking as it was heartbreaking, but the anger that fueled the violence – the bigoted, hateful anti-Semitism that drove this killer to commit mass murder – is, sadly, no longer shocking at all.

The Anti-Defamation League has reported a sharp rise in hate crimes across the country over the last year, including an unprecedented 57% rise in anti-Semitic incidents. That disturbing trend did not slow down at all after the tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Last Monday, New York Times reporters found more than 11,000 anti-Semitic posts when searching the word “Jews” on Instagram. On Tuesday, a Jewish woman in Brooklyn found swastikas drawn all over the outside of her house. On Wednesday, a synagogue in southern California was vandalized with spray paint. On Thursday, the inside of a synagogue in Brooklyn was defaced with graffiti calling for Jewish people to be killed.

The United States is supposed to be a safe haven for the Jewish people. You are supposed to be able to worship freely here and honor the Sabbath here without coming under attack. We must never let that change. We must not allow bigotry and violence to become normal and routine. We must not look the other way when we hear slurs and witness harassment.

Anti-Semitism is real and it is dangerous – but it is not going to stop on its own. Only our words and our actions can do that.

We need to show the world that we are more united than ever in the fight against anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism and bigotry.

We need to send a powerful message of solidarity by standing with the Jewish community, praying with them, and helping assure them that in this dark moment, they are not alone.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting, I was inspired by what I saw from the Jewish community. I saw incredible resiliency, even in this heartbreaking moment of despair. I saw an extraordinary devotion to values, and a determination to keep using them to make our society a better and more just place to live – where we welcome the stranger, help the poor, and feed the hungry – even in the face of bigotry and violence.

It reminds me of Psalm 23, which is often said during times of mourning: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” That is why I remain optimistic and still full of hope about our future.

I know that we will never allow hate, bigotry, or even violence to defeat us.

My faith is very important to me – it grounds me and it centers me – and one of my favorite passages from the Bible is from the Book of Ruth, which I have found especially meaningful in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Ruth spoke these words to Naomi in a moment of great struggle, and I make the same vow to the Jewish community now. I will always stand with you against anti-Semitism, and I will always do everything in my power to make sure the Jewish community is safe in America.

Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic senator from New York.

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