Why Jews are arming up

The declaration of this weekend — show up for Shabbat — as a memorial to the slaughter of Pittsburgh Jews reminds me of a column I wrote following that unspeakable tragedy.

The thing that distinguishes the Pittsburgh attack from, say, Nazi Germany, is that in America, churches and mosques also have been attacked. Synagogue attacks are rare. Here, the American government is pledged to protect, not persecute, minorities.

Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street

The synagogue attack opened the door to a discussion of how Jews should protect themselves.

Jews with guns?

They go together like rocks and lox. 

Everyone knows guns are anathema to Jews. 

Like most stereotypes, it contains some truth, but what has been true — I’ll get to that in a moment — is changing.

Colleague Samantha Melamed had a story that probably was surprising to many, that in response to the Tree of Life massacre, the most deadly attack on Jews in U.S. history, some Jews are arming up. 

The truth is some Jews, such as myself, were armed long before the Pittsburgh attack. And we did not take up arms because of anti-Semitism, which is an abhorrent, if minor, part of American life.

Yes, reported hate crimes against Jews, as has been widely, jumped 57 percent in 2017. The actual numbers are less scary: The increase was from 1,267 incidents to 1,986. That is less than 2,000 incidents in a country of  325 million. Truly the lunatic fringe.

While walking to take a picture of Rodeph Shalom (above) in Spring Garden, I saw this on a pole on Broad Street at Vine.

Ugly, but not threatening to me. If these wannabe Nazis were trying to recruit, they’d have a phone number, email or mailing address on the sticker. Why don’t they? They are afraid of what might come to them.

In the past, specific attacks on or threats against Jewish institutions led to the formation of the Jewish Defense League, which calls itself a self-defense organization to protect Jews, but also has been called a right-wing extremist group. Both might be true.

I bought my first pistol more than 25 years ago and got a carry permit because my life had been threatened in connection with my job, not my religion.

Since neither my employer nor the police can give me 24/7 protection, it’s my job to look out for No. 1.  

I have received credible threats at other times, one resulting in the incarceration of a man with mental issues who also threatened three other Daily News staffers. 

I have since bought several other hand guns because they have different purposes. And, no, my liberal friends, the guns’ purpose is not to “kill.” It is to defend.

Do I feel more safe because I am armed?

A little, and I have thought about the relationship between Jews and firearms.

Why is a group that has been traditionally persecuted and murdered so adamant against self-protection? Was it the futility of arming yourself against the host country when you were such a pitiful and helpless minority?

Could Jews have resisted the Nazis, when the government had all the guns? Not successfully, but . . .

When Jews could get guns, they resisted and died on their feet — most notably in the Warsaw ghetto, but there were other uprisings. Jews were capable of fighting if they were armed, but they seldom were. 

The historical antipathy towards guns was explained to me by Rabbi Bob Alper. 

Jews never went hunting, he told me.

“Because they were prohibited from having guns?” I asked.

“Not so much that,” he said. 

In the old days, all Jews were Orthodox. Any flesh they ate had to be slaughtered according to strict dietary laws. Anything killed with a gun was not kosher, and couldn’t be eaten. So why hunt — for exercise? Feh. 

So Jews’ estrangement from firearms is traditional and long-standing.

Despite some lingering anti-Semitism, America is safe for Jews. One disgusting rampage doesn’t change that.

But if a Jew wants to pack some insurance, who am I — or you — to say no? 

13 thoughts on “Why Jews are arming up”

  1. A provocative column for thought! I laughed at the part where you reason why the White Pride sign didn’t give a contact number. Replying LIVE from the Philippines where someone asked me why Americans “shoot their children.” Why indeed.

  2. You are spot on. I’m one of “those Jews who shoot guns”! In fact I am part of an informal group of men from a certain liberal congregation (which will remain unnamed but whose picture and location might be referenced in a certain recent blog post) that get together to practice our skills at a local range. You would be most welcome to join us next time.

    I’m not sure I am typical or not, but from a demographic perspective, I’m in my mid 60’a, have practiced law in this region for 40* years, have been a board member and president of the Men’s Club at two congregations and became an ordained rabbi a couple of years ago (but am not affiliated as a clergy with any congregation).
    Remains blissfully ignorant and failing to prevent real life threatening dangers is not a Jewish value. Just the opposite is true, since the preservation of life is the highest Jewish moral imperative. The obligation to take necessary action to save a life overrides every commandment of Jewish Law. An ultra orthodox surgeon would get in a car and drive to a hospital on Shabbat if it was necessary to perform life saving surgery. And if it was Yom Kippur the fast could be broken if otherwise the stamina needed to perform the operation would be lost.

    Jews can and do shoot;,most pray these skills are never needed to be put in action. You should join us sometime.

    1. You might enjoy taking advantage of easy access to legal firearms for protection, so just remember to vote to preserve that right, unlike most liberal Jews who are anti-Second Amendment.

  3. As a Christian with many Jewish friends since childhood, I have never understood the Hebrew cri de coeur, “Never again!” but the puzzling contradictory inaction of not arming oneself. Like you, Stu, I am licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and I do. Why? Because of a statement I read many years ago and have never forgotten: “You don’t need a gun until you really need a gun.” And who the hell knows when that will be?

    1. Lee Herman,
      So refreshing to hear these thoughts come from a Jew. I have felt for a very long time that anyone whose ideas do not fit the liberal agenda is not a welcome part of the community you speak about. Equally true I suppose is how comfortable can you feel among people who think anyone with ideas outside the typically Jewish liberal mindset is worthy of their company? I applaud you for writing what you did.

  4. I’m not that up on Jewish history but I believe in Israel there is a mandatory year of military service? Guns are only necessary in a war zone, which is where Israel happens to be, or in a society where the rule of law is breaking down. I would say that the 30 years of betrayal by our own govt. Is turning America into a lawless society as they commit crimes without consequence. Both parties@

    I never thought of Jews as being sheep waiting to be led to slaughter. Growing up in the city, we had friends of all persuasions around us. To me, the Jew, like most peoples, are peace loving. True, many wear their religion right out there for all to see. But isn’t that true for many other people in Philly. When you grow up with instruction and education, things (religion) are easily acceptable. Therefore my friend, just as we all know, the problems all go back to the family, or lack thereof. We were taught to respect others. In school we learned about others. When we are left to our own to grow, we have little to build on. We all need a lot of help along the way.
    The “white supremacy” sticker should have been tattooed on the back of a bald skull. It would then cover both the nazi and the skinheads . Two groups that we don’t need. (I remember back in the day. one of the pagan chiefs was being interviewed and the reporter asked about the various patches on his vest. When they got to the swastika, the reporter asked why, and the pagan said that he was a Jew and that it means that you are different and rebellious. )
    Over the years, I played soccer with Jews from Israel and from the former soviet union. They served in the military and wore the Star of David with pride. I would gladly stand with them on any given day.

  6. The book of Esther teaches us about people who were determined to destroy Jews. However, in chapter nine, they were surprised to encounter Jews who were armed with swords and who didn’t hesitate to use them. The Jews who fought back were victorious and their oppressors perished.

  7. First – I am Jewish. Second – I live in NJ. Need I say more about the subject? I certainly do envy my fellow Jewish Pennsylvanians who can carry. But not quite enough to move…

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