Northview High School's JSU Response to Pittsburgh

The Tree of Life Shooting's Impact on Northview Students of Jewish Faith

Members of my school's JSU commented on the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting


An armed shooter attacked the Tree of Life, a synagogue located in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on Saturday 27 Oct. 2018. Eleven members of their congregation were murdered as they attended a brit milah, marking the event as the deadliest attack on Jews in American history, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL, founded in 1913, is a non-governmental Jewish organization focused on stopping the defamation of the Jewish people and securing justice and fair treatment to all. Shortly after the shooting, the ADL released a statement emphasizing their support for law enforcement to investigate and their interest in treating the Pittsburgh shooting as a hate crime.

In 2017, the ADL reported a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes nationwide, receiving a total of 1,986 reports of harassment, vandalism, and assault. Johns Creek is responsible for eight out of the 58 reports from Georgia highlighted in their 2017 audit.

Notable anti-Semitic incidents that have recently occurred in Johns Creek include Heil Hitler salutes being directed towards students in class and graffiti sporting phrases such as "Kill All Jews" scrawled on bathroom walls. While these specific incidents may have happened at schools other than Northview, Northview's Jewish community is no stranger to anti-Semitism, and tragedies such as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting serve as a reminder of the anti-Semitic stain on all of humanity.

Senior Sydney Siegel has been a member of Northview's Jewish Student Union since her freshman year, and has taken on various leadership roles within the Jewish community outside of Northview. In addition to being the Membership Vice President of her youth group, she is a high school intern for the organization Stand With Us, a group dedicated to educating people about Israel. Last year, she spent a semester in Israel and also traveled to Poland, where she had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp and walk through a gas chamber.

A few weeks ago, a fellow classmate made a joke about gas chambers and Jewish people.

"I said, that's not funny. I've walked through a gas chamber; it's just unbelievable that someone could do something like that," Siegel said.

She later asked if they wanted to see a picture, and immediately they regretted their joke.

"I'm used to it — I know how to handle it, but don't keep spreading jokes that aren't funny and very offensive because other people might get hurt by them," Siegel said.

After the shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue, Siegel was upset and disappointed, both at the event and at the fact that she was not surprised that it happened. In August, Siegel traveled to Los Angeles to attend a convention with around 100 other Jewish youth. When the audience was asked to raise their hands if they had experienced anti-Semitism, almost all hands went up.

"I heard [stories] about people drawing swastikas on Israeli Flags, or even on their arms," Siegel said. "Also throwing coins at Jewish students."

Siegel's synagogue, Dor Tamid, usually has a few police cars in attendance during their Friday services, but when she attended synagogue on Nov. 2, from far away Siegel could see the bright blue police lights flashing.

"My family in New York were calling to see how they could get police to attend their synagogue, since they didn't have them up there," Siegel said.

Siegel's ultimate goal is to inform Northview's student body about Judaism, so that ignorance is no longer prevalent. She has partnered with Northview's JROTC to bring in Israel Defense Forces soldiers as speakers and is working to plan more events like it.

Senior Jared Skyer, President of Northview's Jewish Student Union, aims to educate those around him about the Jewish culture through his club.

"What I've tried to do is reach out to people who aren't necessarily Jewish, and bring them into [a] meeting so they can see that we're not scary people. We just like to drink coffee and eat donuts in the morning," Skyer said.

Like Siegel, Skyer has been involved in JSU since his freshman year, and was also upset to hear about the shooting in Pennsylvania.

"It's definitely a hate crime. It was a despicable action done by a small person," Skyer said. "Because we're in the Northview bubble, we don't think of anti-Semitism; we don't really think of racism. We're just people here who go to school and talk to our friends."

Skyer has heard the occasional offensive joke, but he appreciates Northview for its diverse community and the role it plays in students' understanding of different cultures. During his search for colleges, a worry of his was not being able to find a place as diverse as Northview. Even though Skyer has found Northview a more tolerant place than most, he still has experienced anti-Semitism in its hallways.

"For the most part, people don't care, but I've been called names because I'm Jewish, or have pennies thrown at me," Skyer said.

In the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting, Skyer found solace in his community at his synagogue, The Temple. Located an hour away from Northview, The Temple is the oldest synagogue in Atlanta, boasting a membership of over 1,500 families. On Nov. 2, the Friday after the shooting, it held a service that Skyer attended with nearby Christian and Muslim communities that the congregation had invited attending as well. During the service, speakers emphasized the importance of the Jewish community standing together, especially after events such as the Tree of Life shooting.

"The young kids were just standing up and singing and dancing and we could just see the old people looking at us, and understanding what we were going through," Skyer said.

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