A year ago I had the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where close to a million Jews were put to death. Standing at the killing center in Auschwitz-Birkenau, we were all moved to tears by a plaque that read, “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1940-1945.”
I wanted to think that the hate that drives people to kill others because of who they are would serve as a lesson in history. Yet the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27 is a grim reminder of the persistence of hate in our society.
We have continued to witness acts of anti-semitism and racism, particularly those directed at places of worship. It is hard to make sense of the acts of an individual who would take his captivation with anti-semitic conspiracy theories, collapse them into a single phrase – “all Jews must die” – and kill 11 of our Jewish brothers and sisters who had gathered in peace to celebrate Shabbat that Saturday morning.
Just a few days earlier, a man was charged with a hate crime in the murder of two African American customers in a Kentucky grocery store. It has been alleged that he had tried to enter the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown nearby but found the church locked. Church administrator Billy Williams talked of the solidarity their congregation openly expressed with the Tree of Life Synagogue: “We didn’t have the physical loss of a loved one, but a lot of our staff members are feeling what we call the aftershock – the ‘what if.’ When one feels pain, we all feel pain. I think [our congregation] all feel the trauma of being confronted on [our] own front door.”
As an administrator working for inclusion at Marquette University, I too share the pain experienced by my Jewish brothers and sisters on our campus and in our community. Much like the 2015 murder of nine members of the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C., and the 2012 shooting that killed six people at the Sikh Temple here in Wisconsin, acts of hatred and extremist views grounded in bigotry shake our souls. Yet the mission of our institution should remind us that when extremism leads to acts of violence, we share that pain. As our mission clearly states, “We welcome and benefit enormously from the diversity of seekers within our ranks, even as we freely choose and celebrate our own Catholic identity” as a Catholic, Jesuit university. Pope Francis also reminds us to “never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”
As busy as we all are, I urge us as a community not to let this moment go by without beginning a dialogue on how to combat hate. This is truly our time to stand in solidarity against the rhetoric of hate in its extremes turned to violence in our society.
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence