Then on Friday afternoon, as the Jewish Sabbath approached, a horrific and shocking hate crime was committed against my colleagues at the Seattle Jewish Federation: One woman was killed and five others were wounded by a gunman, apparently motivated by events in the Middle East and pure hatred of the Jewish people.
I felt shock and pain as I sat at my desk listening to a Seattle radio station on my computer. I am a Jewish communal service professional, someone who is paid to do the work of the community, and this crime was meant to intimidate and scare me.
I feel doubly targeted because I am both Jewish and a professional just like Pamela Waechter, the Federation assistant director who died in the attack. I never imagined that as a Jew in America in 2006 my own security would require vigilance and caution.
I have read the news reports that this terrorizing crime was committed by a mentally ill individual who acted on his own. While that may be true of this particular hate crime, it does not enhance my sense of personal or communal security. It seems that we live in a climate that says, both outright and indirectly, that attacking Jews is acceptable political criticism.
We saw it several years ago when attacks on Jews in France were commonplace, until the French government declared that these sorts of hate crimes would be fully prosecuted. We saw it when a synagogue in Tunisia was blown up, as well as one in Istanbul.
Some pundits analyze recent statements by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he urges Muslims to "target Jewish and American interests everywhere," as an effort by the terrorist group to regain popularity in the Arab street.
While that may seem clever, I know that he says it because he means it. There are followers and those who sympathize with al-Qaida throughout the world. These sentiments are echoed in anti-Jewish rhetoric in some mosques, anti-Semitic books and cartoons that permeate the Arab world. We also see these hateful themes picked up at demonstrations and conferences in the Bay Area.
The murderous shooting spree of Naveed Afzal Haq in Seattle did not occur in a vacuum. It comes only after other things begin to be acceptable. This continuum begins with anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews controlling and manipulating the world and it progresses through the dehumanization of Jews and Israelis <0x2014> which leads to assault, murder and even genocide.
Sadly, we have seen it before, over many centuries. We know where it leads. Anti-Semitism has claimed many victims throughout the ages, from the Spanish Inquisition to Crusader times to the Holocaust. More broadly, prejudice and hate is killing people in Iraq, Darfur and elsewhere.
I do not want to allow myself to be a "victim" of this hate crime, or any other. Jewish communal service professionals devote each and every day to the health and well-being of our global community, the work of doing good. My organization fights all forms of hatred, bigotry and prejudice, no matter who is targeted.
I believe we will continue to live and work according to our passion. We have a passion for the renaissance of our community, a passion for the rebirth of our Jewish homeland, Israel, and a passion for our lives as American Jews. Here in the United States we have unprecedented freedom, acceptance and the ability to act according to our individual and collective conscience.
Violence and hatred are not legitimate political discourse. Debate and dialogue are. I choose compassion, tolerance and life. So this week I came to work.