Anti-Semitism in Trump's America is Now Deadlier Than it Was in Russia | Opinion

Growing up in Moscow in the 80s, anti-Semitism was an everyday background hum. There was occasional discrimination at school, in the workplace, and in the streets. My father, a straight-A student, aspired to become a doctor, but already at 17, was told: "Don't even think about it—too many Jews here already." From time to time, we would stay home because of vague rumors of impending pogroms.

These pogroms never materialized. But the Poway synagogue shooting, merely six months after the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, was a few miles from my mother's house in San Diego.

I would have never thought I would consult with my mom on how to live—and raise a child of my own—in a country where Jews are being killed. But here we are. Priehali. In Russian, this word, uttered in equal parts exasperation and disbelief, literally means, "We have arrived." Figuratively, it means "What in the world is this?"

What is this, indeed? We should not shirk calling this shooting what it is: terrorism. What the Poway shooter aimed for—more than the individual bodies—was to horrify people. Along with the gunman who opened fire on the congregants of Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, he wrenched fear from out of the Jewish subconscious, the one punctuated with images of bloodied ancestors.

And it's not just about Jews. Each time a gun fires at a defenseless person in the name of white supremacy, it shoots holes at the idea of America as a haven.

I used to read news headlines about refugees shut out from Hungary and flinch, and comfort myself weakly: "Well, at least it's not happening here. We, at least, are safe." Now it is happening. And now it's my Syrian friend, who had lost two of his brothers to ISIS and was brought by HIAS—a nonprofit with American Jewish roots—to Philadelphia, who shares my horror and sees in it a reflection of his own.

When I told him the news of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, he was shocked, immensely sad for days. For the first time since coming to the US, he did not feel safe in this country. The US is becoming one of those places, where you fly to for safety from sectarian butchery and meet your death. No one deserves to flee violence against an ethnic or religious group, only to be murdered by an American who had never met you before.

Why do people here carry guns, my mother asks me for the thousandth time. This is not a war, is it? As a teenager, I used to snicker at her, the brilliant piano teacher and immigrant, who did not study the US constitution at school because she happened to be 42—not 14, like me, when we came here. Second Amendment, Mom!

But John T. Earnest, who grew up in her own neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos, echoes my mother's words. He didn't just take gun rights for granted. He had a grand hope involving guns and war. In his mind, the attack on the Chabad of Poway would inspire tighter gun control—which would in turn spark a civil war.

Much has been made of the technological context of the shooting. Like the Christchurch killer, and like the gunman in Pittsburgh, the Poway shooter drew his inspiration from message boards and began his rampage with a rambling post of his own. He spent time on the website 8chan, whose goal it is to radicalize anonymous posters to enact violence in the physical world. Ideas percolate from magazines and online messages to individuals; terrorists become martyr role models, inspiring further violence.

It's true that this mode of terrorist activity could not exist without the Internet. But another, older technology involving lead and gunpowder, is more important. The shooter would not have perpetrated this attack if he did not have easy access to an AR-type assault weapon.

Immigrants may sound naive, but they often make fresh points, speaking outside the ossified histories and traditions.
In our times of polarized politics, terrorists like Earnest may try to manipulate us into further polarization. What is the opposite of the statement the gunman made with his attack?

I believe that the opposite to what Earnest would have wanted is non-violent gun control. I ask politicians to stop functioning as parts of two contradictory poles. I ask them to meet each other at a neutral territory, where they can finally agree on what reasonable gun control measures would be. Is it too much to ask that people like the Poway shooter stay away from military-grade assault weapons? Too much to ask that our kids do not end up in the hospital with gun wounds, like the eight-year-old Noya Dahan in Poway?

In our postmodern, seemingly less gendered times, must one be a Jew, a woman, or a mother to want peace for our families?

After the terrorist attack, the poet Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, my friend, a mom and a Jew, posted a poem to social media. The central image in her poem is sitting shiva, the ritual Jewish period of mourning, not for the proscribed seven days, but eternally.

That shiva must end.

Olga Livshin, a writer living in Philadelphia, co-hosts the reading series From Across the Waters: Poetry by Refugees and Descendants of Refugees.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​