PDX solidarity with the Tree of Life

November 14, 2018

Members of Portland State University’s community came together to mourn the tragic loss of life at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, report Greg Fox and Heidi Lee.

THE NEWLY formed chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) at Portland State University (PSU) held a solidarity vigil for the victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Organized in a matter of days, about 40 people attended the event, including 20 members of the Portland, Oregon, branch of the ISO.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national anti-racist organization opposed to all forms of bigotry and oppression and advocates an end to Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians. Elana Goldman, Zia Laboff and Harriet Cuttler founded its PSU chapter. Laboff and Goldman led the vigil, kicking it off with a reading of an official JVP statement honoring the victims of the mass shooting as well as victims of other recent hate crimes.

They also called for solidarity to bring together Jews and other oppressed minorities and for the need to reach out — rather than retreat — in the face of hate crimes and other racist violence. Afterward, they opened the vigil for anyone to make a public comment.

Other Jewish members of the Portland community took the opportunity to reflect on the Tree of Life shooting as well as the Jewish victims of hate who came before them. A community organizer with Gabriela Portland, a group of Filipino women activists working against fascism and toward the liberation of their people, sent a message of solidarity from the Philippines.

A vigil at Portland State University for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre
A vigil at Portland State University for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre (Ryan Valheurdi | PSU Vanguard)

Goldman described how she has received guidance and wisdom over the years from elder members of her local synagogue, making the loss of several older members of the Tree of Life all the more resonant for her.

She also thanked her friends from Palestine:

I just want to acknowledge that the people who checked on me right away were my Palestinian friends, who live in the U.S., but also in Palestine, who live under occupation every single day, yet they still checked on me, because they said, “I fight for you and you fight for me, and that’s just what we do.”

Goldman also spoke of the importance of “self-care,” the concept increasing familiar in activist circles that we cannot fight our oppressors if we fail to take care of ourselves. In our society with its relentless stress on individual responsibility, Laboff pointed out, it is seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help, but in times of trouble we must seek out all the help we can get and deliver all the help we can give.

MICHAEL MULLINAX, a Jewish member of the Portland ISO branch, gave a statement on behalf of the ISO honoring the work the victims did for the oppressed in their lives as well as making the case that only solidarity and mass action can defeat the rising threat of the far right.

The victims of this attack were not only targeted by this white supremacist terrorist because they were Jews; they were also targeted because of the kind of work for social justice that the Tree of Life synagogue specifically does...

The Tree of Life was targeted by its assailant Robert Bowers because of their work with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), an organization founded in 1881 to help Jews escaping the pogroms in the Russian Empire. The assailant posted on social media and punctuated his anti-Semitic rants with references to HIAS...

I was raised in the Jewish tradition myself. The values this tradition has instilled in me have not been shaken by these deplorable acts, but have been reaffirmed. Judaism taught me not to fear the stranger, and to welcome him...

Judaism taught me solidarity with all oppressed peoples — from Black Lives Matter to Palestine, from Pittsburgh to Portland. Judaism did not teach me passivity and resignation, but resilience and resistance. Judaism taught me strength, and the courage to stand up in the face of oppression and to say never again.

Goldman and Laboff thanked everyone for coming and extended solidarity to all groups oppressed in our society. Laboff closed out the vigil by inviting everyone who attended the vigil to come to future JVP events on campus.

In addition to showing solidarity at the vigil, some members of the ISO as well as other community groups in Portland provided security throughout the vigil. There were no reported threats prior to the vigil, but people throughout the region are on heightened alert since the increase in violent attacks by right-wing militia groups in the Portland metro area.

In the current climate of hate against marginalized groups that has been ramped up by the Trump administration, it is incumbent on all social-justice activists to provide a variety of support to protect oppressed and vulnerable communities while simultaneously seeking to build the biggest and broadest mobilization against all instances of oppression and racist violence.

Further Reading

From the archives