Vermont rabbi discusses concerns following shooting of Palestinian students
A pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to exchange hostages was not enough to keep the violence from the streets of Burlington, Vermont. Last Saturday, three young men of Palestinian descent were shot by a man who was arrested a day later and soon arraigned on three attempted murder charges. The mayor calls it one of the most disturbing events in the history of the city. A coalition of rabbis from around the state signed a joint statement condemning the shooting. Rabbi Tobie Weisman, Executive Director of Jewish Communities of Vermont, spoke with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley:
I was appalled. I was very, very upset and frightened. That could have easily been Jews walking down the street that were obviously Jewish. You know it just hit home. And the Palestinian students just walking down the street minding their own business getting shot at is horrendous and very scary for our entire community. We are very, very saddened and appalled by this horrible, horrendous violence.
What are you hearing from the Jewish community at large about their concerns over what happened in this situation? I mean what are they telling you? What are they saying?
Well, people are very upset because this act of violence, I mean we don’t know if it’s a hate crime, so we don’t know. But it’s just very scary because the Palestinians are a minority and the Jews are a minority. So we feel close to the situation. It’s very, very close because we’re both minorities and we don’t want any harm to come to Palestinians and we don’t want harm to come to anybody. But if it’s a hate crime it feels very close to us because we’re both minorities. And you know the tensions are very high right now in both worlds. But we have nothing against Palestinians and we want them to, you know, we want to make peace with them especially in our communities. We want to have peace between us as people.
You obviously have been in contact with the rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community across Vermont. What are rabbis telling and advising their congregations in the wake of this? I mean I know there were concerns before this shooting. Now that this has occurred, what are you telling people and how are you advising them regarding their concerns?
I think that people, individuals, are scared. I think leaders are scared. You know its hard to go about your daily life especially if going into the synagogue and going to services or programs not to feel a little bit scared. And in some synagogues probably people aren’t going to things sometimes. Maybe they’re staying away. But we’re trying to do the best we can and be protected as well as we can. But of course it’s not a sure thing that you’re protected. But you know until this happened I think we felt relatively safe here in Burlington and Vermont. And it seems like we still could be safe but this happening makes us feel more unsafe.
Well we have had the truce between Israel and Hamas as they release some hostages. Are you concerned that we may see an escalation of violence in the U.S. and perhaps even in Vermont whenever this truce ends?
There has been violence. There’s been violence in the United States during the war. I don’t know if, when the truce ends or if the truce ends, maybe it won’t end. Maybe we’ll have peace. We’re always hopeful. So I don’t know if there’ll be an increase in violence. But it’s just a very very scary delicate time for Jewish leaders and Jews in the United States and all over the world. There’s been so many antisemitic incidents all over the world and it’s been very scary.
Rabbi, is there any other point that should be made in the wake of what happened over the weekend with these students and the arrest of the suspect and everything that’s been going on?
We are hoping that this incident will kind of maybe wake up the whole community to see that we really need to reach out more to each other. We really have to reach out and try to make friends with each other. Even though we have different opinions, maybe very, very different opinions, but we have to work together for peace in our community and that’s what this showed me.
Rabbi Tobie Weisman, Executive Director of Jewish Communities of Vermont, spoke with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley.