By JTA Staff
(JTA) — The Jewish calendar year 5779 was a turbulent and often painful one for Jews around the world. Mounting global anti-Semitism, two deadly American synagogue shootings and two (as yet) inconclusive Israeli elections in the space of just a few months were among the stories that defined and helped frame the communal discussion as the new year approaches.
These are the Jewish stories that most captured our attention in the year that was and whose ramifications are likely to continue to play out in 5780.
12 Jews killed in synagogues
Mass shootings have become a sad fact of American life, but two this year took deadly aim at this country’s Jews. On Oct. 27, a lone gunman committed the single worst attack on Jews in U.S. history when he opened fire on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on a Shabbat morning, killing 11 worshippers and injuring six. Prior to the attack, that gunman, Robert Bowers, had posted screeds against the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, writing that it liked to “bring invaders in that kill our people.”
Six months later, on April 27, the last day of Passover, a gunman opened fire at a Chabad synagogue in the San Diego suburb of Poway, killing one person and injuring three. The accused gunman, John Earnest, told a 911 dispatcher that he did it because “Jewish people are destroying the white race.”
Jewish Democrats ride the blue wave
More than three-quarters of American Jews cast their ballots for Democratic candidates as the party swept to power in the House in midterm congressional elections. Only 19 percent supported the Republicans.
Meanwhile, billionaire gaming mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, became the biggest spenders in American politics, having donated $55 million in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to help Republicans hold the House.
Hate crimes against Jews are spiking
In November, the FBI released its tally of hate crimes statistics for the previous year, and the news wasn’t good: The number of hate crimes targeting Jews in the U.S. soared to 938 in 2017, up from 684 the year before. In April, the Anti-Defamation League released its data on anti-Semitic incidents and found the tally for 2018 — 1,879 incidents — was the third highest in the four decades the ADL has been conducting annual audits.
The Women’s March remains a lightning rod
In November, Teresa Shook, one of the founders of the Women’s March, called on the movement’s organizers to step down, alleging that they had “allowed anti-Semitism” by refusing to distance themselves “from groups that espouse … racist, hateful beliefs.” One of the founders, Tamika Mallory, has longstanding ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making incendiary comments about Jews.
Under fire, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, a member of the march Steering Committee, apologized.
Sarsour, Mallory and Bob Bland, another movement co-founder, have since left the Women’s March board.
Israelis vote twice and still don’t have a prime minister
Israel held a national election in April in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing multiple possible indictments for corruption, wound up in a tie with his principal challenger, Benny Gantz and the new Blue and White party, with 35 seats apiece. But Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition, so in September, Israelis voted again. And again, the results — so far as we know them — indicate a very close race, with Gantz perhaps holding the tiniest edge over Netanyahu.
Israel becomes a wedge issue
Serious cracks appeared in what has long been a cherished feature of the U.S.-Israel relationship: bipartisanship.
In February, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., came under fire for a series of controversial tweets, including one charging — falsely — that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pays politicians to be pro-Israel. Omar drew quick rebukes from leading Democrats and subsequently apologized. The following month, President Trump piled on, calling the Democrats the “anti-Jewish” party. In August, he upped the ante, saying that anyone who voted for a Democrat was guilty of “disloyalty,” a comment that drew condemnation from critics who said it evoked classic anti-Semitic tropes.
The #MeToo movement hits the Jewish community
Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish megadonor who helped found Birthright Israel and supports a wide range of Jewish institutions, was accused of a pattern of propositioning and sexually inappropriate remarks to women. According to an investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica, the journalism nonprofit, seven women alleged that Steinhardt made sexual requests of them while they were seeking his financial support. Steinhardt denied the accusations, but acknowledged a pattern of comments “that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb.”