The news of last week’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue seemed to mark a turning point. As the midterm elections near, the vitriol displayed at political rallies has apparently spilled out into random acts of violence. The shooting came just a few days after explosive devices were sent to news stations and to Democratic supporters.

The incidents of terrorism were particularly horrifying because Americans were committing these acts on their own people.

Our country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Many settlers took the long journey to a wild America and struggled to make it their home, just to escape religious persecution in their own land.

Later, just prior to World War II, Jewish refugees from Europe also escaped to this country, hoping they would be embraced in a land founded on this premise of religious freedom.

Perhaps because I grew up in New York with many Jewish friends and worked as a reporter in a Jewish community on Long Island, the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation seemed especially devastating.

So many people I know in New York have relatives who experienced the Holocaust; not all survived. For one feature story I wrote while working at the Nassau Herald, I accompanied a congregation from a synagogue to see “Schindler’s List.” The audience wept, and many talked about loved ones killed during that time. They also talked about their own survival, the emphasis of the film at the end.

Germany had its struggles after World War I, offering some explanation for the rise of nationalism afterwards. Finding a reason for its rise in the United States is more difficult. Our leaders continually point out that the country is economically strong, and new building and investment is evident. Unemployment is at an all-time low.

One has to wonder, what is fomenting acts of hatred against those from other countries and of other religions? Has the political rhetoric spun so out of control that it’s motivating Americans to harm one another?

It’s difficult to know the answers, but some reflection is necessary if we expect to live in a safe, civilized country. Remembering the founding principles guiding this country and picturing that Statue of Liberty welcoming so many full of hope might be a first step.

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