Justice David Wecht urges activism in the face of antisemitism
Antisemitism and the LawAn American jurist's perspective

Justice David Wecht urges activism in the face of antisemitism

“You live as a Jew; you die as a Jew.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht spoke at Duquesne University’s law
school, delivering the speech “Antisemitism and the Law: An American Jurist’s Perspective.”  (Photo by David Rullo)
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht spoke at Duquesne University’s law school, delivering the speech “Antisemitism and the Law: An American Jurist’s Perspective.” (Photo by David Rullo)

“All of Israel is responsible, one for the other,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht told an audience at Duquesne University’s Kline School of Law on April 15.

He urged those in attendance to “Protest, organize, march. Don’t leave the anarchists, fanatic anti-Israel, hooligan mob unanswered.”

The remarks came a little more than halfway through his talk, “Antisemitism and the Law: An American Jurist’s Perspective,” framed by Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel and former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s observation that Jews in the Diaspora have three choices: stay and hide; stay and fight; or make aliyah.

The program was hosted by the Jewish Law Student Association.

Wecht began his lecture referencing the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, whom he called one of his “judicial heroes.”

“To be better Americans,” Wecht quoted Brandeis as saying, “we must become better Jews and to better Jews we must become Zionists.”

Wecht explored the history of American Jewry, highlighting the community’s experience in Pennsylvania through World War II and the present day. Much of this history, he noted, was a “golden age” for Jews in the United States.

Events like the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, when white supremacists marched through the streets shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the antisemitic attacks in Poway and Jersey City, assaults in Brooklyn and the 2022 hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, point to an end of that age, Wecht said.

“Now we are being reminded of the fact that an exile, however charmed, remains an exile,” he said.

He called the events of Oct. 7 “a wake-up call,” noting that “Jew haters rushed to condemn the victims” — men, women and children who were murdered, raped, burnt and mutilated.

Hate was manifested on college campuses and in the media against Jews worldwide before Israel had even responded to Hamas’ terrorist attack, Wecht noted.

“A wall has been breached, a dam burst,” he said. “The Jew haters are on the march.”

Wecht then examined Oren’s proposals for Jews in the Diaspora.

Hiding, Wecht said, is an easy solution but one that doesn’t provide security. He pointed to the fate of Jews in Poland and Germany during World War II as an example.

Worse than hiding, he said, are those within the Jewish community who are working to undermine the Jewish people. He referred to them as “As a Jew” Jews.

Showing a photo of a person wearing a shirt reading “Not in our name,” Wecht called these people “self-centered and self-indulgent.” He contrasted them to those who have chosen to fight Hamas and other terrorists in the sanctification of God’s name.

“These ‘As a Jew’ Jews never do anything on behalf of the Jewish people,” he said. “They’ve never been involved in the Jewish community. In fact, they have no Jewish identity except the Jewish identity they discover or excavate when it seems like a good opportunity to bash the Jewish state.”

Getting back to Oren’s premise, Wecht said that some Jews will choose the second option, to make aliyah.

“We make no apologies for loving our Jewish homeland and dreaming of it always,” he said.

Most American Jews, though, will not move to Israel, Wecht said, and, therefore, will have to choose the final option: stay and fight.

He suggested several different ways for American Jews to combat the rising tide of antisemitism and anti-Zionism: through speech; with a pen; with a wallet; online; through phone calls and letters and emails; and organizing or meeting with elected officials who shape American policy.

“You are here,” Wecht said, “because you know that we Jews have built something in this country that is worth fighting for. You are here because you love the Jewish people. You are here because you love the United States of America.”

In a familiar theme throughout his talk, Wecht reached into the past, mentioning the sacrifices and work of parents, grandparents and other ancestors who came to America as immigrants. He made several references to his father, Cyril Wecht, a noted Pittsburgh personality who served as both Allegheny County commissioner and the Allegheny County coroner and medical examiner.

His father, Wecht noted, often had to fight.

Members of the Jewish community, Wecht continued, must defend one another and cease their division across partisan lines.

“When your parents brought you to your brit milah or pidyon haben, it wasn’t because you were a Democrat or Republican,” he said. “When you stood under the chupah and recited those words to your betrothed, it was according to the law of Moses, not the law of Democrats or Republicans. And when you die, you will be buried with kaddish, not with a Democratic or Republican oration.

“You live as a Jew; you die as a Jew.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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