The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting on October 27, 2018 is a day that will live in infamy for American Jews in the 21st century. An attack manifested in hate and bigotry resulted in the loss of 11 innocent lives. To this day, the Pittsburgh Jewish community and the greater Pittsburgh community are still mourning the loss of those 11 Jews and recovering from the trauma it caused. Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Zach Banner decided that he needed to take action and lead a fight against anti-Semitism to help his hometown heal.
On February 17, 2021, Banner, along with Washington Nationals first baseman Josh Bell and Washington Mystics WNBA champion Alysha Clark will host a two-part virtual conversation titled “Athletes Against Antisemitism.” Until recently, Bell played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clark is of Jewish descent, has Israeli citizenship, and has played for three Israeli basketball teams during her career. The conversation focused on combatting anti-Semitism, fighting for racial justice, and moving forward in unity. The group discussed how athletes can use their platform to prevent anti-Semitism, and how the greater community can help this cause. Banner made headlines over the summer after posting a viral video on Twitter in which he called for an end to anti-Semitism and for unity between the Black and Jewish communities. The video came in response to fellow NFL player DeSean Jackson posting anti-Semitic rhetoric on Twitter.
Since then, Banner has reached out and has formed alliances with other organizations in order to build bridges between the black and Jewish communities, such as the Challah Back Girls and the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance. “The community of Pittsburgh, and our whole country, has a lot of work to do when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism and white supremacy. Whether you’re an athlete, politician, CEO or school teacher, there’s a part everyone can play in that fight. I’m looking forward to this panel, which will further the discussion around what we each can do to participate in this work,” Banner remarked regarding the conversation and what everyone can do to get involved.
In addition to Banner, Bell, and Clark, the conversation also featured activists and local community leaders. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue and Pittsburgh-based hip hop artist Jasiri X were on the diverse panel and the event was moderated by Dr. Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, the executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
While one dialogue might seem like a small step in the fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry, it is definitely an important one and a huge step in the right direction. For athletes of global stature, including some who are not even Jewish, to use their platforms to advocate against anti-Semitism is definitely an encouraging sign for Jews who are looking for an alliance in order to combat anti-Semitism on an international scale.
Watch the virtual conference here