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Lesson Plans

How to discuss anti-Semitism in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

October 29, 2018

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary with your students, watch the video (if helpful, follow along with the transcript) and then answer the discussion questions.


Teachers’ note: PBS Learning Media’s Colorin Colorado has compiled a list of resources from various organizations — Responding to Violence in a Pittsburgh Synagogue: Resources for Educators — in response to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. These resources also include lesson plans and classroom activities.


You may also want to read SAMHSA’s “Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers.” And think about inviting your principal or school counselor into your class during this lesson.


Summary: Saturday’s mass murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. Suspect Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly made anti-Semitic statements as the police arrested him and is awaiting trial for dozens of charges that could lead to the death penalty. The victims included professors and accountants, dentists and doctors who served their local community. The oldest was 97 and the youngest was 54. They included a  husband and wife and a pair of inseparable brothers who both had intellectual disabilities and would lovingly show people to their seats even on days when the synagogue had plenty of empty space, recalled one worshipper. “The loss is incalculable,” said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation.


Incidents of anti-Semitism have been on the rise over the two years in the United States. “We had a political campaign that saw extremism move from the margins into the mainstream of the political conversation,” Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Jonathan Greenblatt told PBS last spring. “We saw images and ideas from white supremacists literally shared from political campaigns showing up in the Twitter feeds of major news organizations. We saw it in our political rallies as well,” Greenblatt said. The ADL has been tracking anti-Semitic attitudes since the 1960s, and found anti-Semitic attitudes in 2016 were held by about 14 percent of all Americans. “That’s more than 30 million Americans. So, it’s not a small number,” he said.


President Donald Trump condemned the attack over Twitter, stating, “This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.” However, a number of Pittsburgh Jewish leaders penned an open letter to Trump on Sunday saying the president was not welcome in Pittsburgh until he publicly condemns white nationalism. The letter said that Trump’s words on the campaign trail and in rallies have emboldened a white nationalist movement.




1. Essential question: Why did the U.S. government develop a separate “hate crime” category as part of the criminal justice system?


2. What do you know about anti-Semitism? Why is the shooting in Pittsburgh at the synagogue consider an act of anti-Semitism?


3. How should the government respond to a shooting at a house of worship? What about a school? The Kroger Supermarket in Kentucky?


4. How has the response to the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh been the same as the other mass shootings? Do you hear any differences in the types of responses by members of the public? By political leaders?


5. Why have incidents of anti-Semitism been on the rise in the last couple of years? If you’re not sure, how could you go about researching this issue?


6. What effect do you think people’s violent actions against members of a specific religion could have on others?


7. It is difficult to know how to react to any act of gun violence, but particularly a mass shooting or a hate crime. What should you do if you feel uncomfortable or worried about the events over the last week, including the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, the shooting of two black people by a white male at a Kroger Supermarket in Kentucky and the 13 attempted mail bombings? Who could you talk with at your school? Why is it important to talk about your feelings in the aftermath of such events? Ask your teacher, if you are not sure.


8. Media literacy: Besides PBS NewsHour, take a few minutes to research how two more news outlets have covered the shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg. How was news coverage similar between the three organizations? How was it different?


Extension activities:


1. Read NewsHour Extra’s Student Voices’ blog How teens want to solve America’s school shooting problem. Then share your class’s own solutions @NewsHourExtra via Twitter using #StudentGunReformIdeas.