Rising anti-Semitic hatred is changing Jewish life across the United States

One rabbi in Riverside, California, now begins services with an announcement about where the exits are – in case people need to run for their lives.

In Glen Rock, New Jersey, a rabbi is unsure what to write on signs at the temple’s entrance. At first, the message read “entering a secure space,” but that wasn’t exactly what she wanted convey to people arriving to worship.

A synagogue in San Francisco is allocating an increasing amount of money toward airport-style metal detectors and security guards, while the Christian church across the street has open doors.

Saturday’s deadly shooting at the Chabad synagogue of Poway near San Diego killed one woman and injured three people when a gunman opened fire during a Passover service.

It came exactly six months after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in which a man who said he wanted all Jews to die killed 11 people and injured seven. It was the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history.

Such attacks are becoming more frequent. Across the nation, anti-Semitic incidents are reaching historic levels. In 2018, there were 1,879 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That was the third-highest year on record since the 1970s, when the ADL first started tracking anti-Semitic attacks.

Jewish leaders say they are increasingly dealing with a new reality of metal detectors, armed guards and an ever-present threat of violence. They say their community is determined to go on practicing their faith despite the risks, and many rabbis are observing a growing number of people finding their way to services to show their support.

“We will not be afraid, and we will not hide. We will continue to be part of the American fabric,” said Rabbi Jonathan Singer at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. “Temple Emanu-El will be loud and proud about being Jewish and celebrating God’s holy creation in every human being.”

The rise in anti-Semitism has unfolded as the nation has seen a surge in white supremacist propaganda and murders committed by right-wing extremists. Many of the attackers believe that what they consider to be the „pure“ white race is under siege and feel compelled to act, said George Selim, senior vice president for ADL.

“These murderers and terrorists lift one another up as heroes and prominent figures, and it’s really insidious and very dangerous,“ Selim said.
Anti-Semitic hate

Attacks against the Jewish community are nothing new, of course. But Jewish leaders say there is now an awareness of potential violence that hasn’t been felt in many years.

Ten years ago, Temple Beth El in Riverside in Southern California was the target of a neo-Nazi group that marched around the synagogue during the Hanukkah season.

“They carried swastika flags. We have several Holocaust survivors in our temples and that brought back terrible memories for them,” said Rabbi Suzanne Singer, no relation to Jonathan Singer.

The harassment began after students from the University of California-Riverside held a rally in support of undocumented immigrants and one of them carried an Israeli flag.

“The neo-Nazis thought they were from our synagogue, so they started targeting us,”  Suzanne Singer said.

Eventually, the ringleader, a man named Jeffrey Hall, was shot by his 10-year-old son after years of abuse by his father, and the group fell apart.

But the uneasiness remains. Children in the congregation have had swastikas placed on their lockers and been targeted by anti-Semitic jokes about the Holocaust. Classmates have told them they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.

“We’re now locking our doors once the service starts on Friday night, which we never did before. We’re also being trained on how to deal with a live shooter. We’ve come to the point where not to do so would be irresponsible,” said Suzanne Singer.

In Illinois, a masked man wielding a bicycle lock smashed windows at Chicago’s Loop Synagogue and pasted swastikas to its front entrance about a year and a half ago.

“It was very shattering to us,” said Lee Zoldan, president of the synagogue.

With each fresh anti-Semitic incident nationally, she finds her congregation mourning while also questioning what it can do to further protect itself.

“We scour the news to see what the attackers did, what we could do to prevent such an attack. We’re applying for Homeland Security grants,” she said.

Before services, the congregation once milled around and chatted. Now, one of the first announcements is about where the exits are in case of an attack.

“People become still for that. You have their undivided attention,” Zoldan said.
‚Senseless acts‘ of prejudice

For many Americans, every week seems to bring new reports of swastika graffiti or other acts of hate.

Anti-Semitic incidents for 2018 were 48% higher than the total for 2016 and 99% higher than in 2015, according to ADL. Its audit includes tallies of physical assaults, vandalism and harassment.

The increases coincided with annual jumps in reported hate crimes nationwide for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2017, according to the FBI. In 2017, hate crimes peaked at 7,175 incidents.

Other Western nations have at the same time seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic violence. In France, there was a 74% increase in anti-Semitic incidents, from 311 to 541, including the torture and murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor named Mireille Knoll, said Catherine Chatterley, editor-in-chief of the journal Antisemitism Studies and a history professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

Germany reported a 10-year record high of 1,646 anti-Semitic acts in 2018, in which 43 people were wounded. In the United Kingdom, 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2018 with 123 classified as violent, a 16% increase from 2017, Chatterley said.

In Canada, there were 2,041 anti-Semitic incidents, including 11 violent acts; 221 acts of vandalism; and 1,809 acts of harassment, adding up to a third consecutive year in which record numbers were reached, Chatterley said.

The hostile climate is also bringing people together while forcing them to prepare in ways they hoped they would never need to. On Saturday, about 100 people held a vigil at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to honor the shooting victims in California. Among them was Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the mass shooting there in October.

“We know first-hand the fear, anguish and healing process such an atrocity causes,” the synagogue said in a statement about the San Diego attack. “These senseless acts of violence and prejudice must end. Enough is enough.”

Adam Hertzman, a spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said the California attack had brought back painful memories for the local Jewish community. Since the Tree of Life shooting, the federation has helped synagogues boost their security with security cameras, alarms, portable panic buttons and active shooter training, Hertzman said.

„There’s a level of fear that hasn’t been there before,” Hertzman said. “But I also see a level of attention to security and a level of togetherness that we didn’t see before either.”
Lies and violence

The roots of anti-Semitism are deep, old and pernicious. In the early days of the Christian faith, Jews were collectively held responsible for the death of Jesus. During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were accused of killing Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals.

Such lies were used to inflame hatred and violence against Jewish communities for centuries and are still being repeated today.

During violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, neo-Nazis chanted „Jews will not replace us“ and a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators, killing activist Heather Heyer.

President Donald Trump, who some civil rights leaders have linked to rising white nationalism, argued at the time that there were „very fine people on both sides“ in Charlottesville.

More recently, the 19-year-old man accused of the Poway shooting seemed to have embraced contemporary conspiracy theories about refugees and immigrants replacing the Christian European majority, which some white supremacists call “The Great Replacement.”

Sharon R. Douglas, CEO of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, said recent hate crimes are driven by economic competition and fear of the other.

“Some of our most vulnerable citizens feel empowered to turn to violence in defense of the us versus them” mentality, Douglas said.

Others blame social media companies for not doing more to help stop white nationalists and extremists from recruiting and spreading their messages online.

Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the internet has played a major role in allowing anti-Semitic rhetoric to spread widely. The center counted at least 1,000 hate groups nationwide in 2018, the largest number ever recorded, Hankes said.

“Radicalization is a complex picture that affects people in different ways,” Hankes said. “But the power of the internet can’t be underestimated. These groups are largely organized online.”

Chatterley says social media and the internet have inspired some to take it further than just talk.

„These systems of communication allow racists and anti-Semites to support one another and share ideas, which apparently help inspire them to commit violent acts, as well,“ she said.

‚American values‘

Rabbi Jennifer Schlossberg at the Glen Rock Jewish Center in Glen Rock, New Jersey, said one positive result from the violence has been the show of support from local Jewish people.

“People really recognize in these moments the need to have houses of worship to be resources and community. We have had many people who were unaffiliated with a synagogue come,” she said.

But mostly the rise of anti-Semitism has been difficult to fathom, said Zoldan of the Chicago Loop Synagogue in Illinois. She notes that Holocaust Remembrance Day is May 1st this year.

“One of the things we say about the Holocaust is ‚Never again,’“ she said. “But one of the things we’re feeling now is that instead of ‘Never again’ it’s becoming ‘Yet again.’”

Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco said he would rather spend the synagogue’s money on children’s programs and worship instead of its growing security budget.

“I want to stop hearing people say they’re sorry about what happened and start having people say this is anti-ethical to American values,“ he said. „We have to go on the offensive about what we as a nation stand for.”

Related Posts