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Editorial: Create a task force on anti-Semitism

A BB gun shattered a window at Chabad of Peabody last weekend.

NOVEMBER 22, 2018 – Greater Boston Jewry is facing a wave of anti-Semitism that has not been seen in this part of New England in decades. For the last 18 months, Reading Jews have wondered why over 30 swastikas have been found in schools and other public places – and that no one has been charged with a crime. Last year, the New England Holocaust Memorial was vandalized twice. Since then, vandals scrawled “End the Jew” and “KKK is here” on the Marblehead causeway, and swastikas on Salem’s Town Common and a nearby seawall. Last month’s tragic murder of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue brought the issue to light nationally, but locally, the incidents continued. In recent weeks, swastikas have been found in Melrose, Malden, and Boxford schools.

And it’s not just a swastika problem alone. On Nov. 1, police say a Cambridge man physically assaulted a 66-year-old woman in the street while repeatedly making anti-Semitic statements directed at the victim. Police report that the suspect pushed the victim against a wall and placed his fist against her throat. And this past weekend, someone decided to take a BB gun to Chabad of Peabody and shatter an entrance window. No one was injured but the act set an already anxious community on edge.

According to federal officials, local incidents of anti-Semitism mirror a national trend. This month, the FBI reported a 37 percent jump nationally in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017 – from 684 to 938. According to the Anti-Defamation League, during that same time frame, anti-Semitism rose 42 percent in the state, with 177 incidents reported in 79 communities – or 22.5 percent of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns. According to the ADL, Massachusetts ranked number four in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, behind New Jersey, California and New York.

In response, Jewish institutions are revamping their security plans; some temples have allowed congregants to bring arms to synagogue services; and Jewish organizations have met with law enforcement officials. While Governor Charlie Baker should be lauded for condemning anti-Semitism and for reviving the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes, the Jewish community would be wise to create its own Task Force on Anti-Semitism. The committee could work with the Governor’s Task Force and state officials to tap police chiefs, district attorneys, school superintendents, university presidents, civic and religious leaders and elected officials to form the committee. That committee could create a recommended protocol which school leaders and law enforcement officials could follow in the aftermath of anti-Semitic incidents. It could also create a blueprint for college and secondary school educational programs that promote respect, tolerance, and coexistence.

We cannot rely on one single method to eradicate anti-Semitism, racism and hatred. Historically, a rise in intolerance, intimidation, and blame have led to violence. Let us use all the resources we have in our state to combat this growing societal problem.

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