Last Shabbat, six months after an avowed anti-Semite gunned down 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a 19-year-old walked into Chabad of Poway in California and killed a congregant, and wounded three others – including the Chabad rabbi. After his arrest, the shooter – who wielded a semi-automatic rifle – said that he had been inspired by the Pittsburgh assassin.
Anti-Semitism seems to be everywhere these days, and the numbers released this week by the Anti-Defamation League show a disturbing trend: Anti-Semitic assaults in the United States more than doubled in 2018 and anti-Semitic incidents overall remain near all-time highs. In Massachusetts, 59 communities reported at least one anti-Semitic incident last year, and the state recorded 144 cases last year – fourth in the country behind California, New York and New Jersey.
For American Jews, each day seems to bring a new and horrific offense. In addition to the attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway, Jews have been targeted over the last 20 years in shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, the Seattle Jewish Federation office, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City.
Closer to home, Jews have also felt the chill of hatred. Last Nov., 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. That same month someone with a BB gun shot out the entrance at Chabad of Peabody. Last fall, anti-Semitic graffiti covered a seawall in Salem; in 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. And, in March, vandals desecrated 59 gravestones at the Fall River Jewish Cemetery.
Social media and traditional media sites have also fostered anti-Semitism. Over the last week, the New York Times – long a critic of Israel’s policies – printed two anti-Semitic cartoons in its international edition. That forced its editorial board to apologize this week, and also acknowledge its “failure” for not reporting worldwide anti-Semitism before World War II.
During Passover, we were reminded during the Seders that, “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.”
There are no single answers to counter hatred and blame. Anti-Semitism is now the major issue facing Jews in the U.S. We must not be intimidated or live in fear. Instead, we must work with elected officials and law enforcement and be vigilant in order to protect our community and democracy.