In the wake of a deadly attack on a California synagogue, and an Anti-Defamation League study that reported near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, anti-Jewish incidents showed no sign of slowing down this month. In recent weeks, arsonists torched Chabad Houses in Needham and Arlington (twice), and swastikas were found in schools in Brookline, Newton, Sharon, Framingham, Foxborough, Easton and Westwood. Swastikas were also discovered in a Malden park and on a Vietnam War memorial in Boston.
In addition, two rabbis, Nechemia Schusterman of Chabad of Peabody and Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad, told Peabody Police that during a walk last Saturday they were accosted by a driver in a pick-up truck who threw a penny out of his window and shouted anti-Semitic slurs.
“This was simple, clear, unvarnished, hate,” said Schusterman, who described the experience in a page 1 essay in today’s Journal.
This is the second time Schusterman has had to deal with an attack on his religion in recent months. Last Nov., a BB gun-toting vandal shattered the front door of his synagogue. No arrests have been made in either incident.
Peabody Police Chief Thomas Griffin said his department is not actively investigating last Saturday’s event because no license plate was reported. But he added that extra patrols regularly pass by the city’s synagogues. “It’s very unfortunate that there are people out there and we’re going to work hard to try and minimize any way they can make an impact,” said Griffin.
“Our administration is committed to making Massachusetts a safe and welcoming place with zero-tolerance for hate or violence and the recent uptick in the number of incidents that involve anti-Semitic hate crimes in Massachusetts is deeply disturbing. We will continue to work together with the hate crimes task force and our dear friends in the Jewish community to support victims, prevent further crime and keep all Massachusetts communities safe,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.
Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional director, believes anti-Semitism in the Boston area is taking on an increasingly aggressive and dangerous form. “Our community is not immune from the threat that Jews in other parts of the country and Europe are facing. We need to mobilize our community and report every anti-Semitic act, no incident is too small,” said Trestan.
In Needham and Arlington, U.S. attorney Andrew E. Lelling and federal prosecutors are leading the investigation into the three arson fires. The first occurred at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont in Arlington on May 11, and the second occurred on May 16. That same night a fire was also set at the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham and extinguished.
Needham Chabad Center Rabbi Mendy Krinsky called the incident “very concerning,” and his wife, Chanie, wrote on social media that she woke up her kids, and jumped into the car after discovering the fire. To date, there have been no arrests in the cases.
Last Saturday in Boston, a 33-year-old Dorchester man was taken into custody and suspected of drawing a swastika and other hate speech on a Vietnam War memorial. He has yet to be charged with a crime.
Meanwhile, across the region, Jews have been on alert as anti-Semitic incidents continue, and many school leaders are grappling with the discovery of swastikas over the past month. In May, a swastika was drawn on a Jewish Student Union sign at Brookline High; at the F.A. Day Middle School in Newton – where “Burn the Jews” was scrawled on the wall of a boys’ bathroom in 2016 – a swastika and “threatening language” was drawn on a desk last week; at Oliver Ames High School in Easton, a swastika was drawn on a sink; at the Ahern Middle School in Foxborough, a swastika was drawn on school grounds; at Keefe Tech in Framingham, a swastika was discovered in the boys bathroom; at Sharon High School, a swastika was found on a class whiteboard in the school’s auditorium, and a swastika was also discovered at a Westwood middle school.
While the incidents are disturbing, Jonathan D. Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, cautioned that much more troubling and violent anti-Semitism took place in Boston and across America during much of the last century.
“There was very significant anti-Semitism, much worse than anything we’ve seen today, in the ’20s and ’30s,” said Sarna, who added that many Jews were targeted on Greater Boston streets and chased because of their religion. At that time, much of the hate was driven by automaker Henry Ford, whose newspaper The Dearborn Independent, published 91 articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America. Those articles were widely disseminated into four volumes titled “The International Jew.” Also at the time, radio host Father Charles Coughlin’s message of anti-Semitism was widely embraced in Boston, where members of his Christian Front followed the priest’s calls to organize boycotts and mass mailings against Jews. Instead of condemning him, Boston leaders gave him the keys to the city.
In addition, Sarna noted that Jews witnessed a series of synagogue bombings in the South in the 1950s and ’60s. He said the recent spate of incidents has shaken younger Jews who have grown up largely free of anti-Semitism. “That view has been torpedoed by recent events and what is so striking about anti-Semitism today is it comes both from the right and from the left,” said Sarna.