Who would have predicted that a mob of violent anti-Israel protestors would ever physically disrupt Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant – in Los Angeles? This disturbing type of incident might have been a European phenomenon in days past, but now it has come to our doorsteps.
The crisis of rising anti-Semitism has reached a fever pitch across the U.S., and much of the West, seemingly spurred by the pretext of the eleven-day conflict between Hamas and Israel. Many are asking: What do we do? Are we still safe? How do we deal with the situation? Will this continue? How can we change the situation?
Anti-Semitic Incidents in New York and Beyond
In May, anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. were vile, harsh, violent, and unprecedented in number. New York Police Department statistics show that, overall, anti-Semitic crime is on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League reported that the sharp uptick in anti-Semitic acts is related to the recent tensions in Israel.
Close to home, the examples are terrifying. Take a look at incidents in New York City in the month of May alone. In Brooklyn, an arsonist set a fire next to a yeshiva and synagogue, and then struck a nearby Hasidic man several times in the head. A man wearing a kippah was kicked, punched, and pepper sprayed by pro-Palestinian protestors in Times Square.
Again in Brooklyn, three attackers wielding baseball bats chased Jewish children down the street.
While walking home from a rally in support of Israel, a man wearing a Magen David necklace was accosted by an individual who yelled, “What is that around your neck – does that make you a [expletive] Zionist?” Then he punched the Jewish man in the face.
In other parts of the U.S., the situation has been similar. In Albuquerque, a Jewish student was robbed and beaten. The assailants stole his watch and shoes and continued to beat him while onlookers just watched. The young man suffered internal bleeding and a concussion.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, The Florida Holocaust Museum was vandalized with graffiti including swastikas and spray painting “The Jews are Guilty.”
Handling Our Fears
David Assis, head of the Brooklyn Community Security Alliance and a member of Flatbush Shomrim, acknowledges that many Jews have become more jittery. He advises a commonsense approach to handling one’s fears. Assis stated, “Are people feeling safe? No. I think there’s definitely a fear in the air, and people are altering their lifestyles and their everyday plans because of that. But I think people need to not be afraid. Be smart about it.”
By “smart,” Assis means to keep your antennae up at all times. “The person who wants to do some harm is looking for a vulnerable person that’s not paying attention to their surroundings,” he said. “And while community members should keep their guard up, it’s important not to take it to extremes and panic.”
The Brooklyn Community Security Alliance helps religious institutions find ways to pay for security apparatuses. The organization offers safety instruction for various situations and trains volunteers how to protect themselves and the areas in which they live and pray. Currently, the organization is conducting educational webinars for people to know what steps to take to increase security. If people are feeling unsafe, Assis recommends taking Krav Maga classes, attending webinars to learn more about how to be pro-actively secure when outside, and to learn how to be watchful for intruders in synagogues.
“Anti-Semitism is sometimes out on the surface where you could feel it, and sometimes it’s behind the scenes when you can’t see it, but it’s there. It might be cooking in the background and it’s just waiting for that opportunity to explode again,” Assis stated.
Sadly, many are getting the sense that we have to fight anti-Semitism on our own, without outside help, according to one outspoken activist.
New York resident and Israel advocate Virag Gulyas pointed out how Jews historically have fought for civil rights and have fought against social injustice alongside other minorities. However, Gulyas stated, when it comes to taking a stand against anti-Semitism, we have been alone in this fight.
“I do believe it is different now,” Gulyas said.
“So now, when the situation escalated in Israel, most of the people who marched with BLM protests joined the pro-Palestinian rallies. They feel that Blacks and Palestinians are both oppressed by the ‘evil Jews.’ They perceive Palestinians as the underdogs. This happens because there are zero consequences for Jew hatred. Absolutely zero.”
Gulyas gave a recent example of this. Kamau Bobb, the Diversity Leader at Google, posted anti-Semitic tweets, and as punishment, he was merely reassigned within the company. Had his hatred been targeted at any other minority group, he certainly would have been fired and shamed, she said.
Why Is the Current Anti-Semitism Different?
“It is silence and allowing anti-Semitism to happen that is a really big problem in the U.S.,” Gulyas stated. She said some lingering anti-Semitism is connected to age-old stereotypes, including how Jews are widely successful and “control the world,” versus other minority groups being perceived as poor victims.
The head of security of Congregation Shaare Tefilah Bene Moshe (the Eatontown Synagogue), Jerry Goldberg, agreed that anti-Semitism in America of 2021 is different.
“This recent wave of anti-Semitism seems to be more deliberate, more violent, more widespread, and is occurring more often,” Goldberg said. “I don’t feel less safe. But I do feel more concerned. Having said that, knowing that this ongoing wave of anti-Semitism is out there provides the opportunity to exercise a heightened level of awareness. That is something we all should have.”
Safety and security for our Jewish communities should always be a top priority, he asserted.
What to Do?
“If you see something, say something. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s probably one of the most important things we can do. Anti-Semitism doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, and unfortunately there seems to be no shortage of people to remind us of that,” he said.
“Fortunately, there are very well organized and trained volunteer security groups protecting shuls and Jewish communities across the country. I am proud to be one of those volunteers,” Goldberg said.
Although far too many incidents of anti-Semitism have occurred recently, security experts offer encouragement to the Jewish community. It is never too late to be pro-active and make certain changes to better ensure our safety in our shuls, as individuals, and as a community.