Since January, 140 bomb threats have targeted Jewish institutions across the country, including Jewish community centers, schools, synagogues and Anti-Defamation League offices.
Beyond these attacks, we’ve seen an uptick in anti-Semitic harassment, from taunting to swastikas painted on garage doors and a virtual tsunami of vicious “trolling” of Jews on social media such as Twitter.
Locally, we have seen incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti in towns like Mahwah, Ridgewood and South Orange, as well as increased reporting of anti-Semitic incidents in our schools.
Our campuses also remain a challenge. In addition to anti-Semitic incidents on campuses throughout the state, white supremacists have engaged in unprecedented outreach efforts on American college campuses.
Since the start of the school year, New Jersey college students, faculty and staff have been confronted by a flurry of racist fliers and stickers as well as several rounds of anti-Semitic, racist faxes and emails.
While the fundamental condition for Jews in the United States has significantly changed for the better over the last century, it would be a mistake to assume that anti-Semitism is a historical phenomenon, something that we do not see anymore.
The numbers of anti-Semitic incidents reported to ADL have fallen, as have anti-Semitic attitudes as measured by ADL’s polling, but such numbers still remain disturbingly high.
We remained vigilant. We monitored. We spoke out and we fought back. By delegitimizing hate speech, we were able to push anti-Semitism to the fringe of American society and culture.
And that’s what makes the recent spate of bomb threats, vandalism, and threats so unnerving.
How then do we begin to unpack this moment, when anti-Semitism in America is in the headlines in a way that it usually is not?
We cannot ignore the impact that the 2016 presidential campaign has had on the level of discourse in our country. In a campaign characterized by offensive stereotyping of a number of groups, haters of all kinds are now feeling empowered by a new latitude for hate speech who see in the current climate an opportunity to act on their hatred.
Unfortunately, the Pandora’s Box of anti-Semitism is opened and it will take a sustained effort from the highest levels of government to the individual citizen to shut it closed.
While we must take on the challenge of anti-Semitism directly, it is essential to recognize that, for both positive and negative reasons – we are not alone.
Reports of hate crimes and hate incidents have risen significantly, and while the number of attacks on Jewish institutions since the beginning of 2017 has been unprecedented, we should not forget that many of our neighbors have been targeted as well.
At the same time, we are not alone because the outpouring of support and sympathy has been overwhelming. Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders, and other individuals have spoken out, reached out and showed up to express their revulsion for these heinous actions and their solidarity with us.
Government officials have denounced the attacks, called for more protection and even introduced legislation to address anti-Semitism. In New Jersey, we witnessed elected leaders at all levels, including Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, join together to condemn the recent spate of attacks against the Jewish community and offer solutions to keep the community safe and secure. Public statements and events like these demonstrate that combating anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry is a nonpartisan issue.
Law enforcement, from the local to the national level is treating these incidents with the utmost seriousness. Recently, state Attorney General Christopher Porrino’s office announced it will begin offering a $10,000 reward for tips from the public leading to a bias-crime conviction.
Additionally, the New Jersey State Police and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP) have increased patrol efforts at houses of worship, faith-based institutions, community centers and cemeteries throughout the state.
So we are not alone, and it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our neighbors who are similarly targeted know that we stand with them as well. As a community and a country we must join together with our neighbors – with the beautiful diversity out of which our unity is formed – to respond with a resounding “no” to the voices of hatred and division.
As Jews we have both the obligation and the right to protect ourselves, our children and our institutions from those who wish to harm us. We do this because it is in our own best interest and, to demonstrate that neither the Jewish community nor anyone else should accept this state of affairs.
Our fate is inexorably tied to that of every group in our country, all those who are marginalized, demonized and told that they do not belong. Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem – it is an American problem. And we should extend our hands, our voices and our political power, to reclaim the moral high ground and to show to ourselves and the world what true American values are and how true American patriots act.
We have learned the hard way that we simply cannot ignore the cancer of bigotry, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and totalitarianism. We are concerned that many of us are fatigued by the whiplash of what has been going on in our country over the past few months. But if we ignore it and retreat into our comfortable cocoons, we will do so at our own peril.