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A brick shattering the window of a kosher pizzeria on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Jewish patrons outside a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles were attacked by men who made anti-Semitic threats. Vandalism at synagogues in Arizona, Illinois, and New York.
In Salt Lake City, early in the morning on May 16, a man scratched a swastika on the front door of an Orthodox synagogue. “That would never happen in Salt Lake City,” said Rabbi Avremi Zippel, whose parents founded Chabad Lubavitch, Utah almost 30 years ago. “But it’s on the rise across the country.”
As a result, the synagogue stepped up its already considerable security measures. “It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy that we have to see places of worship in the United States this way in 2021,” said Rabbi Zippel, describing fixed access points, visible guards, and lighting and security camera systems. “But we will.”
Anti-Semitic threats and violence have erupted in the United States in the past few weeks, fueling fear among Jews in small towns and cities. During the two-week clashes in Israel and Gaza this month, the Anti-Defamation League gathered 222 reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and violence in the United States, compared with 127 in the past two weeks.
Incidents “literally happen from coast to coast and spread like wildfire,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, managing director of the ADL. “That is sheer The audacity of these attacks feels very different. “
Until the recent boom, anti-Semitic violence in recent years has largely been viewed as a right-wing phenomenon, fueled by a white supremacist movement, encouraged by the rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump, who often traded on stereotypes.
In contrast, many of the recent incidents have come from perpetrators expressing support for the Palestinian cause and criticism of the right-wing government of Israel.
“That’s why Jews feel so scared right now,” said Greenblatt, noting that there are currents of anti-Semitism flowing from both the left and the right. “For four years it seemed to have been instigated by the political right, with devastating consequences.” But on the scene of the recent attacks, he remarked, “Nobody wears MAGA hats.”
President Biden has described the recent attacks as “despicable” and said “they must stop”. “It is up to all of us not to give hate a safe haven,” he wrote published a statement on Twitter.
The outbreak was particularly noticeable in the New York area, home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel.
Last Thursday there was a brawl between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters in Times Square that soon spread to the Diamond District, a part of Midtown that is home to many Jewish-owned companies.
At least one wandering group of men waving Palestinian flags berated and nudged Jewish pedestrians and bystanders. The video of the scenes spread widely online and was outraged by elected officials and a deep sense of premonition among many Jewish New Yorkers.
The New York Police Department arrested 27 people and two people were hospitalized, including a woman who was burned when fireworks from a car were fired at a group of people on the sidewalk.
Police opened an investigation into hate crimes against a Jewish man, and a 23-year-old Brooklyn man, Waseem Awawdeh, was charged in connection with the attack.
The next day, prosecutors accused another man, Ali Alaheri, 29, of setting fire to a building that housed a synagogue and yeshiva in Borough Park, a neighborhood in Brooklyn in the city’s Hasidic Jewish heartland. Mr. Alaheri also attacked a Hasidic man in the same neighborhood, prosecutors said.
The Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force also investigated anti-Semitic incidents that occurred last Thursday and Saturday, including an attack in Manhattan and escalated harassment in Brooklyn.
Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, an Orthodox Jewish writer on the Upper East Side, said she had felt palpable fear among parishioners at the Park East Synagogue, where her husband serves as a rabbi.
“Quite a few” synagogue members had asked for help planning a move to Israel in recent months, she said, and she secured Swiss passports for her own children after seeing a presidential debate in October.
“I know that sounds crazy because the Upper East Side always felt like you couldn’t be safer than here,” she said.
But their fears are not unfounded. Last year while she was in the neighborhood with her young son, her husband was approached by a man who shouted “Obscenities and“ You Jews! You Jews! ‘”, She said.
Her son “still talks about it all the time,” she said. He recently built a synagogue out of Lego blocks and added a Lego security patrol outside, she said. He is 5 years old.
“Nobody cares about such things because they are just words,” she added. “But what if that person is armed? And what if the next person is armed? “
The recent surge is on top of a longer-term trend of high-profile incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States.
In Charlottesville, activists at the 2017 Unite the Right rally sang, “Jews will not replace us!” As they protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The next year, a rifleman killed eleven people and wounded six who had gathered at the tree of life for Shabbat morning worship – Or the L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In a synagogue in the suburbs of San Diego, a Sagittarius opened fire at a service on the last day of Passover in 2019.
The ADL has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents in the country since 1979, and its last three annual reports included two of its highest numbers. The organization recorded more than 1,200 cases of anti-Semitic harassment last year, a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
According to the police, the number of confirmed anti-Semitic incidents in New York City rose noticeably in March from nine in the previous month and three in January to 15.
Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a department spokeswoman, said there had been 80 complaints of anti-Semitic hate crimes on Sunday this year, compared with 62 for the same period last year.
The 2018 attack on Tree of Life in the downright Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill was of great concern to many Jewish leaders. “Every synagogue across the country has increased security since the attack in Pittsburgh,” said Rabbi Adam Starr, head of the Ohr HaTorah Congregation, one of several synagogues along a street in the Toco Hills Jewish neighborhood of the Atlanta area.
“You look across the street from our synagogue and there’s a big church,” he said. “And the big difference between the church and the synagogue is that the church has no gate.”
Rabbi Starr has again increased security over the past two weeks, increasing the number of on-duty police officers on site during Shabbat morning services.
For some Jews, the past few weeks have hastened a feeling of discomfort that has existed for years.
“We have all read about what Jewish life was like in Europe before the Holocaust,” said Danny Groner, a member of an Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx. “There’s always the question: why didn’t you leave? The conversation in my circles is: Are we at this point right now? “
Mr. Groner doesn’t think so, he said quickly. But he asks himself, “What would have to happen tomorrow or next week or next month to say that enough is enough?”
Jews and others were particularly impressed by the comments made by Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who over the past week repeatedly compared mask and vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, and the slow response of the Republican leadership to her comments.
In Salt Lake City, less than 12 hours after the swastika was discovered on his doorstep, Chabad Lubavitch hosted a Shavuot Jewish holiday event. Rabbi Zippel said to his congregation: “I hope it annoys everyone who has done this.”
He was proud, he later thought, of the way his congregation reacted to the disfigurement of their place of worship. “We don’t do these types of acts,” he said, recalling emails and conversations where parishioners vowed that, for example, they would continue to wear the kipa in public. “The outward desire to be publicly and proudly Jewish was extremely inspiring.”