Getting Answers: concerns over rise in antisemitic incidents

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 7:57 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 at 2:12 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -“When I was growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I never knew about anti-Semitism. and when I was ordained and began my rabbi in 1992, I said, “antisemitism isn’t part of the American Jewish story”, and the truth is 30 years later, it is.”

Rabbi Amy Wallk of Temple Beth El in Springfield talking to Western Mass News amid a concerning rise in antisemitism across the country. She says back when she was growing up, it was more subtle.

“It wasn’t in your face and it wasn’t violent, and what’s happened of course is that the culture in our country now, gives permission for violence.”

And while she says she hasn’t personally been affected by it; she still has been impacted by it referring to the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people in 2018.

“Four years ago, with the tree of life shooting, I didn’t experience it, but I did. Another conservative congregation on a Saturday morning, somebody came in and killed 11 people. I knew the synagogue even though I didn’t.

She describes the impact that rising antisemitism is having on her and her community.

“They’re feeling vulnerable. they’re feeling angry. they’re feeling betrayed.”

Peggy Shukur - Interim Regional Director of The Anti-Defamation League tells Western Mass News, antisemitic incidents reported to the organization have increased 42% in 2021.

“In Massachusetts alone, the increase was 48%. that’s higher than the national average.”

That averages out to more than two incidents a week. She tells us the national average for 2021 was 34%.

Those numbers include a stabbing attack on a Rabbi in broad daylight in Brighton in July of last year.

While the audit for 2022 won’t be released until April of 2023, Shukur says the antisemitic incidents haven’t seemed to slow down.

“Just this week, in the past seven days, we’ve had reports of two antisemitic incidents right in people’s homes, in the communities of Stoneham and Stowe, where the property was vandalized, where antisemitic slurs were levied and scrawled in one case on a car and swastikas were left on another.”

This happening as celebrities like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving have cast a spotlight on the issue in recent weeks, with Kanye facing backlash for posting antisemitic comments on social media.

“We’ve seen a number of extremist groups repeating that by saying “Kanye was right”,”

In early November, an online post with antisemitic comments in a forum frequented by extremists prompted a FBI alert - warning of a broad threat to New Jersey synagogues. Here at home Rabbi Wallk tells us Temple Beth El is consistently focused on its safety.

“I never come into the building anymore without the doors locked. I never leave the doors open for services, and that we have policemen here… there are a lot of times that I’m perfectly happy to be at a meeting on zoom because I’m not in the building and I just feel safer.”

Earlier this month, Temple Beth El received nearly 150-thousand dollars from the state as part of a larger project to improve security and protect against terrorist attacks of nonprofit faith-based organizations.

And Rabbi Wallk says education and conversation go a long way to combating antisemitism.

“The more we communicate with one another on grassroots and the more we open our heart to another person’s story and experience, the more we’ll understand and the more we’ll be able to eradicate the hatred, whether it’s racism or antisemitism or whatever it is.”