October 27, 2019 — Atlanta, Georgia
This piece originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
By Ilene Engel and Dov Wilker
We live in constant fear of another antisemitic attack. Will it be a crude joke? A verbal assault? A physical assault? Will our places of worship, schools, community centers, cars, homes, cemeteries be vandalized?
At a high school in Johns Creek, Georgia criminals spray painted a swatiska on the building.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, antisemites spray painted “Jews did 9/11” at a major university campus.
We see it reported in the media and on social networking feeds and we hear about it from acquaintances and strangers on the street.
In Florida, a school principal claimed the Holocaust was not a factual event.
We document each incident to remind ourselves to never forget. We burn the events into our memories to learn from our history and protect our future.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, they chanted “Jews will not replace us”.
At a recent American Jewish Committee (AJC) lunch, we asked attendees to share their experiences with antisemitism. Every individual in the room told a story. Each shared their encounters with hateful antisemitic rhetoric from business associates, teachers and administrators, and even their children’s classmates.
AJC has just released a ground-breaking national survey of American Jews, assessing their perceptions of and experiences with antisemitism. Nearly nine out of ten American Jews (88%) said antisemitism is a problem in the U.S. today. More than one-third (38%) call antisemitism a very serious problem. 84% say antisemitism in the U.S. has increased – and a plurality, 43%, say it has increased significantly – over the past five years.
October 27 is the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. Eleven innocent Jews were simply praying in their house of worship. We remember their names to honor their memory: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
In Judaism, we honor those who have died by lighting a memorial candle which burns for 25 hours. The flickering flame reminds us of the loss we have endured. Even as we mourn our loss, we are unable to completely shake the fear of what may come. 31% of American Jews today avoid publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might identify them as a Jew.
Six months after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Jewish congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye was gunned down while worshipping in a Synagogue in Poway, California.
More than 150 attacks have been perpetrated against Jews in New York City this year alone.
Just six weeks ago, a Neo Nazi group marched in North Georgia.
Jews around the world celebrated this month the Jewish New Year, a time to renew. Only eight days later, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, a terrorist gunned down two people outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany. The shooter had failed to enter the sanctuary, filled with worshipers. but tossed one of his grenades into the adjacent Jewish cemetery.
Antisemitism is everywhere and has seen a marked increase in the U.S. For the 125,000 Jews in metro Atlanta, and millions more around the country, the new survey offers staggering and sobering statistics for a diverse Jewish community in Atlanta. We are White, Black, Latino, Asian – Straight, Gay, Civic, Business – and of various Jewish denominations, plus families who are multifaith.
Following the attack in Pittsburgh, AJC hosted leaders from across Atlanta, of every faith and ethnicity. We needed our greater community, and Atlanta’s community wrapped its arms around us. Thank you Atlanta. We took comfort in your support and knew we were not alone.
Now, we must continue the dialogue, go deeper, and listen and learn from each other to collectively fight antisemitism.
Dov Wilker is Director and Ilene Engel is President of the American Jewish Committee Atlanta Regional Office.