March 30, 2023
The following column appeared in Newsday:
By Eric Post
Growing up on Long Island in the 1980s and ’90s, I walked carefree into synagogue for Hebrew school or religious services.
Synagogues were, by design, meant to be welcoming places. They did not have cameras monitoring the perimeter, security guards, or locked doors. They did not rely on government grants and extra payments by congregants to ensure they were safe.
Today’s reality, amid the largest year-over-year increase in antisemitism in American history since data was collected, is quite different.
Now, I have a special security code to enter my synagogue. There is a security guard when children are around or services are going on, and cement barriers were placed outside for protection. This is the new normal. But there’s nothing normal about it.
Last month, the American Jewish Committee released its latest State of Antisemitism in America report. Among the key findings: 41% of American Jews questioned last year feel less secure in America than the previous year. In 2021, the answer was 31%. This alarming statistic sadly makes sense amid the antisemitic social media barrage by celebrities such as Kanye West, the hostage-taking at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and the many assaults on visibly identifiable Jews in Brooklyn.
Nearly four in 10 American Jews reported changing their behavior — such as where they go, what they wear, or what they post on social media — out of fear of antisemitism. In addition, antisemitism seems to be affecting younger American Jews in different ways. For instance, 26% of young American Jews (age 18-29) who experienced antisemitism online or through social media in the past year felt physically threatened by the experience, compared to 14% of those over 30.
To address the rise in antisemitism nationwide, AJC created a Call to Action Against Antisemitism in America, a nonpartisan guide that seeks to teach what antisemitism is, how to prevent it, and what to do if it occurs.
That includes engaging with local government. Often, the first line of defense against antisemitic incidents is elected officials on the municipal level. Earlier this month, an antisemitic flyer was left at the house of a Huntington resident. Town of Huntington officials called out the incident as antisemitic and encouraged follow-up actions by law enforcement. It was one of many such incidents locally in recent years.
Noting the critical role municipal leaders play, AJC is launching Municipal Leaders Against Antisemitism. This bipartisan initiative is led by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, five town supervisors, and the Nassau and Suffolk village officials associations, representing all 98 Long Island mayors.
At the first meeting Thursday, AJC will share its antisemitism report and Call to Action resources and hear from elected officials about what they need to prevent and combat antisemitism. Our second meeting will precede the Jewish High Holy Days in September, when thousands of Jews will attend synagogue.
By facilitating discussions with civil society stakeholders around the country, AJC Long Island and the organization’s 24 other regional offices are working to stem the tide of antisemitism.
Perhaps we will never go back to a Long Island where synagogues don’t need advanced security and Jews don’t have to think about their safety when practicing their faith. But it is an important moment when our government leaders are making a long-term commitment to heighten their understanding of antisemitism, work to prevent it in their municipalities, and take action if needed.
We should all follow their lead.
Eric Post is Director of AJC Long island.