Anti-Semitic Crime In The U.S. Reaches Record Levels

The New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized in August 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
The New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized in August 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

An arson at a Needham synagogue and vandalism at a Fall River cemetery contributed to a record high number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S last year.

The Anti-Defamation League says there were 2,107 hate crimes against Jewish people nationwide in 2019, according to the organization's annual survey. That's the highest the number since the ADL began tallying hate crimes in 1979.

Massachusetts has seen a decrease in anti-Semitic crime over the last few years: 177 reported incidents in 2017, 144 in 2018 and 114 last year. That's not comforting, ADL New England Executive Director Robert Trestan said, because the numbers are still too high.

"It's not a reason to let up our vigilance or awareness that these incidents are occurring and are still impacting people," he said. "An ADL survey just last month indicated that two-thirds of American Jews feel less safe today than they did a decade [ago]. There's still a level of high anxiety amongst people about safety and security at places of worship."

And with fewer people gathering to worship, he says anti-Semitism is moving from in-person to online.

"Here in Massachusetts and across the country, we've tracked hundreds and hundreds of incidents where people are infiltrating online meetings," Trestan said. "We have to prioritize our virtual security in the same way that we ensure that a physical building is secure."

Even during the pandemic, this year has already seen offline anti-Semitism. In April, a man was arrested after attempting to blow up a Jewish assisted living center in Longmeadow.

"The attack [was] planned at the height of the pandemic, just as Massachusetts was actually entering its surge," said State Sen. Eric Lesser, who represents the Longmeadow area and is Jewish.

Lesser worries the pandemic could possibly stoke incidents of anti-Jewish crime, as it has in the past.

"Whenever there are periods of fear or frustration or severe economic strain, there are also corresponding rises in hate crimes and bigotry," he said. "I am concerned that as coronavirus continues to put strains on society, that we could see even more incidents in the future."

The high number of anti-Jewish crime has led to synagogues in Massachusetts thinking about measures that can be taken to protect their congregations.  One Brighton rabbi last year suggested that congregants bring guns to the Shaloh House synagogue.

"We can't think, 'I'm just praying, and God will save me,'" Rabbi Dan Rodkin told WBUR at the time. "No, we need to take care of situations ourselves."

Attorney General Maura Healey's office encouraged anyone experiencing discrimination to contact its civil rights hotline at 617-963-2917 or file a complaint online.

“There is no place for hateful conduct or rhetoric in Massachusetts," Healey said in a statement. "It’s especially important right now, as we face this pandemic together, that people know their protections under the law. We stand with the Jewish community and are here to protect them from discrimination.”

Trestan said everyone has a role to play when it comes to standing up to hate.

"We still need to maintain a level of vigilance without letting fear disrupt our lives," he said.


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Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



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