Anti-Semitic events across Pennsylvania rose by 43 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year — a recorded 96 incidents — according to the latest audit by the Anti-Defamation League.
The rise represents the state’s largest single-year increase and the second-highest amount of incidents over the last decade — considering the area boasted five consecutive years of declining reports of anti-Semitism from 2008 to 2012.
In neighboring New Jersey, 208 anti-Semitic events were reported in 2017, a 32 percent increase from the previous year.
And in Delaware, 13 events were reported last year, a fourfold increase.
Nationwide, anti-Semitic occurrences were almost 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, with a reported 1,986 cases.
For the first time in at least a decade, all 50 states reported an incident.
“A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community — from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and children harassing children at school,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director, in a press release.
“In reflecting on this time and understanding it better with this new data, we feel even more committed to our century-old mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
The annual audit just about fell on the one-year anniversary of the desecration of hundreds of headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wissinoming, which was a major incident highlighted in the ADL’s review.
It also referenced other Philadelphia-area reports, like the Coatesville high schoolers who posed with jack-o’-lanterns carved with swastikas and “KKK”; a man who urinated on Congregation Beth Solomon in Northeast Philadelphia and flashed his middle finger to a security camera; and a juvenile who threw rocks through the windows of Temple Menorah-Keneseth Chai in Tacony during Shabbat.
On the other side of the state, Joshua Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said these numbers are distressing, but not a complete surprise.
“We really have seen an uptick in anti-Semitism in general in talking with other community leaders throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see that its risen by as much as it has.”
But recording anti-Semitic incidents isn’t an exact science, he noted. The ADL audit is based on events that have been reported to local authorities, so there may be some that go unreported.
In Pittsburgh, Sayles said that his Jewish Federation recently hired a director of community security, emphasizing the mantra, “If you see something, say something.”
“The amount of incidents that have been reported to us have risen dramatically, so I would think part of the uptick [reported by the ADL] is an increase in general awareness in the Pittsburgh area and hopefully not an increase in incidents,” he said, “just an increase in our community members being better educated on how to respond.”
Relative to other states, Pennsylvania has large clusters of Jewish populations.
Incidents in the state included 45 acts of harassment (up 10 percent from 2016) and 51 acts of vandalism (up 104 percent), according to the ADL. Incidents also nearly doubled in K-12 schools.
Pennsylvania had the sixth-highest number of incidents across the country, behind New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida.
Jeremy Bannett, ADL associate regional director in Philadelphia, credited the uptick to the increase “in anti-Semitic rhetoric and an emboldening of bigots throughout 2016.”
Early numbers from 2017 showed an enormous spike over the previous year, too. For states with large Jewish populations, Bannett said there’s more of an opportunity for people to express anti-Semitic attitudes, but there’s also more people to report them.
“What we’re seeing is not isolated in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is real and growing. … We’re concerned about the divisive state of our national discourse, making people feel freer to express bias and anti-Semitism. On the extremes, white supremacists and hate groups are feeling emboldened to take action and express their bigotry in the real world,” and are recruiting on college campuses at “unforeseen levels.”
Although the white supremacist Charlottesville march stands out to most people from 2017, Bannett said there were actually 76 public events last year organized by white supremacists across the country.
“You can’t fight hate against just one group of people. You have to fight hate in all its forms,” he said, because “haters don’t just hate one group. They hate all sorts of groups.”
Malcolm Adler, president of Temple Menorah-Keneseth Chai, where the rocks were thrown, at first assumed the perpetrator’s motive was anti-Semitic.
“A person has to say they did that on purpose because it’s a Jewish synagogue,” he added, noting other churches on the block weren’t vandalized last January.
Adler took it upon himself to install 24/7 security cameras to the outside of the synagogue after the first rock was thrown, which he can view from his New Jersey home.
After the second rock, they caught the offender on camera — a preteen boy with a record.
But apparently, Adler said, the child had no idea it was a synagogue. He threw the rocks because he was drawn to the multicolored windows.
Regardless, Adler said the ADL’s findings of anti-Semitic events do seem accurate.
“They have yet to find the people who damaged all those tombstones about a mile from our synagogue,” he said of Mount Carmel. “That’s definitely anti-Semitism.”
The child offender was put on probation and issued a restraining order from the synagogue. They haven’t had an incident since.
“But it still feels great to be Jewish,” Adler laughed, praising his traditions and heritage, as well as his mother for introducing him to whitefish, lox and everything bagels with cream cheese.
“There’s nothing like it. No other religion has anything similar to what we have,” he said.
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