Fears of Antisemitism Change Jewish Behavior


Antisemitism continues to impact many American Jews, according to the American Jewish Committee’s “State of Antisemitism in America Report” released on Oct. 25.

In its third annual and largest antisemitism report, AJC found that 39% of American Jews have changed their behavior at some point due to fears of antisemitism; 25% concealed their Jewish identity online; 22% stopped wearing anything that would identify them as Jewish; and 17% avoided attending events or visiting certain areas that would make them feel endangered as Jews.

“In some ways, it’s very grim,” said Marcia Bronstein, the AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey regional director.

Bronstein attributed the persistent antisemitism and consequent fear of antisemitism to the recent flare-up of Israel-Hamas violence and ignorance around comparing events to the Holocaust, such as the use of yellow Star of David patches as a symbol against COVID vaccine mandates.

“We see, a lot of times, the use of Nazi imagery that emboldens antisemitism,” Bronstein said. “If someone says a policy is like a Nazi policy and is talking about a public health issue and relating it to a mass genocide — it’s just unacceptable, yet we’ve seen it happen over and over.”

Elana Burack, who lives in University City, is one of the four in 10 American Jews who has changed behavior for fear of becoming a target of antisemitism. She stopped wearing her Hamsa necklace from Israel after hearing about a few men approaching an Orthodox Jewish woman in Philadelphia. 

Five business-formally dressed people are standing in a chamber, smiling for the camera.
AJC and Circle of Friends leaders at a past advocacy trip to Harrisburg. From left: Marcia Bronstein, AJC Philadelphia/SNJ regional director; Mohamed Bakry, co-Chair, Circle of Friends/Philadelphia Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council; Majid Alsayegh, Circle of Friends member and MJAC member; Michael Fabius, co-Chair, Circle of Friends/MJAC; and Hilary Levine, AJC Philadelphia/SNJ Associate Director. |
Courtesy of Hilary Levine

Though the men were actually three Jewish men going to wish the woman a Shabbat shalom, Burack saw posts on social media saying that these men were not Jewish, had knives and were planning to attack the woman.

“It scared me enough to make me think twice about wearing something that would be an obvious sign of my Judaism,” Burack said.

Antisemitism fears are far more sinister than just hiding an article of clothing, Bronstein argued.

“It constrains who we are and what we do,” Bronstein said.

The pervasive role of fear in Jewish life can be seen in the increased security of synagogues after the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting, she said.

According to the AJC survey, the Northeast region of the U.S. seems to be home to as much antisemitism as other parts of the nation. Forty-one percent of national survey respondents reported witnessing antisemitism, online or in-person, over the past month; 46% of Northeastern respondents reported the same.

However, results may differ in Philadelphia, and numbers for specific cities were not available.

Though Burack thought of a handful of friends in other parts of the country who were concerned about attending synagogue for fear of antisemitism, none of her other Jewish friends in Philadelphia have changed their behaviors like she has.

Bronstein attributed potential regional differences in part to the area’s larger Jewish population.  While 64% of the national sample of the AJC study reported personally knowing a Jewish person, 75% of the Northeast sample reported “Yes” to the same statement.

Antisemitism may be a result of ignorance about Jewish people, Bronstein said. If one knows more about Judaism, they may be less likely to hold antisemitic biases.

To address antisemitism, Bronstein believes addressing ignorance is key. The AJC has spoken with Facebook and Twitter executives to ensure antisemitic posts aren’t spread by the social media sites’ algorithms. They are working with corporations to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives include Jews and, especially, Jews of color.

Bronstein said groups such as the Circle of Friends, the Philadelphia chapter for the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, are key in creating solidarity movements to mitigate antisemitism.

Circle of Friends co-chair Mohamed Bakry noticed that increases in antisemitism correlate with jumps in Islamophobia and racism.

“That’s why I think allyship is significantly more important nowadays than ever before, because one group alone can’t combat all of the hate that’s coming our way,” Bakry said.

Mike Fabius, the chapter’s other co-chair, argued that his involvement with Circle of Friends and his friendship with Bakry has made him better equipped to address Islamophobia when he encounters it in conversations with “well-intentioned” individuals who are prejudiced or ignorant.

“We’re never going to eradicate hate and ignorance, but if we can go back to marginalizing it, that would be good progress,” Fabius said.

With efforts on the horizon to address antisemitism, Bronstein was heartened by the overall survey results about support for Israel and increased awareness of antisemitism.

Eighty-five percent of respondents felt that the statement, “Israel has no right to exist,” was antisemitic; 73% felt the statement, “American Jews are loyal to Israel and disloyal to America” was antisemitic; and 82% felt the statement, “The Holocaust has been exaggerated” was antisemitic.

srogelberg@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0741


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