As an American Jew, I am no stranger to discrimination. You might say I’m lucky in that I have only been called anti-Semitic slurs a small handful of times in my life. But I remember each incident vividly, in my bones. And as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, it is not lost on me that being a Jewish woman in this world means that I am a potential target of hate and violence.
But I have never been more aware of this fact than in this past year. The climate in our country has shifted toward one of extremism and hatred, with white nationalism having a stronger voice than it’s had it decades. In just the past six months—after many years of experiencing virtually nothing—I have personally witnessed two incidents of anti-Semitism.
At school, a child told one of my sons said that Hitler “wasn’t so bad” and that the Jews at least partially deserved what happened to them in the Holocaust. He also said that Jews are evil and practice “satanic rituals.” This was just three weeks ago, on the playground at school.
Just a few months before that, my sons and I were on the NYC subway, when my 5-year-old, who was just learning to read, said, “K-I-K-E. What does that spell, Mommy?” I rushed my kids to another seat on the train, and fought the urge to throw up at the horror of it.
It turns out I am not alone. According to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), anti-Semitic incidents rose almost 60% in 2017. ADL has been keeping reports on such incidents since 1979, and this is the single biggest one-year surge in incidents since they began reporting them.
Sickened. Horrified. Vulnerable. There are no words really to sum up how this makes me feel.
There were 1,986 total anti-Semitic incidents reported to the ADL in 2017, a 57% increase from 2016. These incidents included physical assaults, harassment, attacks on Jewish institutions, and vandalism.
As NPR points out, in the past, the greatest number of anti-Semitic hate happened in public places, like parks and streets. But in 2017, K-12 schools saw the highest number, with 457 incidents, a 94% increase from 2016.
“The consistent increase of anti-Semitic incidents against students of all ages is deeply troubling,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director. “We know that students do not always report when they are being bullied, so for every incident that’s reported, it is likely there’s another that goes unreported.”
Incidents of harassment were also up, with 1,015 instances, 163 of which occurred as part of a surge of bomb threats made to Jewish institutions (including daycare centers and preschools) in early 2017. These kind of threats saw a 101% increase this year.
Incidents were reported in all 50 states, which is the first time this has happened in a decade. States with dense concentrations of Jewish people, like New York and California, saw the greatest increase.
I think it’s very important to point out that these were only the incidents reported to the ADL. I know for a fact that there were many, many more not reported. Many of us are simply too terrified to report these incidents.
Make no mistake, these increases have everything to do with the troubling, hate-filled times we live in. And it’s something that’s affecting all minority groups, not just Jews.
“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,” remarked Greenblatt. “These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.”
So what can be done? In a press release about the report, the ADL explains that reporting and exposing these hate incidents for what they are is an important first step. And then everyone—including educators, law enforcement, government officials, and ordinary citizens—need to do everything in their power to prevent these incidents from recurring. You can read more specific actions and policies the ADL supports toward this effort in their press release here.
The bottom line for me is that everyone needs to be aware that these incidents are happening daily. It is not a joke or an exaggeration. This is the world we live in now, and we need to be keenly aware of it. It is not just Jews who are being targeted either. Hate and extremism is affecting all minorities now more than ever. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.
But I have not lost hope. In the words of Anne Frank, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
This is not the world I want my children to live in. It’s not the world I want your children to live in. We can do better. We can, we must, and we will.