In the month of Adar, according to Jewish tradition, joy is supposed to increase. This year, though, the increase has been in concern as we’ve witnessed a continuation of the wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions across the country and at Jewish cemeteries.
In Greater New York, where the number of reported hate crimes since the beginning of the year has already doubled the 2016 figure for the same period, swastikas scrawled or painted on Jewish (and non-Jewish) venues are more common (see story on page 12). In various parts of the U.S., there has been a more visible Ku Klux Klan presence. It’s all part of the growing number of hate crimes being committed against minorities including Muslims, Sikhs and immigrants as well as Jews.
To combat one modern form of anti-Semitism — online hate speech — the Anti-Defamation League announced this week the establishment of a “state-of-the-art command center” in California’s Silicon Valley to monitor cyberhate.
For the Jewish community, this upswing in intolerance means disrupted activities, evacuations and searches of affected buildings, increased security measures and budgets, and a general climate of worry.
New York Jewish communal leaders tell us there is “no crisis mentality” among them, but rather an acceptance of what is becoming the new normal: the possibility that any institution with “Jewish” in its name may be the victim of a threat. The sense is that the culprit or culprits are isolated individuals expressing hate-filled emotions, not signaling a dramatic rise of an anti-Semitic movement.
One tangible impact: the cost of hiring more security personnel and installing more-sophisticated security equipment. A JCC in West Orange, N.J., just imposed a $36 “security fee” on its members; the Orlando JCC has scheduled a fundraising event to pay for $200,000 in new security measures; the Bender JCC in Rockville, Md., will spend $500,000 on added security this year; Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $25 million grant to protect Jewish sites; a bipartisan letter in the U.S. Senate this month called for a doubling of funding for the Non-Profit Security Grant Program.
Politics plays a role in seeking a cause for the uptick in threats and incidents since President Trump was elected. “The anti-Semites think they have a champion in the highest office,” the propublica.org website quoted Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, as saying. Others suggest that Trump’s criticism of Muslims and Mexicans during the campaign gave white supremacists license to express themselves. Supporters of the president point out that there is no direct evidence of that.
Whatever the cause of the rise in intolerance, perhaps we can take solace from the Purim story read last week — in the end, the threatened Jews triumphed over their enemies.