Anti-Semitism has been an all-too-common topic for the Atlanta Jewish Times in 2015, from the murders of four Jews in a Paris kosher supermarket Jan. 9 to the slaying of a Jewish guard outside Copenhagen’s Grand Synagogue on Feb. 15.
We’ve heard from AEPi Executive Director Andy Borans about anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses across North America and from American Jewish Committee expert Rabbi Andrew Baker about anti-Semitism across Europe. We’ve heard warnings from speakers and panels at the BBYO and NFTY conventions and from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at Young Israel of Toco Hills.
So an anti-Semitic incident within our Jewish community should not come as a surprise. Nonetheless, what happened a few weeks ago at Congregation Gesher L’Torah was shocking.
As recounted in the Feb. 27 issue of the AJT, a normal Wednesday night at the Alpharetta synagogue’s religious school was thrown into turmoil because a 15-year-old from Cumming decided it would be fun to leave a message full of Holocaust references and a promise to kill everyone.
Gesher L’Torah’s leadership — Executive Director Doug Konkel, Rabbi Michael Bernstein, President Stephen Klee and the entire board, and religious school administrator Carla Birnbaum — deserves credit for its response to the phone message from “Adolf” the furnace the salesman. The synagogue leaders didn’t take any chances. They locked down the building, called the Alpharetta police, connected with Federation security liaison Dick Raisler and contracted with extra security until the caller was caught.
The Alpharetta police deserve praise for quickly finding the culprit. While it helps to have a criminal stupid enough to call from his own cellphone, we still note the difference between this quickly closed case and never-solved swastika-painting incidents over the years in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Emory University. It’s good to know that local police take vulgar incidents of anti-Semitism seriously.
We also support the congregation’s decision to press charges against the teenager in juvenile court. What he admitted doing was a felony, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter that he and his friends were just boys being boys or that he’s a good kid. It doesn’t matter that he apologized or that he never meant any physical harm.
It also doesn’t matter that the boy’s mother, according to the police report, tried to deflect investigators and demanded that they give her son a pass. It’s not hard to see how the son could think such a vicious phone call was just a harmless prank when the mother doesn’t take his actions seriously. But even though we disapprove of her attitude, it is not a crime and should not affect her son’s case.
Nor should he be prosecuted to teach some communal lesson or set an example for vicious and thoughtless teens everywhere.
Quite simply, he should be prosecuted, convicted and punished because he tried to terrorize the 200 Jewish families who are Gesher L’Torah members. He wanted to make them, and all of us, feel uncomfortable if not scared to live in Georgia. That’s not a harmless prank; it’s an act of violence. With remorse, he might be forgiven, but his action should not be forgotten.