Adar is supposed to be a time of wacky fun, highlighted by the celebration of Purim in the middle of the month. But the surge of anti-Semitic actions, not just sentiments, across America has us feeling far from festive.
It’s scary to realize that so far we’ve been lucky in Atlanta. We’ve only had one incident in 2017 that has violated the sanctity and assumed safety of our core communal spaces: one hoax bomb threat against the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Jan. 9.
The well-trained, well-prepared JCC staff even managed to avoid evacuating the Dunwoody building and upsetting the preschoolers and others there.
If only that one threat were all we had to worry about.
Instead, 73 Jewish community centers and day schools in 30 states and one Canadian province have received similar bomb threats in five clusters of calls as of Feb. 27 (we have no reason to think the totals won’t climb before you read this). The harassment targets have included the JCCs in Charlotte, New Orleans, Nashville (twice) and Birmingham (three times).
The Anti-Defamation League is one of the main sources for advice and expertise in dealing with anti-Semitism and threats of violence; the ADL’s national headquarters in New York received a threatening call Feb. 22, as did its San Francisco office Feb. 27.
Then there are the cemeteries. More than 150 headstones were damaged or destroyed by vandals in a Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis during the third weekend of February. More than 100 headstones were toppled at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia the following weekend.
We don’t know who’s behind any of this ugliness. No one has been charged, nor is anyone likely to be. The person or group making those seemingly random threatening phone calls is probably sophisticated enough to avoid detection, while cemeteries always lack meaningful security because such vandalism, though nasty, doesn’t endanger any lives.
The lack of arrests is sure to embolden more anti-Semites to act out, and the danger is that someone will take the next step from taunts and threats to deadly violence. It nearly happened in mid-February when a South Carolina man with a history of anti-Semitism, an unhealthy interest in a Conservative synagogue and a fondness for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was caught by the FBI while trying to buy a gun.
It’s unavoidable in these hyperpartisan times that people will view what’s happening through a political lens, and criticism of President Donald Trump is fair. He at least flirted with the forces of hate, and by the time he disowned those forces and decried anti-Semitism, it was too late. The evil genie was long gone from the bottle.
There’s also an element of self-fulfilling prophecy in play here: People spent so much time hammering home the false message last year that Trump embraced hate that the anti-Semites believed it and, regardless of what the president said or did, they accepted that he was with them.
We’d like to see right and left learn a few lessons about the power of words and the danger of extreme rhetoric, but that’s not the priority now when we as a community are under attack. We need to stand together and embrace our allies to demonstrate that this is our America, and we’re not going anywhere.