Occurrences of anti-Semitic incidents, ranging from vandalism to assault and harassment, increased by 90 percent in New York state in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish civil rights organization.
The ADL released a report on the trend on Feb. 27, just hours before Nassau County police reported finding swastikas carved into the sidewalk in front of a Wantagh woman’s home.
A week earlier, on Feb. 21, an Oceanside woman also found a swastika, along with other offensive graffiti, on the sidewalk outside her home.
“I can’t get into the mind of any individual that does something like this,” said Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, spiritual leader of the Malverne Jewish Center. “Some people want to make a statement. Other people have an ax to grind. Everything has to be taken seriously.”
In the months between the November 8, 2016 election and March 2017, police on Long Island and statewide reported a significant increase in racist graffiti and other so-called “bias incidents,” including swastikas spray-painted on public property in Merrick, Garden City and elsewhere in Nassau County.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office took notice of the hike and launched a toll-free hotline to report such incidents.
“New York serves as a beacon of hope and opportunity for all, and we will continue to stand up to those who seek to spread the politics of division, fear and hate,” Cuomo said in a statement.
After reading the ADL report, Elkodsi said that this is one of the reasons that faith communities should continue to work together to educate people and break down stereotypes.
“There’s a general lack of consideration and civility, and a lot of it occurs because people need a scapegoat,” she said. “Until we get to a point where we embrace each other’s differences and understand that accepting someone else does not diminish us, then I don’t know what else is going to work.”
The uptick in New York is the largest in the country, which as a whole saw a 57 percent rise, according to the ADL.
“Sad to say, but anti-Semitism is the godmother of all forms of hatred,” said Rabbi Art Vernon, spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead. “It is 2,500 years old, and it is the oldest form of prejudice and hatred, but I believe that our reactions need to be measured and appropriate.”
ADL officials partially attributed the 57 percent nationwide increase to a rise in school and college campus incidents, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.
“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,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO and national director. “These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.”
Local officials took to social media to condemn the swastikas found in Wantagh on Feb. 27, with Town of Hempstead council members Dennis Dunne and Erin King Sweeney, who represent Wantagh on the board, saying in a joint statement that they were “greatly disturbed” by the news.
“Our township is home to those who endured the horror of Nazi death camps, and many who fought the atrocities of the Nazi regime,” Dunne and King Sweeney said. “There is no place in our communities for this symbol of hatred and intolerance.”
“We must send a strong message that there is simply no room in the Town of Hempstead for anti-Semitism, racism or any hate-based crime,” said Town Supervisor Laura Gillen.
Vernon, who has helped organize and coordinate rallies, vigils and demonstrations on Long Island to condemn hatred, said that not all the reported incidents should be considered anti-Semitism because many of them are youth-related.
“It’s typically young people who are acting out because they know that it’s provocative, and they’re going to get a reaction,” he said. “The bottom line is, a lot of young teenagers and adults do not fully appreciate the seriousness of all their actions.”
According to the ADL report, in 2017 the number of incidents at K-12 schools surpassed those at public areas for the first time, with 457 incidents reported in schools — a 56 percent increase over the number of school incidents reported in 2016.
Vernon said that county officials and the NCPD have “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism, and that the Jewish community should not be afraid.
“Any incident that occurs is hateful and disturbing to the Jewish community . . . but I don’t feel threatened in America as a Jew, and I see no reason for the Jewish community to feel threatened in America,” Vernon said.