How Jewish communities in the US are responding to an ‘horrific’ rise in antisemitism

US

Antisemitism in the United States has risen in a “really horrific way”, according to the Jewish Federation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The city was home to the most deadly attack on Jewish people in America – a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018.

Eleven people were killed and six injured. A jury is due to decide in the coming days whether the gunman, Robert Bowers, should face the death penalty.

Jewish communities across the US are undertaking “active shooter” drills in response to the atrocity, and to an increase in antisemitic hate crime.

Jeff Finkelstein, the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told Sky News: “Antisemitism is one of the oldest forms of hatred, it’s been around for a long time. We’ve been lucky in America where it’s been kind of buried below the surface.

“As I think we’ve seen around the world, with a rise in all forms of hatred, antisemitism has popped its head up in a really horrific way, here in the United States and around the world.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate crime, recorded 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the US in 2022.

That was an increase of 36% on the previous year and the highest number recorded since the organisation started tracking such behaviour in 1979. Incidents recorded included harassment, vandalism and physical assault.

Weekend worship at Squirrel Hill comes with security cameras and armed guards
Image:
Weekend worship at Squirrel Hill comes with security cameras and armed guards

In 2021, the Jewish Federations of North America launched a $130m LiveSecure campaign to provide communities with security training.

Eric Fingerhut, its president and chief executive, told Sky News: “Over the last decade or more, it’s become apparent that one of the core responsibilities of each federation for its communities is safety and security and that the efforts needed to grow significantly in sophistication and in numbers because of the rise of antisemitism and the consequent rise in violent incidents.

“Since Pittsburgh, which was October of 2018, there were maybe 15 or 20 committees that had (security) programmes – now, there are over 95.”

Run, hide, fight

Former law enforcement professionals give safety briefing
Image:
Former law enforcement professionals give a safety briefing

Sky News attended a training session laid on by the Jewish Federations of Southern New Jersey at a Community Centre in Wilmington, Delaware.

Around 25 adults were given a practical safety briefing by former law enforcement professionals, built around the principles of “run, hide, fight”.

It is shooting survival training as a life skill.

Bud Monaghan, executive director of JFed Security
Image:
Bud Monaghan, executive director of JFed Security

Bud Monaghan, executive director of JFed Security, said: “The real root of it is to teach situational awareness and response to an active threat and reinforce that as a life skill, so that people have an understanding that it’s not simply just a focus when they’re in synagogue, or maybe at the Jewish Community Centre, but something that they should incorporate into their daily routine, their daily life.

“Because the state of affairs unfortunately in the world today – it’s something (in which) people critically need to enhance their survivability in the event that they’re caught in a situation with an active threat or an active shooter.”

Jury to decide whether gunman should face death penalty

Having convicted the gunman behind the Tree of Life shooting, a jury in Pittsburgh will now decide whether Roger Bowers should face the death penalty or an alternative sentence of life without parole.

Tree of Life synagogue

The 50-year-old truck driver was charged with 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and the obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.

Before the shooting, he had expressed a hatred of Jewish people on social media. The synagogue is situated in the Pittsburgh neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, which has a 40% Jewish population.

In the wake of the mass shooting on 27 October, the 10.27 Healing Partnership was set up to support members of the community.

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Its director, Maggie Feinstein, told Sky News: “I think a lot of antisemitism comes from somebody needing to find somebody to blame.

“I think that when there are ills, when people are starting to feel some sense of being left out or not having opportunity then, often-times, antisemitism rises… Clearly, that’s what must be happening in America right now because, when we look at the rates, we’re aware of that.

“And, I think, when we look at the rates, we also have to remember that we’ve tried to make it safe for people to report hate crimes in a way that wasn’t true many years ago.”

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