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Wave of Anti-Semitic Threats Puts US Jewish Community on Edge 

  • Chris Simkins

A Trump supporter named Bob, who declined to give his last name, volunteers his time and prepares the base of a damaged headstone, Feb. 28, 2017, in Philadelphia. Scores of volunteers are expected to help in an organized effort to clean up and restore the Jewish cemetery where vandals damaged hundreds of headstones.

Young children scramble in fear from a school outside Washington after an email bomb threat. Hundreds of kilometers away, dozens of Jewish community centers are evacuated following telephone bomb threats. In Philadelphia, vandalism at an old Jewish cemetery leaves hundreds of headstones toppled and cracked.

Police say these are unspeakable crimes rooted in hate and are creating fear within Jewish communities across the country. Since the beginning of the year, several Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated by vandals.

“It’s criminal. This is beyond vandalism. It’s beyond belief,” said Philadelphia police detective Shawn Thrush.

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, Feb. 21, 2017.
Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, Feb. 21, 2017.

“We have not seen a cemetery desecrated to this level in 20 years,” said Naomi Adler, head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Dozens of volunteers gathered to help make repairs to gravesites.

Adler and other Jewish leaders are alarmed by what they believe is a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

“Because these incidents have happened in different places and at different times, we cannot say if it’s being done by one group, one person or 100 people. It doesn’t matter if the crimes are linked; it is making people live in fear and creating anxiety,” Adler said.

Many of the cases remain under investigation, but one arrest has been made.

Wave of Anti Semitic Threats Puts US Jewish Community on Edge

Rising threats

Since early January, there have been more than 170 bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations in 38 states, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It’s an epidemic, said Doron Ezickson, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington.

“We have seen many threats to schools, synagogues and Jewish community centers. Swastika drawings are also on the rise nationally and locally,” Ezickson said.

In Washington, police recorded 107 hate crimes in 2016, up from 66 the year before; but the number of hate crimes targeting people of the Jewish faith increased dramatically.

“It’s not immediately clear what led to the increase, but it could be because people have become more emboldened, because of some of the things we see nationally,” said Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham.

President Donald Trump has condemned the intimidation, saying he hopes the threats subside.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said during a February address to Congress and the nation.

Americans concerned

The level of hatred and prejudice is concerning to a majority of Americans, according to a new public opinion poll.

A Quinnipiac University survey shows that 77 percent of voters say prejudice against minority groups in the United States is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.

Now people of different faiths are fighting back against a wave of crimes motivated by religious bias. They are pushing for tougher enforcement in the 45 U.S. states that have hate crime laws.

Others are pushing programs aimed at young people.

“We are developing programs in schools that focus on being a citizen in America, and how we understand and have tolerance for others and understand diversity. It is the strength of our country,” Ezickson said.

Hundreds gathered for an anti-hate demonstration outside Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall, where the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution were adopted.

“With one voice we are saying we cannot stand for this, not in our land. We will do everything we can to prevent this from happening,” said Reverend Truman Brooks from West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“Hate in our land has to be managed, and faced again and again, so that it backs down and crawls back under the rock where it came from,” he said.

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