Editor’s Note: The J Factor is a new column highlighting Jewish community issues, people and impact. The column is written by Jacob Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford. A West Hartford resident, Jacob lived in Israel for eight years and has dedicated his career to piloting Jewish organizations, including a Hillel, JCC and Jewish Family Services, and impacting lives through values-based processes. An award-winning journalist, Jacob was the editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times and a staff writer for The Jerusalem Post, for which he reported from Jordan, Syria and Israel. He holds a Master’s degree in Arab-Israeli Affairs from The Hebrew University.
Throughout my life, anti-Semitism has always been an issue for the American Jewish community. At home, in Kew Gardens, N.Y., I could not escape the stories of discrimination and violence told by my grandparents — just because they were Jewish. I have my own childhood memories of anti-Semitism that haunt me still. But the Jewish people have stayed strong.
Today in Greater Hartford, Jewish institutions such as Jewish Family Services and the Mandell Jewish Community Center, serve people from all walks of life, while our Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and our synagogues are building community coalitions for social justice and interfaith cooperation. We’re also well-represented in the business, arts and education communities, and many more.
Still, many of us may never escape the whispers echoing in our brains to not get “too comfortable” — because it can happen again. Anytime. Anywhere.
During my 30 years as a Jewish professional I pushed aside these whispers, opting to focus on the good, the potential, and the achievements of the American Jewish community. But, the disturbing numbers over these past few years paint a picture that demands attention. And action.
In its most recent annual audit of ant-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League — a pre-eminent, national organization that helps fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hate — recorded 1,879 acts of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in 2018, with a dramatic increase in physical violence, including the murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. This marks a 99 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents since 2015.
And just last month, there was a spate of eight violent attacks on Jews in New York City during one week, an armed attack on a Kosher market in New Jersey, where four innocent victims were killed, as well as the brutal machete assault in Monsey on Hanukah that left five injured, one seriously.
Connecticut has also felt this scourge. “The level of reported anti-Semitic incidents over the last three years is the highest we have seen in over a decade,” said ADL Connecticut Regional Director, Steve Ginsburg.
While I now agree that we should all be very concerned over the rise of anti-Semitism, I refuse to accept that this is the new normal. In this, I am not alone.
Witness the long line of Connecticut elected officials and faith leaders who joined a crowd of 400 people at Beth El Temple in West Hartford for a Dec. 30 “Rally Against Hate and anti-Semitism,” arranged by our local Jewish Federation. And the 25,000 people who marched in NYC on Jan. 5 under the banner of “No Hate. No Fear.” And the thousands more who rallied in other cities — side by side with elected officials and civic leaders from across the spectrum of American society — to decry hate and call for action.
Action. If there’s one thing that Judaism teaches us, it’s that actions speak louder than words, and are prized over even faith in God. Jewish communities have already begun to increase the security of our institutions, lobby Congress and state legislatures — in unison with a broad-based coalition of civic and
religious activists — for more money to protect all of our organizations and places of worship.
At the same time, we continue here in Greater Hartford to educate our youth, engage our teens, mobilize new cadres of leadership, care for the disadvantaged, celebrate our culture — and build for our future.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I am grateful to law enforcement, political leaders on both sides of the aisles, religious leaders of all faiths, and other good people who act out against all forms of discrimination and hate.
Let’s take action when we see injustice being done to any of our neighbors. We must all stand together to build a better future for generations to come.