MILWAUKEE – We need to keep the youth in mind, according to the authors of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s 2019 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.
JCRC Chair Ann Jacobs said that youth can be less likely to report antisemitism, but they need support. “It is our job as the grown-ups in the room to help them,” she said.
This was one of many points made when Jacobs and others spoke to members of the community March 4, 2020, at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay. The discussion was to mark the recent release of the annual antisemitic audit.
The statewide audit found a marked increase in hate group activity. For antisemitism overall, the audit reports a 55 percent increase in incidents from 2018 to 2019 and a 329 percent increase since 2015, according to the JCRC, which is an arm of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
The nature of antisemitic behavior has shifted, according to the audit’s authors. “What we are seeing is a lot more people being willing to engage in direct encounters,” Jacobs said.
The audit found significant increases in a few key categories in just one year. Harassment, threats, and assault increased by 150 percent, from 16 to 40 incidents. Hate group activity has seen a 900 percent increase. Middle school activity is up 250 percent.
In response, the JCRC has organized or co-organized events, including a March 11, 2020 community conversation and a March 30 Edie Adelman Political Awareness Lecture with Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger. The events are open to the community and free, 7 p.m. at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay. Visit MilwaukeeJewish.org/Antisemitism for more information.
Among the incidents highlighted by Jacobs at the discussion:
- 13 swastika incidents, including a spray painted swastika on a Wisconsin ski trail that was cleaned off by non-Jews who found it.
- Former Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s Twitter page, where he has a photo of “110” on his hand — white supremacists say Jews have been ejected from 109 countries and it’s time for a 110th.
- A sticker promoting a white nationalist hate group that has marched in Washington, D.C.
The JCRC works on the audit year-round and all incidents have been corroborated, according to Elana Kahn, director of the JCRC. This year’s audit includes 73 reported incidents.
There are bright spots in the report. The number of incidents reported in high schools has been cut in half from the prior year, from six to three. Incidence of vandalism decreased from 16 to 13.
But the audit’s “Harassment, Threats, Assault” category has gone from zero incidents in 2015 to 40 in 2019. There’s no denying that’s a severe trendline. “This trend points to a shift in how people express their antisemitic sentiments. They are bolder, more open, more personal, and more threatening,” reads the 2019 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents report.
Kahn said that antisemitism should not define who we are. Rather, we should seek ways to lean into our Judaism and lean toward the Jewish people, Jewish histories, Jewish stories, Jewish values, as a positive charge and identity.
“Think about, how to come together to create a community that is vibrant and make our fellow community members feel secure in expressing a Jewish life,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Federation.
Speakers discussed security at the event. They noted that Ari Friedman, Federation’s security director for the community, works closely with synagogues, authorities and others on security.
“This community has been actively involved in upgrading security over the last decade,” Rosenzweig said. “In the last year we’ve had some pretty remarkable training.”
She offered a visit of the Magen David Adom last year to Milwaukee as an example.
When discussing what people can do, Kahn told the audience to “call it out.” A gentle push-back can do a lot, she said. Also, different arms of the Federation offer resources, like speakers, training, events and more.
Are you aware of incidents? Let the JCRC know at MilwaukeeJewish.org/ReportAntisemitism or 414-390-5781. The JCRC does not take action without permission from people, Kahn said. They are not looking to make things worse.