American Jews are on edge. The attack in Pittsburg has clearly rattled the community. That, coupled with the rise of anti-Israel sentiment on campus and disturbing stories about more hostility in European countries, has led to a sense of unease. This has touched some of our deepest fears. Many of us are wondering if the ground is shifting under our feet, and if Jews are at risk in the United States.
But let’s set a few facts straight. The statistics in the most recent ADL report claiming a rise in anti-Semitism in the US are an exaggeration. Firstly, It includes the 163 bomb threats to Jewish community centers made by a Jewish teen from the Israeli city of Ashkelon. When ADL spokesman Todd Gutnick was challenged about including these threats, he explained reasoning behind classifying an Israeli teen as an anti-Semite: “Jewish communities were repeatedly traumatized by these threats… and it met the definition of anti-Semitism.” This explanation is absolutely illogical. Yes, Jews were afraid, however the perpetrator was not an anti-Semite but an emotionally challenged Israeli teen. Besides that, the ADL statistics are not scientifically gathered, they rely on anecdotal reporting. It’s unclear if the uptick is from more people reporting or actual incidents. Finally, the ADL study showed an actual decrease of 47% of actual physical assaults. Clearly, the ADL needs to act more responsibly, and refrain from stoking communal fears.
Still, it’s clear that there are threats to our communities and the rise of anti-Israel activity on campus is of grave concern. The question is how we should respond. We need to increase the vigilance and training in our institutions to know how to react to threats and, G-d forbid, attacks. We have to carefully evaluate the real security needs without sending a message that it’s dangerous to come to synagogue. In Europe, where anti-Semitism is more real, one third of Jews fear frequenting Jewish institutions. It seems that in some cases, synagogues make security decisions driven by the worst anxieties of some of their members. The determination of the proper response should be guided by security experts. Jewish leaders must act responsibility, not permitting fearful voices to drive the security protocols that must reflect the real level of threat.
We cannot forget that American society is unique—the Bill of Rights was the first time in history that a country gave Jews full religious freedom. Today, there are no quotas for Jews in college admissions, restrictions on buying homes, or clubs we can join. Jews are leaders in business, academia, the media and politics. An Orthodox Jew even ran for vice president of the United States and his religious observance was not an issue. We live in a golden age of freedom as Jews in this country.
Yes, there are voices of hatred but they are limited to the fringes of the society. We must be careful not to judge a society by those who hate, rather by the response to that hatred. The reaction to Pittsburgh tragedy, where every segment of the society, from all sides of the political and religious spectrum, reacted with absolute condemnation, should invoke optimism. Yes, we need to careful, but in no way is this Europe of the last century or even of today. We live in America, where Jews are blessed with rights, and religious beliefs are protected.
RABBI DAVID ELIEZRIE is at Chabad/Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.