On Saturday, a gunman who had posted anti-Semitic material online opened fire on worshipers at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego County, killing one and injuring three. This attack comes on the heels of another shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, where 11 people were killed.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic incidents recorded a total of 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the country in 2018, the third-highest year on record since ADL started tracking such data in the 1970s.
These attacks have reverberated across the country and California, including Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, where members of several local congregations gathered on Sunday for a service to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and to remember the victims of these two latest shootings. Seth Brysk of the Anti-Defamation League and Rabbi Mona Alfi join Insight to discuss the recent rise in anti-Semitic violence. Here are highlights from their conversation.
On the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic incidents for 2018:
Brysk: This was the third-highest year for anti-Semitic incidents since we've begun tracking. And while it was a slight decline from the prior year, that was one of the highest year on record as well. The most shocking and distressing of the statistics that were revealed in this report were that the number of assaults more than doubled over the prior year. And of course that did include the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
On why the number of incidents is high:
Brysk: It's not so much that there's a great change in the number of people who hold anti-Semitic beliefs. Those numbers have been fairly consistent over the last few decades — about 10 percent of the American population hold anti-Semitic beliefs, which you know means that it's relegated largely to the fringe. What we've been seeing though in the last few years is an emboldening of those people who hold those beliefs to act out on them. And the trends that we're trying to identify in the audit and in other reports that we do are indicating that they are not only acting out, but they're starting to act out in more and more serious ways. That's why we see the increase in the number of assaults and incidents like the ones that we saw this last weekend.
Alfi: I actually found it startling that he said that he thinks anti-Semitism is only held about amongst 10 percent of our population. I think it's actually higher. After Charlottesville there had been a survey showing that 10 percent of the people on the phone survey said that they believed that white supremacy was perfectly fine. That's 10 percent being willing to say that out loud to another human being. That tells me that the people who actually hold those beliefs is much higher. I teach 10th graders in my congregation, and for the last 10 years every single one of my 10th graders have told me about anti-Semitic incidents that have happened to them in their schools.
On what people should know about anti-Semitism:
Alfi: I wish they understood that Jews are the canary in the coal mine. That when anti-Semitism begins to rise, you also start to see a rise in other forms of intolerance and bigotry and hatred. That it matters what happens to us because we'll also matter to what happens to society as a whole. If we allow people to get away with casual racism, casual anti-Semitism, it's just going to spread and infect society.
On how Sacramento responded to Saturday's shooting:
Alfi: I have to say Sacramento's amazing. Within minutes of the attacks on Saturday being on the news, I was getting phone calls and texts from members of the interfaith community. Congresswoman Matsui gave me a call. The support here is really real. There was a wakeup call 20 years ago and Sacramento rose to the occasion.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Seth Brysk. It has been corrected.