Jewish Americans confront antisemitism with resolve, worry

Dec 7, 2022, 4:12 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2022, 6:15 am
Senior Rabbi Seth Adelson sits for a portrait in his office at Congregation Beth Shalom in the Squi...

Senior Rabbi Seth Adelson sits for a portrait in his office at Congregation Beth Shalom in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

(AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

              Senior Rabbi Seth Adelson sits for a portrait in the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Shalom in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)
              Senior Rabbi Seth Adelson sits for a portrait in his office at Congregation Beth Shalom in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

NEW YORK (AP) — Jewish Americans are closely following the recent upsurge in antisemitic rhetoric and actions with a mix of anxiety and resolve — along with a yearning that a broader swath of Americans, including leaders across the political spectrum, speak out against anti-Jewish hatred.

New Yorker Rizy Horowitz, who runs a program in Brooklyn providing meals and activities for Holocaust survivors, says the widespread vitriol prompts her to ask: “When can I pack up my suitcase and run away?”

“It’s a very frightening moment. There is no other word,” said Horowitz. “We’re all frightened because we’ve seen the past and we don’t want to relive it.”

As for those spewing the hate, she says: “Have I done something? No. It’s just I’m a Jew.”

Rabbi Seth Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh, located near the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 worshippers were killed in 2018 in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, said anxiety has intensified as anti-Jewish vitriol abounds on social media, embraced by some widely followed celebrities.

The rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Former President Donald Trump hosted Ye and a Holocaust-denying white supremacist at Mar-a-Lago. Basketball star Kyrie Irving was suspended after posting a link to an antisemitic film

“The antisemitic cat is out of the bag,” said Adelson. “I don’t think it’s reached a place where we feel it’s time to go hide in the basement. But it certainly has increased everybody’s anxiety.”

“We feel it whenever we go in and out of buildings, because now we have security in a way that we didn’t before,” he said. “There are armed security guards at most, if not all, Jewish buildings and metal detectors and all of those things.”

“People who hate Jews want us to cower in fear,” he added. “What I hope for is that Jewish people will understand that the way to respond to antisemitism is to be loudly and proudly Jewish, to be proud of our traditions.”

A prominent Los Angeles rabbi, David Wolpe, has wrestled with his response to the antisemitism upsurge.

“When I began my career, I thought antisemitism was an issue in my father’s generation — it won’t be in mine,” he said. “I was sadly and unforgivingly wrong.”

He strives to put the recent events in perspective.

“We are still — in America — as safe and free as Jews have been in all of human history,” he said. “It’s so easy to be alarmist, … to lose perspective, to scare our kids. I don’t want to do that.”

Asked what makes this moment different, Wolpe was succinct.

“It’s the volume, the persistence, the permissibility.”

The expanding use of social media by antisemites is a major concern.

“This hateful rhetoric is being promoted by people who unfortunately influence hundreds of thousands of people,” said Pat Halper, a community activist in Nashville, Tennessee. “We never know if one of those followers, or many of them, will take the next hateful or violent step.”

Yet Halper’s outlook is resolute.

“We’ve been in bad places before and found our way,” she said. “I have to believe we’ll find our way through this too.”

Texas author Anna Salton Eisen, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, has been sharing her late parents’ stories for years.

“When I started speaking in schools more than 20 years ago, the Holocaust was a history lesson. Now it has become a lesson in current events,” she said. “Students who used to ask me questions about Hitler now want me to address the statements by Kanye that put Hitler in a positive light.”

Eisen, author of two Holocaust memoirs, has undergone active shooter training due to worries over potential threats to synagogues and Holocaust museums she frequently speaks at. Recently she’s received antisemitic threats on social media.

Eisen hopes Christian churches show solidarity by inviting Jews into their spaces for Hanukkah. She’ll be at the White House for its Hanukkah party, which she says “feels like an act of defiance more than just a social event.”

“It’s my way of saying, ‘Here I am, a Jew and free to worship God in my chosen faith and I will not live in fear nor be defeated by those who hate me.'”

In Fort Myers, Florida, Rabbi Nicole Luna of Temple Beth El said antisemitism discussions occur frequently — in the theology class she teaches and in event planning where extra security measures are considered.

“I tell my congregants the people who hate … have no problem putting it out in the open, so we want to put our Jewish joy and our Jewish pride out in the open,” she said.

Amid the recent surge of antisemitism, there have been expressions of outrage — and vows to combat hate — from an array of prominent politicians, including President Joe Biden, as well as leaders of major Jewish organizations. Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, hosted a White House discussion with Jewish leaders on Wednesday.

However, several Jewish Americans interviewed by The Associated Press said strong statements against antisemitism were needed from a broader range of civic and political leaders.

“It’s not enough to hope or wish it away,” said Elisia Cohen, director of the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication. “It’s a time for leaders to form coalitions across communities in a very strong movement against hate.”

Diane Brown, a retired pharmacist who moved from Massachusetts to Minnesota’s Twin Cities a few months ago, is struck by how Jewish communities 1,100 miles apart are troubled by similar anxieties.

“We can’t go to temple without being screened — there are police, plainclothes security,” she said.

She’s appalled at how antisemites use social media “to post stuff online that they’d never say to anyone’s face.”

Some Jewish college students have reported increasing on-campus antisemitism. At Brandeis University in suburban Boston, which has a substantial Jewish enrollment, rabbi and chaplain Seth Winberg says he feels fortunate to be in a setting where Jewish identity can be celebrated.

“My students can learn to respond to antisemitism in proactive ways: building relationships, learning how to listen to others, and when necessary, taking action,” he said via email.

Rachel Timoner, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, sees the surge of hateful rhetoric as a test for America — “a contest between two sets of ideas.”

“What white nationalists want is to spread that Hitler was right and Jews are a threat — that’s gaining traction in certain quarters of our society,” she said. “Who is going to speak up and say that is unacceptable?”

“If people are silent, the threat and the danger will only grow,” she added.

“Everyone in every neighborhood has a role. That’s the contest we’re in — every voice matters.”



Meyer reported from Nashville. Wardarski reported from Pittsburgh. Associated Press writer Giovanna Dell’Orto in Minneapolis contributed.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in Nov. 2022, a...
Associated Press

News groups ask Idaho Supreme Court to reject University slayer gag order

Thirty news organizations have asked the Idaho Supreme Court to overturn a gag order in a case against a man accused of stabbing four students to death.
16 hours ago
Nathan Chasing Horse stands in court. Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in North Las Vegas, Nev. Nathan Chasing...
Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor charged in 2018 rape in PNW

Canadian police confirmed Tuesday they are pursuing a criminal case against a former "Dances With Wolves" actor who was arrested last week and charged in Nevada with sexually abusing and trafficking Indigenous women and girls.
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Lawmakers in GOP states target medical care for trans kids

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican attacks on gender affirming medical care for young people continued Wednesday in several conservative states that are among more than two dozen considering similar bans nationwide. Lawmakers in Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota considered bills Wednesday that would prohibit gender affirming treatments, like the use of puberty-blocking drugs and hormones, […]
16 hours ago
FILE - This combination of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from top row fro...
Associated Press

Jury may not hear cops’ admissions in Tyre Nichols’ beating

It was a stunning revelation: One of the officers involved in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols took a cellphone photo of the bloodied and handcuffed man and shared it with five other people. The disclosure was part of the Memphis Police Department’s request to the state that the five former officers charged with murder […]
16 hours ago
A man takes photos as a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled de...
Associated Press

Residents can return after air deemed safe from derailment

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — Evacuated residents can safely return to the Ohio village where crews burned toxic chemicals after a train derailed five days ago near the Pennsylvania state line, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said Wednesday. Authorities in East Palestine had warned that burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the […]
16 hours ago
FILE - The Netflix logo is shown in this photo from the company's website on Feb. 2, 2023, in New Y...
Associated Press

Netflix steps up its effort to get paid for account sharing

Netflix has a plan to deal with rampant account sharing: a program that lets subscribers pay extra to share their account with people outside their household. The streaming giant introduced paid sharing in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain on Wednesday. It was previously rolled out in multiple markets in Latin America. While Netflix won’t […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Jewish Americans confront antisemitism with resolve, worry