Antisemitic Crimes Impact Country and Community


Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Laurie Garcia

The week of Hanukkah, 2019, was a week torn apart by antisemitic crimes in New York City.

Gabrielle Daley, Editor-In-Chief

This winter has been stained with antisemitic hate crimes, and people around the world have been left speechless. On December 11, 2019, three people were shot and killed at a kosher market in New Jersey. CNN stated that this hate crime was driven by antisemitic beliefs. It was two weeks later that New Yorkers became a target for an immense spike in antisemitic attacks, according to The New York Times, there were eight incidents over the course of two weeks, many taking place during Hanukkah. The attacks range from a woman being verbally attacked with antisemitic slurs and hit in the head with a pocketbook; three women being slapped in the face by a woman who thought them to be Jewish; and two incidents of Jewish men being punched in the face.  

On the seventh night of Hanukkah, a man intruded on a Hanukkah party at a Hassidic rabbi’s home in a New York suburb. “Going into somebody’s home to me was the utmost violation,” stated Mrs. Garcia, a Spanish teacher at WSHS, who is Jewish. The house was full of people, and they were gathering to light the candles on the menorah. The New York Times stated that the man pulled out a large knife and began stabbing people as soon as he walked in. Five people were injured. The intruder then went next door to the synagogue, but the people inside had locked the doors after hearing the screams coming from next door. 

“When dressed like a Hassidic Jew, there is no hiding your religion,” Mrs. Garcia continued. People of targeted ethnicities who are walking the streets are scared of the aggressiveness of recent hate crimes. “The recent attacks were pretty scary. I didn’t necessarily think that something like that would happen to me because I don’t really look Jewish, but I know that it’s a possibility. It makes me more scared for Jews that wear traditional clothing or pray openly,” said Annabella Whalen, a senior who is Jewish.

NBC News states that this recent spike isn’t a shock, there has been a rise in the last 50 years in the United States. In 2014, 609 anti-Jewish crimes were recorded by the FBI, this number increased to 835 crimes in 2018. In October 2018, there was a shooting at a synagogue that left 11 people dead in Pittsburgh. In April of 2019, a woman was shot and killed trying to protect her Rabbi in her synagogue near San Diego. Many people believe the end of WWII and the creation of Israel to be the end of antisemitic attacks and feelings around the world. Sadly, this is not the case.

Antisemitism has always been prevalent, even locally. For example, Mrs. Garcia grew up in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts, which to this day has a significant Jewish population. There are six synagogues of different types of Judaism in the community. Mrs. Garcia has experienced antisemitism her whole life. ”I can remember in high school we would all hang out at this development where they were constructing new houses. We were driving one night and we were going down one of the streets that was already populated. There were gasoline doused rags in the middle of the street on fire. There were also swastikas written in the middle of the street and painted on homes with racial slurs. That horrific scene was etched on my memory forever,” she recalled sadly. 

There were also swastikas written in the middle of the street and painted on homes with racial slurs. That horrific scene was etched in my memory forever.

— Mrs. Garcia

Mrs. Garcia also experienced an act of antisemitism three years ago near her home.  “I was hiking Mount Tom with my daughter and her friends to see the foliage and I looked down and there were swastikas and other graffiti all over the rocks. There have been groups that have had to go up there and clean it continually,” she continued. However, xenophobic rhetoric has been increasing globally too. According to history teacher Mr. Tharaldson, “This issue, brewing for decades, has been happening in countries all over the globe as political ideologies swing to the extreme right and bring out the well-honed language of intolerance with its roots in antisemitism and racism.” 

Jews have been victims of hate since the age of the Roman Empire until the present day. The Jews were mostly isolated in ancient society because, unlike their pagan neighbors, they believed in one God. However, it wasn’t until Christianity became more apparent across the ancient civilizations that antisemitism truly took hold. “The Jews were seen through the lens of how a specific group of them were described in the New Testament. So all Jews became marked as ‘Christ-killers,’” explained Tharaldson. The Jews were exiled from Jerusalem, and began to spread throughout the Empire, and eventually Europe. They created their own ethnic communities within towns and cities. Mr. Tharaldson continued, “All monotheistic religions have their origins in the Jewish faith and culture. However, these later religious traditions accepted their ‘revelations’ as bypassing the older traditions of the Jews and the Jews were seen as people that needed to be either converted or exiled because they were considered as capable of bringing God’s wrath down.”

Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Laurie Garcia
The Menorah shines bright during the winter as Hanukkah celebrations take place.

The Jews were the victims of mass expulsions throughout Europe during the late 13th century and continuing into the 17th century. They settled in Eastern Europe, notably in Poland and Russia. They created their own culture and greatly shaped the countries they settled in, especially Poland. It was during the late 19th and throughout the 20th century in Germany, however, that Jews took an enormous leap: they became modernized. Jews became just like any citizen of a country but also continued their Jewish heritage. However, the old hatreds still ran through even in modern times. Mr. Tharaldson said that some people in Europe have promoted the idea that  “A wealthy Pole or German worked hard day and night but a wealthy Jew exploited everyone to reach that success.” This idea of Jews exploiting non-jews economically and politically came to fruition with the “stab in the back” myth. The Jews were blamed for the German loss in WWI, and the subsequent rise of the Nazi Party led to the Sh’oah (Holocaust) of up to 90% of the Jews in Poland, Mr. Tharaldson reported. And evidently, the Holocaust didn’t mark the end of antisemitism and ethnic-cleansing throughout the world.

“To be honest with you, I think we have just been leading up to these antisemitic attacks for a while now,” Mrs. Garcia said. Mr. Tharaldson echoes these ideas: “The recent rise in antisemitism is part of a larger social situation where specific groups feel that they have lost primacy as agents of culture and this is their backlash.” Tharaldson continued, “With the creation of the internet, these groups have solidified a following and have been empowered by like-minded individuals expressing their beliefs and melding them with rightist political ideologies into a perspective that most moderate conservatives regard as a dangerous combination found on the fringes of their political spectrum.”

The attacks on Jews can be attributed to a lack of education. Ignorance leads to people believing everything they hear and sometimes what they hear is negative. In school, students should be taught the cores and beliefs of all religions to deter hate crimes. At West Side, Night, a book about the Holocaust that was taught in English classes was cut. Some English teachers have to make time to teach it or teach parts of it. “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. If people don’t understand what hatred can lead to, we’re doomed to repeat it,” Mrs. Garcia explained.

 “Because people don’t understand the religion, they become ignorant to the topic. In seventh grade, people would go around calling each other a Jew. It hurt my feelings because they were using the name with a negative connotation,” said Annabella Whalen.  Islamophobia and antisemitism are both epidemics that could be deterred in the classroom. Students and people all around the world have every opportunity to take time to understand each other. Mrs. Garcia continued, “I love to teach about different cultures. I appreciate when people share and learn to respect each other’s differences. I want people to know that if somebody doesn’t understand something about somebody’s religion or culture, it is rewarding to have a conversation to learn more. I am happy to facilitate that discussion, which I often do in classes and in World Language Club. Mix It Up Day is another opportunity to break down barriers.”

Although there is only a small population of Jewish people in West Springfield, the community must come together and support everyone no matter what religion they follow. Mrs. Garcia stated, “I think one of the most rewarding moments I ever had was going to the mosque here, in February of 2017, after there had been incidents of hate crimes against Muslims. I went and my rabbi and other members of my synagogue from Northampton were also there. We stood there side by side with the Muslims of West Springfield to stand in solidarity against hate, and it was comforting to all.”