The Jewish community of Ann Arbor demonstrated its resolve as it was once again the target of anti-Semitic acts that included vandalizing a local skate park with swastikas and graffiti and a bomb threat called into Jewish Family Services.
On Aug. 18, about 15 spray-painted swastikas and hate slurs that included “Jews die” were found at the Veteran’s Memorial Skate Park at 2150 Jackson Ave., according to Ann Arbor police investigators. Also, on Aug. 22, a bomb threat was called in to Ann Arbor Jewish Family Services. The bomb threat was cleared, and Ann Arbor Public Works quickly restored the defaced areas.
Ann Arbor Police continue to investigate and are asking anyone to call in credible tips to (734) 794-6939 or email email@example.com. There is a $2,000 reward for any information on possible suspects.
Leaders in the Ann Arbor Jewish community are girding their schools, synagogues and other buildings ahead of the High Holidays and the new school year.
Eileen Freed, interim executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, said local Jewish institutions are working closely with local and federal law enforcement agencies for additional training and security measures. However, despite the threats, which all are taken “very seriously,” Freed assured that Jewish life in Ann Arbor will continue to be active and visible.
“The Federation sees it as our role to foster collaboration on issues such as tightening security and safety for our Jewish facilities in town,” said Freed, noting an upcoming Sept. 7 meeting of the city’s recently formed Jewish Community Relations Council. “At the same time, Jewish life goes on. We have much work to do as we gear up for another great new school year, plan for our Rosh Hashanah apples and honey distribution program, and kick off our new campaign year that sustains the work we do to serve our Jewish community.”
Ann Arbor Jews showed their strength in numbers last Friday at an already-scheduled community-wide Shabbat dinner held at the University of Michigan Hillel. Sponsored by the Federation’s Impact Grant program, 300 attendees welcomed in Shabbat with services and dinner.
“Last Shabbat served as an opportunity for Jews representing all denominations in Ann Arbor to come together,” said Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames. “We talked about the importance of supporting each other in these disturbing times as well as members of the broader Ann Arbor community who are also hurting.” In addition to the Shabbat observance, Shames said Hillel participated in an interfaith vigil last Sunday evening at the skate park where almost 100 people joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
A Rise In Hate
Across the country, law enforcement officials report an emboldening white nationalist movement and an uptick in anti-Semitic and racist crimes.
The Michigan Anti-Defamation League has grim warnings, especially for Jewish students of high school and college age. Heidi Budaj, Michigan regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, is grateful for the close working relationship her agency has with local and federal investigative authorities. She said the ADL has long had in place training programs with law enforcement on investigating hate crimes against Jews and other minorities.
Budaj said her office, as well as other ADL offices, have been inundated with calls reporting hate crimes directed toward Jews. Though the organization cannot pinpoint the blame of the increase in hatred, it does attribute it to those with hateful ideologies who have become empowered since the 2016 presidential election.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to ADL statistics, in comparing the first quarters of 2016 and 2017, hate acts targeting Jews (including vandalism, property defacement and harassment) have increased 86 percent.
“Every single day, I come into the office thinking I cannot hear anything possibly worse, and every day, it gets worse,” Budaj said. “I am particularly concerned about what our high school and college students will face. This new school year is not going to be pretty.”
Budaj said it is vital that Jewish schools and youth groups host ADL’s “Confronting Anti-Semitism” training programs. Aimed at Jewish students in grades 6-11, one program teaches the history of anti-Semitism and how to respond to modern-day anti-Semitism. The other provides high school seniors with tools for responding to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities they may encounter on college campuses. For more information, go to www.michigan.adl.org.
“These programs and workshops are free and teach students how to confront anti-Semitism in a thoughtful constructive way,” Budaj said. “Often, we want to respond toward hatred emotionally, but this has proven to be ineffective. There may come a time when our kids will be asked by a fellow student, ‘Where are your horns?’ Our kids need to be trained how to act calmly and what to say to that student.”