JCC's Brian Siegel dealing with bomb threats

From physical assaults and verbal slurs to bomb threats called in to schools, from synagogue vandalization to more hate acts that accelerated after the August white Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. —where Neo Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us!” — the Anti-Defamation League cited “a significant bump” in anti-Semitism in the U.S. in a Nov. 2 report.

On Nov. 13, in a separate report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program released its 2016 Hate Crime Statistics. The FBI defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias.”

According to the FBI report, in 2016, there were 6,100 incidents of people targeted based on their race, religion, sexuality, disability or national origin, an increase of 300 over 2015. This report documented 1,584 victims of anti-religious hate crimes. Of this number 55 percent of the victims, or 855, were Jews, a lower number than reported by the ADL.

Heidi Budaj

Heidi Budaj, ADL’s Michigan regional director, cautions that while the FBI report represents the best data we have available, many law enforcement agencies do not participate and many under-report or misclassify hate crimes.

According to the ADL, there were 1,300 anti-Semitic incidents during the first nine months of 2017 nationwide, including 21 reported in Michigan; an overall rise by two-thirds from 2016. Anti-Semitic incidents spiked following the Charlottesville rally. Of the 306 incidents reported in the third quarter, 221 took place on or after the Aug. 11 rally.

Most disturbingly, the survey found a surge of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism incidents in K-12 schools and college campuses across the U.S., despite in-school anti-bullying and inclusiveness training conducted by the ADL and other agencies.

The Charlottesville rally was one of at least 33 public white supremacist events in the U.S. this year.

In a separate report released in March, the World Jewish Congress — with the help of Israeli research firm Vigo Social Intelligence — found that more than 382,000 anti-Semitic posts were uploaded to social media over the course of 2016, an average of 43.6 posts per hour, or one post every 83 seconds.

These statistics, Budaj said, are only the tip of the iceberg. For an incident to be included in the report, it must be called in, documented, vetted and filed as a formal complaint by the witness. Many incidents are not formally reported.

She says the kinds of school-related calls that come into her office — a few each day — are “heartbreaking.”

“[Racial and anti-Semitic] acts are reported in every Michigan school district, regardless if the school is public or private, or the socioeconomic makeup of the students,” she said.

She said parents must listen to their children and pick up on behavioral cues if they suspect they are the target of anti-Semitism. Document the incident at michigan.adl.org by clicking on the “report” button on the right of the home screen.
“Without even involving the parent, we can provide the tools the school needs to approach and confront acts of hatred,” Budaj said. “We never judge a school because a hate incident happened there because, unfortunately, it is happening all over. After an incident has been reported, we expect school administrators to take it seriously so their students feel safe, secure and are in an environment that supports why they are there in the first place — to learn.”

David Kurzmann

Local Incidents
Though he had not had a chance to review the report at press time, Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Kurzmann expected the report findings to be grim.

He said this was evidenced by the bombardment of hateful acts committed against local Jewish organizations or directed at Jewish individuals in 2017, which included:

  • Jan. 18: Bomb threat called in to West Bloomfield JCC.
  • Feb. 1: Bomb threat called in to Hillel Day School, Farmington Hills.
  • Feb. 7: A University of Michigan professor’s email account was hacked and the perpetrator sent out emails to black and Jewish students with messages that stated: “I just wanted to say that I plan to kill all of you. White power! The KKK has returned!!!” and “I just wanted to say the SS will rise again and kill all your filthy souls. Die in a pit of eternal fire! … Heil Trump!”
  • Feb. 9: Valentine’s Day Cards distributed at Central Michigan University with images of Hitler containing the following message: “my love 4 u burns like 6,000 jews.”
  • Feb. 27: Bomb threat called in to the Ann Arbor JCC and Hebrew Day School.
  • Aug. 18: Racial slurs and swastikas painted at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Ann Arbor.
  • Aug. 22: Bomb threat called in to Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County.

In each of these incidents, community leaders swiftly condemned the actions as cowardly acts of hate. In March, the FBI arrested an Israeli man with a malignant brain tumor for the bomb threat calls, which had been made across the country. Arrests for most other incidents have yet to be made.

“Clearly, the national political climate has been one in which those with bigoted and hateful views are emboldened to say and act to whatever is on their mind,” Kurzmann said. “And in Michigan, we are not immune.”

The JCRC/AJC supports the work of the ADL by creating proactive and reactive programming in the wider Detroit community that seeks to build bridges of awareness and understanding.

“Hatred toward Jews is not a thing of the past,” he said. “It is important to have a Jewish voice at the community table where things like homophobia, racism and Islamophobia are discussed to make people realize the problem of anti-Semitism is real.”

Last year, the JCRC began a program that brought Jews and Muslims together so they can see and appreciate the threats each other’s community is facing.

“It is human nature to be insular from those who are different from you, but this is a mistake,” Kurzmann said. “We must work to engage with one another and redouble our efforts to learn from each other. I still believe the majority of our nation’s population rejects the hatred we are experiencing.”

At its November fall convention, B’nai Brith Youth Organization scheduled special programming where teens could share their stories and experiences about anti-Semitism.

BBYO Michigan Region Senior Regional Director Rachel Ellis said it is essential for the organization to equip its teens with the tools they will need in confronting anti-Semitism once they reach their college years.

JCC’s Brian Siegel dealing with bomb threats

“In general, our teens here feel they are pretty insulated from these incidents,” Ellis said. “We want to prepare them for the times they are not so sheltered — when they head off to college. One way to do that is to instill in them a pride in being Jewish now.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com